‘Like being in a trash can and just tossed off a ski slope:’ A Floridian’s path to Olympic bobsledding

Love at first ride earns Lake Mary native spot on Olympic bobsled team

LAKE MARY, Fla. – When you think of Central Florida and sports, chances are golf, baseball, football, swimming and tennis come to mind. All sports you can play right here in the Sunshine State, rain or shine.

So how does a lacrosse player from Lake Mary end up representing the United States in the Winter Olympics in the bobsled competition?

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Seems like the best person to answer that question is the man himself.  Josh Williamson joined anchors Ginger Gadsden and Matt Austin on this week’s edition of Florida’s Fourth Estate to talk about his journey from Lake Mary to Beijing.

Williamson spoke with Matt and Ginger from a training facility in California.  He and his teammates were there basically quarantining and training before heading to China to take part in the Olympic Winter Games.  Beijing is where Williamson will make his Olympic debut.  He is a brakeman, which is basically the person who pushes the bobsled.

We’ve all seen those muscular guys running on the track, getting the sled up to speed, then hopping on board for a lightning fast ride. If you’ve ever wondered what it feels like on one of those sleds as it zips down the track at speeds that can exceed 80 mph, Williamson has the perfect description.

“It’s like being in a trash can and just tossed off a ski slope.”

Wait. What?

Please tell us more.

“You’re kind of hitting walls and everything is rattling,” Williamson said. “If you’re ever at a bobsled race when you hear a sled coming down the track, it’s like a train and when it gets close to you, it gets almost deafening.”

He continued to describe the feeling as you’re flying downhill.

“It’s very confusing your first time in, especially if you don’t see where you’re going... and you have no idea what to expect and you get to the bottom.  It’s very overwhelming but I could definitely understand the draw to it.”

The first time is the toughest. He said like anything else, it takes practice.

“The more you do it, the less you worry about holding on tight and hoping you don’t crash and then you start feeling the track. As a brakeman I start memorizing, ‘OK, turn one feels like this, turn one should feel like this. Turn two should feel like this.’  You know, if you’re having a good run or not, as you’re going down the track, you’re a little less worried about holding on when you become more comfortable and the more trips you take.”

Williamson took his first ride on the sled in 2017 and it was love at first ride. He described it as overwhelming but says he was excited knowing he found the sport for him.

That may seem odd given that up until that point, and for most of his sports career, he played lacrosse.

He said he feels like he’s been training for this sport his whole life but didn’t really know it.

Williamson said by simply doing the things he enjoyed doing, like sprinting, jumping and weightlifting, he was prepared for the bobsled.

Williamson explained he usually does two- and four-man bobsled.  He’s not sure which it will be for the Olympics.  We asked to talk to him a little about his position as a brakeman.

“I push from the left side in the four-man, which is the guy who ends up sitting right behind the pilot,” Williamson said. “The best way to look at it is the brakeman on the back of the four-man sled, for example, he is going to be on the ice the longest, so you’re generally going to have the smaller, very fast guy because you’re going 40 meters downhill with a 400 pound sled in front of you and that thing can get moving away from you and you gotta be extremely fast for the back of that.”

He says he was built for this particular sport especially with his position on the side of the sled.

“Those positions on the side you gotta be a little more a mix of strength and speed because you’re at a bit of a disadvantag(ed) position (compared) to the weight on the sled, so getting it moving is a little harder. When you’re behind a lot of weight, for example, you can push it a lot better than if you’re on the side of it. It requires a little more strength,” Williamson added.

At 6 feet, 1 inch and 215 pounds, Williamson said he has always been good at running very fast over short distances. Just don’t ask him about his time in a one-mile race.

As much as he is excited about heading to the 2022 Olympics representing Team USA as bobsledder, this Florida native said he can’t wait to get back home. He said growing up in Central Florida was ideal.

“Growing up in Lake Mary, I couldn’t have asked for a better place to live.  I tell people all the time, Central Florida and Florida in general, I don’t know if there is any other place I’d want to live in the world,” he said.

The world will be watching and Central Florida will be cheering him on hoping he will return to his home state with Olympic gold.  Good luck, Williamson.  Don’t forget your friends at Florida’s Fouth Estate who are definitely cheering you on.

Florida’s Fourth Estate looks at everything from swampy politics to a fragile environment and even the crazy headlines that make Florida the craziest state in the Union. You can listen to the full episode of Florida’s Fourth Estate here:

About the Author:

Ginger Gadsden joined the News 6 team in June 2014 as an anchor/reporter. She currently co-anchors the 4 p.m. 5:30 p.m. and the 7 p.m. newscasts.