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Bobsledder's career takes several twists and turns

By Steve Almasy, CNN
Shauna Rohbock moved from the back of the bobsled to the front and in the process changed the way female bobsledders race.
Shauna Rohbock moved from the back of the bobsled to the front and in the process changed the way female bobsledders race.
  • Olympian Shauna Rohbock helped change the way female bobsledders race
  • She decided to change from brakewoman to driver
  • Rohbock joined U.S. National Guard and played pro soccer for San Diego
  • With Valerie Fleming, Rohbock won a silver medal at '06 Olympics

Vancouver, British Columbia (CNN) -- Eight years ago, Shauna Rohbock decided it was time for a change.

She had just watched the Salt Lake Olympics, where her teammates Jill Bakken and Vonetta Flowers won the first gold medal ever in women's bobsled.

But it should have been Rohbock. She and Bakken had been a team for the years leading up to that historic race, until Rohbock's hamstring injury caused a change in plans. Concerned about how it would affect their start, Bakken called for a pushup, a contest where two athletes push a sled a short distance and the winner makes the team. Flowers barely beat Rohbock and three weeks later was celebrating an Olympic championship.

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Rohbock was there too, as an alternate on the team. She happily was the first person to hug Bakken after the team's winning run. But Rohbock needed to take control of her destiny and her sled.

She made the move from the back of the sled to the front and in doing so she not only changed her career, she helped change the way female bobsledders race.

Rohbock is a gifted athlete. In college at Brigham Young she was an All-American in two sports. In soccer, she was the eighth-leading scorer in Division I history. In track, she finished eighth in the heptathlon at the 1997 NCAA championship. After graduating, she was recruited by U.S. bobsled, took a test ride in a sled and loved it right from the first day.

Back then, U.S. coaches made the strong athletes into brakewomen, whose pushing skills were vital for a good start. The brakewomen were often much bigger and faster than the petit drivers.

Rohbock, 5-8 and 165 pounds, showed there was a big benefit to having a strong pilot. And when other countries noticed her success at the top of the track, more of them started putting an emphasis big drivers.

"I think the sport has evolved into faster starts; it's really advanced the sport," she said. "Now we have drivers who are just as fast and as skilled as their brakemen. I'd really like to think I have been a part of that."

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She almost was part of another sports story. Rohbock was also still playing soccer and in 2002 found a summer job with the professional women's soccer league franchise in San Diego. She played alongside players like Julie Foudy and at first it appeared the league might make it. But the league folded in 2003 after investors burned through their initial capital faster than expected.

In the fall Rohbock returned to bobsled training while keeping an eye on the war in Iraq. She had joined the National Guard in 2000 and was a member of the Outstanding Athlete Program, an Army-sponsored program that supports soldiers' Olympic pursuits.

Rohbock's unit was notified that it was to be deployed to Iraq in March 2004 for 18 months. Rohbock was worried that her bobsled career might be over, because of the time she would miss with her team. But during an Army physical, a doctor discovered a torn rotator cuff, probably suffered during the soccer season. This time injury worked in her favor, and she went back to bobsled racing.

In 2006, teaming with Valerie Fleming, she won a silver medal at the Torino Olympics. Three years later at the world championships, the coaches changed her brakeman, infuriating her. She and Elana Meyers won silver, but Rohbock is positive they would have won gold if she had been able to race with her longtime partner.

"I wouldn't have lost sleep over it, and I could have concentrated on what I was there for," she said.

This season Rohbock has been paired with Michelle Rzepka (Fleming has a serious hamstring injury) and the two have done well, winning two World Cup races.

Rzepka said her teammate stays very focused.

"She's very serious, but she's very calm and relaxed," she said.

"Inside I am screaming," Rohbock added, with a smile.

Rohbock said that this has been her best season as a driver.

"I felt a lot more confident than I have," she said. "I feel like every year I continue to learn and learn and learn. I am surprised after eight years how much I have learned."

For the U.S. to win gold when the bobsled takes place on February 23 and 24, Rohbock and Rzepka will have to beat the formidable German teams, led by drivers Sandra Kiriasis and Cathleen Martini. Canada also has a contender in its sled driven by Kaillie Humphries.

The course in Whistler is very fast and a pretty technical course.

"I can't make a mistake and win the race," she said.

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