Beliefnet's Winter Olympics 2002 coverage is sponsored by Guideposts, a source for true stories of hope and inspiration.

Do you believe in faith or fear? That's what Vonetta Flowers asks herself before she hurdles down the bobsled run. In fact, the brake for USA II sled in the 2002 Winter Games in Salt Lake City has asked that question so much of herself in the past year it has become her own private mantra.

Big Tim
Photo by Nancie Battaglia
If things had gone according to plan, Flowers would have been an Olympian in track and field. An outstanding sprinter and long jumper at the University of Alabama-Birmingham (UAB), she won 35 conference titles. But injuries kept her from making the 2000 U.S. team that competed in Sydney, Australia. As she left the track that day in Sacramento, Calif., her husband noticed a posting by the U.S. Bobsled Federation, recruiting track and field athletes because of their speed and strength. The position of brake is usually the fastest person on the team because he or she pushes the sled the longest at the start. Flowers tried out and was initially teamed with driver Bonny Warner, a former luge competitor and now a pilot with United Airlines.

Nothing really prepared the 27-year-old Flowers for her first bobsled run. The roller-coaster ride, with speeds reaching 80 mph and severe G forces, made her wonder if she should have stayed retired. Even now, after a year of preparation, she concedes the fear is still there. It's her faith that keeps her going.

"When you put your faith in God, your confidence level rises so high," says Flowers, who grew up as a Baptist in Helena, Ala. "I know that I would not be here if it wasn't for Him. I know that he brought me into this sport for a reason."

That belief was severely tested in the months leading up to the Olympic trials. With three skilled drivers-- Warner, Jean Racine, and Jill Bakken--and only the top two sleds from each country going to the Olympics, a game of musical chairs began.

With the drivers usually having the final say on who will be the brakes in a particular sled, Warner decided to bring in former college heptathlon champion and weightlifter, Gea Johnson, as her new brake. Being the odd one out, Flowers briefly quit the sport and returned to Alabama to be an assistant track coach at UAB.

Johnson turned heads within the bobsled community for her strong push times. On the eve of the Olympic trials in December, Racine asked Johnson to join her sled and dumped her long-time partner Jen Davidson. Until the split, Racine and Davidson were known as the "Bobsled Girls" and their endorsements included Visa, NBC, and Kellogg's cereal.

Bakken then called Flowers and convinced her to return to Park City, Utah, to push for her in the trials. Despite little training together, the two finished second, edging out Warner's sled for the final Olympic spot.

This will be the first Olympics for women's bobsled. There will be no preliminaries or heats. Just two runs and the best combined time wins. The American sleds rank among the medal favorites.

Relieved to have the trials over, the U.S. team selected, the Games about to begin, Flowers maintains it was her faith that helped her pull through. "Quite often people live their lives based on fear, thinking about the negative and I was once one of those people," she says. "But I no longer live that way because I put all my faith in God. He never gives us too much to handle."

Join the Discussion
comments powered by Disqus