The Wisdom of 3-Time Olympian Tomasevicz
Randy York’s N-Sider
No one had to tell a record crowd at Pinnacle Bank Arena to stand up and shout when Curt Tomasevicz (pronounced Tom-eh-SEV-itch) was introduced in the second half of Nebraska’s 54-47 Big Ten win over Northwestern Saturday. The Shelby (Neb.) native and three-time Olympic bobsledder was wearing his bronze medal from the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia. On a Legends Weekend that included 50 former Husker basketball players dating back to the 1940s, throwback jerseys that celebrated Nebraska’s unbeaten conference record in 1912, plus some energetic shout-outs from Dave Hoppen and Eric Piatkowski at halftime, a 33-year-old former Husker football walk-on may have drawn the loudest sustainable cheers in the building. Before Tomasevicz makes his third White House appearance in eight years and launches into a series of corporate events and speeches at schools in Nebraska and across the country, we caught up with him for 20 minutes. Not surprisingly, he was his usual gracious, humble, inspiring self. Please join our conversation.
Q: Today proved how much you’re loved in Lincoln. While you were sledding down mountains in Russia, did you have any idea that Nebraska basketball was moving on up in the Big Ten Conference?
A: When I left for Sochi, we were 0-and-4 in the Big Ten, and I was a little disappointed at the time, especially knowing that we were already sold out for the season. Then, all of a sudden, when I checked Huskers.com a couple weeks ago, I could see we were moving into the top half of the standings. I couldn’t believe how much we turned things around, and I was ready to jump on the bandwagon just like everyone else. The atmosphere in this place is electric. I can see why we have the best home record in the Big Ten. Everybody’s really into the whole experience. It’s not just the men’s team either. Our women’s program is challenging for a championship, so that’s another good band wagon to be riding.
Q: Was that bronze in the four-man bobsled every bit as hard to earn as your gold four years ago in Vancouver?
A: I’m definitely just as proud, if not more proud, of this bronze medal than the gold medal we won. Four years ago, it was between us and Germany. For whatever reason, we were kind of head and shoulders above the rest of the competition in Vancouver. But this year was a dogfight and any one of six different teams could have won the gold, the silver or the bronze. There was a lot more pressure and the team who won had to be perfect and come together and that’s what makes this year so special.”
Q: Having been in Olympic competition for 10 years now, are you ready to move on?
A: I think so, but there’s still a small chance I might do this one more year. It could be kind of my swan song, where I go to each track location for one last time. I would probably help with the transition of the new athletes coming in next year. I could be a mentor of sorts for every newcomer. I’m pretty positive, though, that I’ve just finished my last competitive race.
Q: Strategically, what are the possibilities you’re considering?
A: Great question. I’m thinking about going back to school and maybe getting my PhD. Nebraska would be my leading spot to choose from right now. I’m comfortable here. I still know a lot of the engineering professors, and Nebraska’s been home for me. It’s a great place to live and a great place to work.
Q: What kind of engineering doctorate appeals to you most?
A: Probably electrical engineering. That’s what I have my bachelor’s and master’s degrees in. I’m open-minded though. I haven’t really used my degree for a decade. If there’s a way to link and incorporate sports and science or sports and engineering, that might be a path I’d like to take.
Q: Anything top-of-mind right now? How about NASCAR?
A: That would be a possibility but there are a lot of places where electrical engineering could come into play, whether you’re trying to design a more powerful car or any other goal you might choose.
Q: You’ve lived a precise life. Isn’t that the mantra of every engineer?
A: That’s why I’ve enjoyed bobsledding so much. Physics was involved. It’s part of the math and the science that goes into our sport.
Q: Do you think people understand what goes into bobsledding?
A: I think there’s an underappreciated part that I’ve really come to like – using physics, chemistry and math to come up with a faster sled and a faster, better four-man team than we already are.
Q: You'd never seen a bobsled until 1998 and had your own doubts about the legitimacy of the sport. What changed your mind?
A: Amanda Morely was a hammer thrower on our track and field team when I was a student-athlete at Nebraska. She became a push athlete on the Canadian national bobsled team and encouraged me to give the sport a try. I was immediately drawn to the challenge and the thrill the sport provided.
Q: How do you and your team measure performance?
A: In bobsledding, we measure ourselves daily to examine every little thing to compare ourselves with the rest of the field. We measure acceleration, velocity, position and math. That’s all part of a huge factor for winning.
Q: Are you intrigued by Nebraska's Athletic Performance Lab?
A: I haven’t explored any options, but it’s in my wheelhouse and one reason why I’m strongly considering getting my doctorate. I would like nothing more than be part of research that involves science and technology, whether it’s performance-related, equipment-related or whatever (Tomasevicz earned first-team Academic All-Big 12 status as a senior letterwinner in football).
Q: How important is passion when it comes to research?
A: Very important in my mind. That’s one of my strengths. When I jump on board with something, I’m going to do whatever it takes to give 100-percent effort. That’s always been the process that works for me. It’s part of my personality, and I don’t think that will ever change.
Q: How important was it for you to merge the priorities of academics, athletics and community when you were a walk-on?
A: Very important. I can’t be more enthusiastic or prouder with the direction Nebraska is taking in college athletics. When I earned my first two degrees, I valued every bit of the education I received while playing football at the same time. Sometimes, that’s overlooked in college sports, but not at Nebraska. I know college sports seem to be turning more and more into a business and that may be an unstoppable snowball going down the hill. But I really appreciate the student-athlete life I had at Nebraska, academically and athletically. I think we all should strive to be a well-balanced and experienced person. I think that’s the way you become successful in life. My years in college and additional years in athletics can influence you for the next 50 years of your working life. I think that’s the most important thing of all. Unfortunately, so many put athletics first and miss the rest of the equation and the way to connect academically and socially with the community.
Q: Where’s your home base?
A: Colorado Springs has been my home for the last seven summers, but right before the season started last summer, I sold my house and moved my stuff into storage. In the next month or two, I have to figure out where I’m going to live next.
Q: Aren’t you in Shelby now with your parents?
A: Yes. They live in the country between Columbus and Shelby (where his dad, Dennis, is a combine mechanic; his mom, Amy, an art teacher; and his brother, John, a physical education teacher). I’m taking the next couple months to explore my options. Right now, I want to ride the Olympic popularity curve. I’m scheduling some speaking events and appearances and going to have some fun with that.
Q: Anything popping to mind now?
A: I’m working on a schedule to be part of events in Las Vegas, Park City (Utah) and Lake Placid (New York). I have a couple meetings in San Diego, too. I’m all over the place right now, and it’s going to be that way until I start speaking to some schools and at some corporate events.
Q: With your third White House visit scheduled in April to meet the President, what are some of your other favorite memories?
A: No. 1) Getting to play onstage with Pearl Jam at a concert in Kansas City (Tomasevicz plays the bass guitar, a personal passion paralleled only by astronomy and reading); No. 2) Throwing out the first pitch for the Chicago Cubs at Wrigley and for the Cleveland Indians at Jacobs Field.; and No. 3) Riding in an F-16 jet for about 75 minutes in Arizona the day before the 2010 Spring Game.
Q: Didn’t you end up missing that Spring Game?
A: I did. One day I’m on the F-16. The next day, I miss the plane back to Lincoln because of weather. How ironic was that?
Q: In your sport, credibility is quick and recognition is short, right?
A: Things happen fast in our sport, but we aren’t long-lasting. People might remember Olympic names for about two weeks, but that’s about it. Two months later, they might recognize you, but don’t know your name. Our window of opportunity is pretty small. That’s why we have to take advantage of the things that we do. The next couple months are going to be really exhausting for me, but it’s going to be worth it.
Q: Did you know how fleeting fame would be in this sport?
A: Not really. When I first went to the Winter Games to compete in Italy in 2006, I got a little cocky. I thought people were going to know my name, but that’s not the case. People really do forget quickly. They’ll look at you and look at the gold medal. In 2011, people would see me at the airport and look at me like they’re saying “Man, I should know who you are, but I don’t remember." By 2013, they don’t even recognize you. I understand. It comes with the territory, and I didn’t get into this sport to be popular anyway.
Q: As you get older, do you lose your competitive edge?
A: Honestly, I tested physically stronger for this Olympics than I ever have. I still feel great, and I could compete for a little longer, but at the same time, I’m ready for a new chapter and ready to try something new. Whether it’s a new career, an athletic venture, something highly competitive again or home/family-related, I can fill the void after 10 years of bobsledding.
Q: You've had some celebrity support. Name a few.
A: Bo Pelini gave me a little shout-out at this year's recruiting event. William Shatner gave us a shout-out on social media. I’ve gotten to know (astronaut) Clayton Anderson really well, too. He takes advantage of his popularity and does it for a lot of good causes. Adrian Smith is a congressman in Western Nebraska. We’ve become friends and share thoughts that have nothing to do with politics or bobsledding. When our bobsled team was on the Late Night Show, we met (actor) Tom Hanks, and he kept telling us that his son was really into watching Olympic bobsledding. He was a big fan. It was also pretty cool to meet (NASCAR drivers) Dale Earnhardt Jr., Jeff Gordon and Jimmy Johnson.
Q: Through all these years, how did you make the transition from being a relatively obscure walk-on to a celebrity yourself?
A: As a walk-on, I learned a lot about myself both in terms of character and physically. Being a walk-on running back in my first two years at Nebraska, you have to learn about yourself and what it takes to get off the ground. Play after play, you’re going through a fight and know that there’s a real good chance you’ll get your butt whipped. But you still go through it all at 100 percent and then pick yourself up off the ground and do it again, without much recognition and without much respect. It’s not something everyone can do. Some can’t handle it. Some quit and walk away from the program. I’m incredibly proud that I stuck with it and made friends with others who did the same – guys who gave the same 100-percent effort that I did every day.
Q: Would you agree that stick-to-it walk-ons are better prepared than most to succeed in every aspect of life?
A: It would probably be impossible to measure that, but it would be interesting to see how four-year or five-year successful walk-ons compete in life compared to scholarship athletes who don’t finish or don’t take advantage of the opportunity they’ve been given. You'd have to measure the results 10 or 20 years after college. Eventually, I learned to look at the whole picture, not just mine. In my first two Olympics, I didn't attend any other event except the one I competed in. In February, I watched five or six other events while I was in Russia. I saw the Olympics in a much broader context. It added a lot to my overall experience and gave me a much greater perspective. I had a lot of fun, had a lot of focus and was able to come home with another medal, so overall it was still successful.
Q: Last question. With the Olympic glitter, glitz and pressure, how relaxing is it to come back to your parents' house in rural Nebraska and know that Shelby is the closest town with only 700 people?
A: I've said this from the start. I would never have experienced 10 years in this sport if my hometown hadn't raised the money to give me the chance to compete. Everything I've ever accomplished in bobsledding is the direct result of Shelby's and the surrounding area's generosity. I will never forget that. I love Shelby and I love Nebraska. There's no place like it.
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