Three years ago, bobsled was the furthest thing from his mind. But last week, Charlie Volker ’19 had a top-10 finish in bobsledding at the Beijing Winter Olympics.
For most of his life, Volker was a football player. When appearing on The Daily Princetonian’s Daybreak podcast last March, Volker mentioned how he took up football and off-season track during his time in high school — the latter mainly to maintain his speed and competitiveness. At Princeton, Volker was as brilliant as he could be, winning seven team championships and graduating with first-team All Ivy honors in both football and track. Everything seemed to line up for a probable football career.
“After I graduated, I was trying to go pro from football for a little while,” Volker said on the podcast. “That was pretty eventful; I had some minicamp opportunities lined up.”
But the COVID-19 pandemic impacted Volker’s future in sports.
“All these minicamps got canceled, which [were] a pretty big opportunity for small school guys like I was,” he added.
One silver lining during that time for Volker, however, was meeting a football coach — a former bobsledder — who remarked that Charlie “fit the mold” for the sport. This was exactly the break Volker needed, and soon enough, his speed and strength impressed coaches and propelled him all the way to the top.
Bobsled is an intense sport. The sled darts around sharp turns at 80 miles per hour, and the smallest error from the driver can send the sled tumbling down the track, out of control. To prepare for such conditions, Volker used YouTube videos that captured the point of view of someone in the sled the night before his first run.
It’s like you’re in “a washing machine,” Volker remarked. “You get used to it but every single time you’re at the top, there’s still that same rush every time.”
After a year and a half of falling in love with the sport, it was showtime for the former Princeton football star. Volker was selected to represent Team USA in the Bobsleigh World Cup. Slowly making their way to the top, Volker and his four-man team won the bronze medal at the Winterberg World Cup, peaking at just the right time before the Winter Olympics.
However, like in the case of Nathan Crumpton ’08, who competed in skeleton at the 2022 Olympic Games, the team faced financial challenges. Thankfully, they had some creative solutions for raising funding, including the team ingeniously choosing to pose for a near-nude calendar to raise funds for the WInter Olympics which, along with a GoFundMe page, seemed to have done the job.
Volker was soon selected to represent Team USA in the 2022 Winter Olympics — a dream come true. This was the final and most important tournament of the season.
Unfortunately, the Winter Olympics didn’t start well, as Volker and driver Hunter Church finished 27th in the two-man bobsled competition with a time of 3:02:31, 4.94 seconds behind the German gold medalists. Volker expressed his slight disappointment on Instagram, saying “Don’t think this ‘Olympic Debut’ matches our capabilities, as World Cup results have shown. This one stings, but everyone knows we’re here for the 4 man not the 2 man.”
The four-man team, led by pilot Church, managed to secure a fantastic 10th place result with a time of 3:57:06, after a great comeback in the 3rd and 4th heats, posting times of 58.96 seconds and 59.49 seconds in those heats, respectively. This performance established Volker and his team as Olympians and cemented their places among the top bobsledders of the world.
“It is an honor to represent you all and I will make sure to do a better and better job of it with each opportunity I get,” Volker said in an Instagram post following the competition.
Vedant Shah is a contributor to the Sports section at the ‘Prince.’ He can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter at @VedantS67190694.