Belmont native Andreas Drbal went to a barbecue and came away a bobsledder.
The 25-year-old Drbal, an alternate on the U.S. bobsled team set to compete in this week’s Sochi Olympics, chanced upon that unique opportunity two years ago, while he was a student at UCLA.
“I was just hanging out at this barbecue, and I started talking with Brock Kreitzburg, who is a veteran with the U.S. bobsled team,” said the 6-foot-1, 220-pound Drbal, who was throwing javelin for the UCLA track and field team at the time. “He told me I looked like should be a bobsledder. I didn’t really know anything about the sport, so I kind of put it in the back of my mind. But after thinking about it for a little bit, I thought ‘maybe I should check this out.’”
Following his fortuitous encounter, Drbal, a sprinter and hurdler while at Bellarmine Prep in San Jose, ended up participating in some bobsled training sessions in Texas and upstate New York. Following the latter performance, where he notched up some of the best speed and strength numbers in the combine, Drbal opted to pursue a career in bobsledding, and in October 2012, he qualified for the national team.
For the past two years, he’s endured a rugged traveling schedule, competing across North America and Europe. A push athlete, Drbal’s job is to propel the bobsled forward for about five seconds on a relatively flat ice surface, before hopping in the sled to descend upon an 80-mph joyride through a twisting maze.
Although Drbal said he gets a kick out of the adrenaline rush, he concedes that the speed and danger of the sport — he’s the only one on the national team who hasn’t experienced a wreck — still makes him nervous at times.
“I think it’s only human [nature] to be scared,” Drbal said. “I have confidence in my teammates, but sometimes we get on these tracks, particularly in Europe, where you’re not super familiar with the conditions, and you know anything can happen.”
Barring an injury, Drbal won’t actually compete in this year’s Olympics in Sochi. But at just 25, he’s the youngest bobsledder on the team, and he said he’s likely to continue his Olympic journey for the 2018 games in South Korea.
“It’s a huge commitment, and it basically requires us to put our life on hold for another four years,” Drbal said. “But I’m an extremely motivated guy, and to be this close to actually competing in the games has just given me even more inspiration to work harder. I can’t think of anything better than being a U.S. Olympic athlete.”