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A Homemade Wooden Luge Track Launches Teen To Sochi

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It's single-digit cold as Brett West steps into the snow in his backyard in Ridgefield, Conn., and points to a wooden monstrosity. It stands 32 feet high and looks kind of like a wooden roller coaster.

"The whole thing's made of wood — two-by-fours, four-by-fours and 3-quarter-inch plywood, all pressure-treated lumber, with a lot of screws."

The homemade track was the first training ground for his son, Tucker, an 18-year-old who is the youngest member of the U.S. luge team in Sochi.

Tucker says the idea for the backyard track came when he was just 6; he and his dad were watching the 2002 Olympics. "He just said, 'Man that's cool. You want to try that?' And I said, 'Heck yeah.' I mean this is just the advanced version of ... sledding."

A couple of attempts to build a track in the snow melted too quickly, so Brett decided it needed to be made of wood. After months of obsessive work, they finished it; Brett says his son couldn't get enough.

"We had a PA system out there, and I would announce, 'Here we are at the Olympics, and next up is Tucker West!' "

Tucker's Olympic dream took a turn toward reality when a local newspaper article about the track wound up on the desk of Gordy Sheer, director of Marketing and Sponsorships for USA Luge and an Olympic silver medalist in the sport. Sheer was intrigued and went to check it out for himself.

"It was truly amazing to see," Sheer says. "First of all, the engineering and the thought that went into it, but also the length of the thing. I mean it was, you know, 800 feet [or] something like that. It was a big track."

Sheer invited Brett and Tucker up to Lake Placid, N.Y., to try out a real Olympic luge track, and the two of them were hooked. They started making the five-hour drive every week. By the time he was in high school, Tucker had transferred to a boarding school in Lake Placid; since the ninth grade, his family has only gotten to see him for a few weeks at a time.

"But now that he's achieved his goal," says Brett, "all the questions we had — Did we do the right thing for him, allowing him to go off at such a young age? — that question has been answered."

Tucker's goal, of course, was the Olympics; he qualified in December. His mother and sisters won't make it to Sochi because of security concerns, but Brett says he just has to be there.

"It will, without a doubt, be the most emotional thing that I've experienced."

Tucker says if it wasn't for his dad, he wouldn't be going to Sochi.

"All I did was what any dad would do — try to plant some seeds in their young children and throw some water on it," says Brett. "And then once it sprouted, you know, he grew it himself."

Copyright 2014 WSHU Public Radio Group. To see more, visit http://www.wshu.org/.

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