Ridgefield’s Own Olympian
Wow, the Winter Olympic season is upon us, and we are hearing one inspirational story after another! The town of Ridgefield is proud to have its own local inspiration – Tucker West. We’re sure you’ve heard of this young luge athlete by now. Not only is his banner hanging over the front of Town Hall, his story has been shared by the likes of ESPN and NBC Olympics.
We love him because he’s our own, but pretty soon the rest of the country is going love him too.
With a Ridgefield-based family business and two daughters in the Ridgefield Public School system, the West family is tightly woven into this town. Tucker attended elementary and middle school in Ridgefield, and was part of the local Cub Scouts chapter before leaving as a ninth-grader for the National Sports Academy in Lake Placid to fully commit to his training.
What makes Tucker stand out from the rest? There’s a list. First of all, as an 18-year-old, he will be the youngest luge athlete competing in Sochi from all nations and the youngest USA Men’s luge athlete to ever go to the Olympics. Then, there’s his Olympic-inspired dad who built an enormous luge track in their backyard after watching the 2002 winter games with his six-year-old son. Add the fact that in one year, Tucker has climbed from being at the middle of the pack in the Junior World Cup to one of the top competitors in the Senior World Cup.
There’s one more thing on the list: Tucker is likeable. He has a unique combination of confidence and humility that draws people in. When asked about his goal for the 2014 Winter Olympics, he says:
“My goal for Sochi is to be the best that I can possibly be. I want to be able to put down four clean runs that I can be proud of, and wherever I end up, from that I will be happy. I’m still young so I’m looking more for experience going into these games. Hopefully by 2018, when I’ve developed as a slider more, I’ll be able to say that I’m gunning for the gold and nothing less. For now, I will be happy with a good race.”
“Tucker is so focused; he’s been so focused on luge since he was 11,” Tucker’s dad, Brett West, notes. “From day one, he has said ‘This is my life; my goal is to be an Olympic medalist,’ and he hasn’t stopped since, including changing his whole life, which has been very difficult for him and even more difficult for [his mom].”
How It Began
Tucker’s luge career unofficially began when he was six years old and his dad built what is becoming well-known as “the backyard track.” This “monstrosity,” as Tucker’s mom, Pam West, affectionately calls it, is a tall, wooden fort-like start with an offshoot that looks like a waterpark slide. It took the family months to put it together. “I was obsessed, West jokes. “I decided he had to have it, and it became my mission.”
Once the track was built, West tested it by sending a bowling ball down the track, which to his great dismay, went flying out. After a two week delay to reconstruct “Devil’s Curve,” he tested it again using the bowling ball and then sand bags. With bales of hay all along the outside of the track, West allowed an eager Tucker to be the first to slide. “I remember running as fast as I could, following him to catch him,” he says. “I was terrified that I had built a death contraption.” But, he went through perfectly and when Tucker reached the bottom, he jumped up excited to do it again.
How To Be Good At Luge
We take our children to ski school, ice skating lessons and hockey games, but how does a kid learn the sport of luge? Most people don’t know that USA Luge runs a program called Slider Search in which recruits travel across the country looking for natural talent.
One year, after hearing about the backyard track, USA Luge came to Ridgefield and watched more than 100 kids slide down Governor Street on wheel-equipped sleds. Tucker was one of two boys chosen that day to attend a summer camp where he was chosen for the USA Luge Junior Development Team.
Tucker was 11 years old when he joined the Development Team and began to work his way up the ranks to compete at the level he is today. His advice for other young athletes is:
“The biggest thing is to never give up. Everyone can be the best at something, but the only thing that separates you from being on top or not being on top is how much work you put into achieving your goal.”
“I believe anyone can do well and get there if you do one thing: dedicate your life to it,” his dad notes. Of course, there’s a delicate balance a parent keeps when encouraging a child to excel while being careful not to push too much. “The kid has to want it more than the parent,” Brett West puts it simply.
“I ask him every time he leaves, ‘Are you sure you want to go?’” his mom says. “We’ve tested him a million times. He would be devastated if he couldn’t go. This is what he wants.”
Thank you Ridgefield!
The West family is feeling the love. A Team Tucker Facebook page has been created to keep everyone up to date on what’s happening in Sochi. After Brett West posted he had free Team Tucker tee-shirts to give away, all 400 of them were snatched within 24 hours. The family has stated numerous times how appreciative it is of the tremendous support from the town.
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