Detroit Free Press (http://www.freep.com/sports/othersports/bobsled14e_20041214.htm)
CHIROPRACTOR EARNS RIDE ON U.S. BOBSLED
BY JO-ANN BARNAS
FREE PRESS SPORTS WRITER
December 14, 2004
It was the strangest place to find the fourth and final member of his bobsled team. But that's what happened.
Driver Mike Kohn's four-man sled had wrecked in practice, and the 2002 Olympic bronze medalist was concerned about the well-being of his crew. Upon learning the guys weren't injured, only sore, Kohn said: "The day is done."
Apparently, though, it wasn't for everyone. One of the push athletes the pilot had been trying out that day, a 28-year-old rookie from a small town in Michigan -- that was all Kohn knew about him -- had made his way back to the top of the hill.
Jason Ross was warming up.
"What are you doing?" Kohn asked.
"I'm ready to go again," Ross replied.
Kohn was stunned.
"And that's when I knew, this was my guy," he said.
Kohn was speaking by phone last week from Igls, Austria, where Ross, from Napoleon Township in Jackson County, was scheduled to compete in his third straight World Cup event as a member of Kohn's team.
"The crash didn't faze him," Kohn continued. "It was like taking a hit in football."
Three months into his new career as a push athlete, Ross has continued to impress Kohn and the entire U.S. Bobsled and Skeleton Federation.
The start push is crucial in bobsled. Ask Red Wings defenseman Chris Chelios, who has endured a couple of tumultuous runs on the smaller America's Cup circuit with the Greek team. Push athletes must be in top physical condition to sprint for about 50 meters while pushing a 462-pound sled from the starting block to gain momentum.
Ross pushes from the left side of the bobsled, sprinting down an icy track in spike-soled shoes before hopping in and tucking into the third seat, between Kohn's other regular first-teamers, pusher Ivan Radcliff of Houston, a Harvard graduate from Houston, and brakeman Lorenzo Smith III, a West Point graduate from Kankakee, Ill.
For certain, Ross is in a position that seemed unlikely a year ago, when he was a student at Palmer College of Chiropractic in Davenport, Iowa. He graduated this fall and turned down an offer to join a chiropractic practice in Grand Rapids to begin a career that could lead him all the way to the 2006 Winter Olympics in Turin, Italy.
As luck would have it, Ross has put his degree to use.
"He's a great athlete," said U.S. men's coach Tuffy Latour, "and a heck of a chiropractor."
Kohn said: "I told him that we probably need to take up a collection from all these people who use him on the team -- and I want 10 percent. Other countries are coming over and asking about him now. A guy from Monaco and a couple of Canadians came up at training" in Germany. "They say, 'Can I come by your hotel later?' "
Those who know Ross best say the small town where he grew up has played a significant role in his newfound profession.
Napoleon Township (population 6,962) is 10 miles east of Jackson. Folks there remember Ross as a star athlete with undeniable determination, a soft-spoken student who pedaled his bike twice a day, three days a week, to the high school in the summer to work out in the weight room. Ross lived five miles from school.
He was the kid so loyal to team rules that during an interview, he once made a female reporter sprint with him to practice at the football field because, as his football coach always said, "Once you reach the fence, you start runnin'."
Ross, who graduated from Napoleon High in 1994, was an all-state running back in football and state champion in the 200-meter dash his senior year.
A decade later, Ross' work ethic is still used as an example at the school.
"We still do some of the drills that he used to do for himself," said math teacher Don Baxter, the football coach at Napoleon the past 18 years. "When he told me about trying out (for bobsled), it didn't surprise me the least."
The youngest of Larry Ross and Lori Tsutsui's five children, Jason Ross turned down an academic scholarship at Michigan to play football and run track at Hillsdale College, where he graduated in 1998 with degrees in biology and physical education.
Hoping for a shot in pro football, he hooked up with a recruiter and spent six months at a developmental camp in Orlando, where he worked out during the day and loaded boxes at a shipping company at night.
"This guy was supposed to bring in scouts to perform for, like a combine," Ross said. "But after a while, it was pretty obvious that the guy was pretty shady. After so many months of working out and never seeing anything happen, I left."
From there, Ross began traveling to combines on his own. He drove to Louisiana for tryouts with a Canadian Football League team. He went to Arizona and Atlanta. Finally, in 2000, after Ross wasn't called back after making it to the final 40 hopefuls at a tryout for the now-defunct XFL, he decided it was time to let go of his dream of playing pro football.
So he went back to school. At Palmer College, he kept fit between classes by lifting weights in the school gym. In July 2001, someone mentioned that he should try out for the rugby team. Ross not only made the team, he was so good that he earned a scholarship that paid his tuition.
The next season, Ross was in the weight room, rehabbing a dislocated shoulder he had suffered in a game, when he was approached by Palmer's director of rehabilitation and sports injury. The man's name was David Juehring, and he was a former national champion in skeleton -- which is sledding headfirst -- and bobsled. He was also a former bobsled coach.
"He said, 'Hey, you should think about bobsled; I think you'd be a good pusher,' " Ross recalled. "I kept it in the back of my mind."
In December 2003, Ross surfed the Internet and found the U.S. Bobsled Web site ( www.usbsf.com). He then clicked on a heading that said: "How to make the team."
The first step was easy enough: Send his athletic resume. Then he noticed he needed to submit a series of times and scores to prove his athletic ability. So he asked a friend, Eric Trato of Millington, to serve as his statistician.
"We went to the track, and I started to throw down some times," Ross said. "I did everything. I wasn't sure what was important and what was not. And I had no idea if they were good or not."
Ross, who's 5-feet-9 and 200 pounds, sprinted 30 meters in 3.72 seconds. He did the 60 in 6.76. Then it was off to the weight room, where Ross power-cleaned 287 pounds and followed that with 485 for the squat.
Ross e-mailed his results to the bobsled federation.
And then he waited.
After three months, nothing.
So he sent a follow-up e-mail to Latour, who subsequently invited Ross to a push camp in the summer in Lake Placid, N.Y. Latour, who says he receives about 300 inquiries a year, recalled that Ross stood out right away at the camp.
"Not many people can come out and in a week's time do very, very well -- especially rookies," Latour said.
Kohn, a former pusher, was more emphatic.
"From a technical aspect, Jason was the most natural-looking pusher I'd ever seen," he said. "We didn't have to do much coaching with him. All of us were like, 'Wow. This guy has never pushed a sled before?'
"We had a side-push instruction. I did the demonstration, then said, 'Whoever wants to go, go.' I stepped back, and Jason was the first to step up. He ran the sled down the hill as far as he could go. He got on and he looked as natural as a guy who's been doing it for four, five years.
"But this was on land, not ice. I told myself, 'OK, he looks good. Let's see what he can do on ice.' "
So Kohn invited Ross to a camp in Calgary, Alberta, in late August. Ross was on fire. Again.
"He was ripping and tearing each time he went down the track -- full speed, pushing his guts out every time," Kohn said. "But then, as the camp progressed, he was starting to get a little worse and a little worse each time. We thought, 'What's going on here?' "
Kohn talked to Ross, who told him he had tweaked a groin muscle.
Kohn was alarmed.
"If you're hurt, stop," he told him. "I don't want it to get any worse; you have a shot at making the team."
That incident alone, in Kohn's eyes, was as important as anything else Ross did that week.
"I liked the fact that he didn't use his injury as a crutch; he did the best with what he had," Kohn said.
At the final camp, Kohn had nine finalists for three spots on his sled.
He put his first group together: Radcliff and Smith III -- they were both on Kohn's team last season -- and Ross.
With Kohn in the driver's seat, the foursome flew down the track. When it was over, Kohn knew he had his crew.
Now it's three months later, "and that kind of brings us to here," Ross said.
Ross was on the phone. It was Sunday night, and he was speaking from his hotel room in Austria, where he had been scheduled to make his first-ever World Cup start in a two-man event with Kohn until he strained his right calf muscle five minutes before Saturday's race. The injury also prevented him from competing in Sunday's four-man event.
"I was doing my last sprint, and it pulled on me," Ross said. "It was total disappointment."
Although he's a veteran in the sport, Kohn is in his first full season as a four-man pilot on the World Cup circuit. The current leader in the four-man point standings is American Todd Hays, a 2002 Olympic silver medalist, who has driven USA I to two World Cup victories.
USA II pilot Steve Holcomb is 10th in the four-man standings, and Kohn, who has been driving with a torn abdominal muscle, stands 17th.
In women's bobsled, pilot Jean Racine of Waterford, a 2002 Olympian, is fourth.
Ross is unsure if his injury will prevent him from competing in this weekend's event in Cortina, Italy. But he's having the time of his life.
"I'm going to stick with this as long as I can, to see how far this takes me," Ross said. "We have some big plans."
Tuesday, December 14, 2004
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