Olympian Tucker West tells tales of luge and life

Zooming down a hill at close to 90 miles an hour, inches above the ice, is scary — even for an Olympic luge competitor.

Yes, Tucker West hopes to go back in the Winter Olympics in China in four years. The weirdest thing he ate at the games in Pyeongchang was Korean bok choy — a spicy cabbage dish.

“Thank you,” Tucker West told a room full of young fans who’d turned out to hear Ridgefield’s Olympian talk about the fear, fun and friendship he found last month at the winter games. “I just need to start with ‘thank you.’”

He’d been asked by a parent if the support back home in Ridgefield had made any difference.

It did.

“I read each and every one of your Facebook messages. Some brought a tear to my eye, some laughter,” he said.

“I can’t express my gratitude enough: Thank you guys,” West said..

“It looks like my experience, but it was really all our experience — we all went to the Olympics.” The audience — most of them school kids, quite a few in ‘Team Tucker’ shirts — filled the library’s program room Wednesday, Feb. 28, and asked all kinds of questions. Tucker West answered them all — with what seemed an endless store of patience, honesty, humor and appreciation for the enthusiasm the kids had for his Olympic adventure.

He ventured out from the front of the room, walking among the crowd to hold the microphone so young questioners’ voices could be heard.

What did he like best about the experience?

“My favorite part of the Olympics was seeing all the different sports, all the different nations and everyone come together,” he said.

West spoke of how the North and South Koreans, with their long history of animosity, got along well and competed together as a unified team in women’s hockey.

“I loved seeing everyone come together,” he said.

Making friends, future plans

He was fortunate that the luge competition came early in the Olympics, allowing him to put the anxious anticipation behind him, relax, and enjoy watching the rest of the games.

“After you’re done, you’re ready to unwind so you go out and make friends,” he said. “It doesn’t matter what country you’re from: everyone’s ready to make friends.”

“I got to see a lot of the other events — speed skating, hockey. snowboarding, skiing — I got to see all the events. It was a really fun Olympics.”

He’ll try to return.

“China, 2022? I’m going to try and go for it again,” he said. “I’ll be 26 years old.”

Combating nerves

When he first started in luge, he was scared of going down a hill at 90 miles an hour.

“I was terrified of going 90 miles an hour,” he said.

“It’s still kind of scary,” he added. “...But, we’re trained to do it.”

West also noted that he hasn’t quite made the 90 miles-an-hour mark.

“I think it’s 89.9,” he said of his fastest time.

How does he combat nerves going down the track in competition?

West said he uses his nervousness.

“People say to race like it’s practice,” he said. “I like to use those nerves, use the butterflies in my stomach to propel my performance forward.”

And, yes, it’s pretty intense standing at the top, looking down the steep luge track.

“Your heart is definitely pumping,” he said.

Has he had accidents?

“Have I ever fallen off the luge? Yeah, all the time,” he said with a laugh. “...Sometimes you have to crash to learn, and I learn all the time.”

Suit up!

West spoke standing below a ‘team Tucker USA Luge’ banner with the Olympic rings on it, and had on display — though he didn’t wear it — his skin-tight luge suit.

He likened the suit’s aerodynamics to putting a hand out a moving car’s window — held up palm open, or extended out low and flat.

“Tight,” he said. “...So it helps to go faster down the track.”

The suit, he said, was beyond cool — it was cold, insulating warmth sacrificed to aerodynamics.

“The spandex is really tight. It cuts off your breathing and its super, super cold,” he said.

Of course, that has to do with the environment, and the wind chill.

“It’s negative 20 degrees,” he said.

Why does he need to wear a helmet?

“That’s a good question. You should always wear a helmet,” he said. “Even going 10 miles an hour on a bike, you should wear a helmet. GoIng 90 miles an hour on a luge, you should definitely wear your helmet…

“The helmet will keep your brain safe,” he said. “The brain’s the most important part of the body.”

Finding a passion

He spoke of starting the sport on a luge track his family built at their home off West Mountain road — which people can still see driving by, he said.

“We built the track in ’03. I was eight years old,” he said.

At age 11, he began doing luge at Lake Placid, N.Y., site of 1980 Winter Olympics and still home to Olympic level training facilities.

He grew up in town, going to elementary school at Scotland, and middle school at Scotts Ridge.

Has he done other sports?

“I have. I wasn’t very good at them...

“If I was better at baseball, I’d be doing that,” he joked.

What’ll he do after his competitive luge days are over?

That’s a question, he admitted, that his parents might soon be asking him — but he doesn’t yet know the answer.

“My big thing is finding my passion,” West said. “When I’m passionate about something, I’m pretty good at giving my 100%.”