You Win Some, You Luge Some: the resilience and perseverance of Sgt. Emily Sweeney
Story by Sgt. Michael Hunnisett
U.S. Army World Class Athlete Program (WCAP)
BEIJING, CHINA 02.08.2022 - U.S. Army Sgt. Emily Sweeney, a World Class Athlete Program Soldier-athlete and military police officer, punched her ticket to the 2022 Winter Olympic Games in Beijing on January 10, when she was named to the 2022 U.S. Olympic luge team.
Being no stranger to challenges and hardships within the sport, Sweeney has previously narrowly missed being selected to the Olympic Team, and has suffered from multiple injuries in the sport.
She took to the sport of luge over a decade ago, after deciding to follow in her sister Megan’s footsteps. However, for the 2010 Olympics, Emily lost the last spot on the U.S. luge team to Megan, and did not qualify for the Olympic team in 2014.
Sweeney did however, previously qualify for the 2018 Winter Olympic Games in Pyeongchang, South Korea. During her final slide of the competition she lost control of her sled, subsequently breaking her neck and back in the accident.
Channeling her inner resilience, Sweeney persevered to make a full recovery and come back to the sport, more determined than ever.
Leading up to the 2022 Winter Games, Sweeney competed through a long world cup circuit, earning her the points she needed to be a competitor for selection to the 2022 Games. She did, however, have to miss several races due to restrictions of military personnel entering Russia, costing her precious points.
“As a Soldier, I respect and understand the sense of accountability and responsibility that people have for me. Any time I travel, I have to get authorization to enter countries. But as an athlete and competitor, having to sit out was crushing.
Sweeney did what she does best, making the most of it, and remaining in Winterberg, Germany, to get some dedicated training time.
On January 10, Sweeney was officially named to her second Olympic luge team as one of three American women. What seemed unlikely -- improbable even -- four years ago had become a reality. Those who know her best were not surprised.
“I’m honestly just really proud,” said Sweeney. “No one has an easy road to get here and I am proud of myself that I was able to push through a lot and I’m grateful for the opportunity to represent the United States in Beijing.”
On Monday, she did. Sweeney took to the ice for her first of four runs in Beijing. After her run, she sat in 10th place with a time of 58.971.
During her second run, Sweeney crashed in curve 13, ‘The Tail of the Dragon’, a location on the track proving difficult for even the most experienced Luge athletes, with over 5 others having mishaps in the same place. She finished run two with a time of 2:01.410, heading into run three at 28th place.
“I’m not in the spot that I wanted to be in, and it’s really disappointing,” explained Sweeney. “This quad has been really challenging, and I’m really proud of myself that I’m here [in Beijing] and am more competitive than I have been, but it’s heartbreaking to be in the spot that I’m in.”
But again, her perseverance and resilience helped her push through, the next morning, Sweeney returned for runs three and four.
Sweeney brought her best, starting out the second day of competition strong by posting her third run as the 11th fastest of the group, bringing her time to 3:00.292 (+5.241). She managed to climb from 28th to 26th place.
There was no fourth and final run for Sweeney due to only the top 20 from run three continuing to the fourth round. Sweeney’s 26th place finish in run three is her final placing.
With her competition in Beijing drawing to a close, she doesn’t know what the future holds, yet.
“I’m excited to see what I’m going to do after this,” said Sweeney. “I used to feel so much pressure about what’s next, and I don’t know what that’s going to be, or if this is my last year competing, but I honestly can’t wait to see what else is out there and what my next dream will be.”