Hauptman back on track

Brendan Hauptman, a Kimberley product, competes on the World Cup luge circuit. - Photo Submitted
Brendan Hauptman, a Kimberley product, competes on the World Cup luge circuit.
— image credit: Photo Submitted

Brendan Hauptman says he “concussed myself pretty good” in a frightening luge wipeout almost two years ago near Moscow.

The 25-year-old also injured his chin but escaped more serious injuries in official training for the inaugural World Cup luge event in Paramonovo, some 18 miles north of the Russian capital.

Hauptman was in Vernon two weeks ago, signing autographs and meeting people outside Lifestyle Natural Foods in the Village Green Mall. The store is owned by his uncle, Darrel Hauptman, who plays golf out of Spallumcheen, and is one of Brendan’s biggest fans.

The mishap came in the second-last World Cup of the year, just after the world championships, and it was the first time on a new track for most lugers.

“It had been largely untested and basically, the first couple of times off the top, everything really went well,” said Hauptman. “It was one of those tracks where it’s built really weird and if you get caught a little bit behind, you would just multiply down the track, and that’s just what happened, I guess. As far as I’m told anyways.

“I lost a good 10 seconds of memory. I kind of went catastrophic in one of the higher curves and woke up in a Russian ambulance and spent the rest of the week in hospital.”

Hauptman’s crash brought back memories of the death of Georgian luger Nodar Kumaritashvili just hours before the opening of the 2010 Vancouver Games. Kumaritashvili, 21, was killed during a practice run when he lost control of his luge, flew off the track and slammed into a metal support post.

“I was actually at the top of the track so I saw it happen,” said Hauptman, a forerunner at the Vancouver Olympics. “It was a tragedy. I was a little shocked that it happened. It was a freak accident. It was the first time anyone’s ever left the track since 1964. It was a real sad event.”

Despite the dangers of steering a 50-pound fibreglass shell down a curved track at speeds reaching almost 87 miles an hour, Hauptman has no fear and prepares well for race day.

“After a while, you kind of get desensitized to speed, which is kind of dangerous for my driving,” he laughed. “But on a sled, you almost don’t notice it until you actually have to walk the track, and you go, ‘Man this corner’s big.’ Generally, I’m not afraid of the speed. You also get to take it slow. Once you get to a new track, you start low and move up to the next start and build up your confidence that way. You’re never really rushed into anything so it’s good that way.”

Hauptman, who drives a Ford Focus, slowly because he can’t afford speeding tickets, missed qualifying for the 2010 Games after a slide-off for the final spot on the Canadian roster. Missed by a millisecond, but will use the forerunner experience to avoid being “starstruck in Sochi (2014 Olympics in Russia).”

Hauptman says his mom made him attend a street luge demonstration in downtown Kimberley when he was in Grade 10. It was part of the Legacies Now recruitment camp.

He played high school volleyball and hoops, skied and swam, but was intrigued by luge (French word for sled).

“With there being so much to do in Kimberley, luge was something new and completely different, and I just loved it so I kept going with it.”

His parents drove him to Calgary for regular training and he eventually made the junior national team.

“I toughed through the real enduring times when it seemed like the team was going to be impossible to crack, but I kept through with it and came within six hundredths of making the Olympic team.”

Hauptman, who has younger twin brothers, Kayne and Riley, spent last year rehabbing and coaching youngsters at Canada Olympic Park in Calgary, where he rents a room off the Olympic team’s trainer. He’s a carded athlete, but the money barely keeps him off the street.

He’s having a blast in luge and trained with the junior national sledders at Whistler a week ago to “re-learn the basics of sliding and take it slow.”

Once he was able to get his heart rate over 100, Hauptman hit the gym hard last year, “getting bigger, stronger, faster.”

He can literally slide on the Calgary track with his eyes closed so is anxious to find his touch at other venues before the World Cup season opens.

He plays the guitar, likes all kinds of music, enjoys video games (“not into the shoot-em up type”) and when the NHL is actually in business, cheers for Ryan Kesler and the Canucks.

Asked if he had any regrets in life, he deadpanned: “The spicy burrito I had the other day.”

The nine-stop World Cup season begins Nov. 23-24 in Igls, Austria. Whistler hosts the worlds, Feb. 1-2.

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