No Speed Limit.
What's skeleton? You ask.
"You mean other than pure stupidity?" laughs Jackson, as he slips on his sled suit, tattered and scarred from friction burns and tears worn so deep, they're mended with duct tape to cover exposed skin.
"It's intense, where, 'Oh, s#&%,' runs through my mind at every corner and a sigh of relief is felt at the finish line when I come through in one piece."
That could be viewed as the mental definition of skeleton racing, a sport virtually unseen since the 1948 Olympic Games. The physical definition lies in a small sled, an extreme athlete and an empty bobsled track. Put those winter sport elements together with a belly-busting descent on a blistering speed ride of around 40- to 50-frantic seconds and you get the sport of skeleton -- in other words, it's a headfirst version of the luge.
Another key aspect that makes any skeleton racer stand out is the bruises and scrapes, the swollen hand or two and numerous friction burns received from the track -- all expenses the athlete pays, even if they do it well.
"My right shoulder is charred," Jackson says with a smile, showing the pride of what in the extreme sport arena is referred to as a "war wound."
"I made what's called a snow cone coming out of a turn in the America's Cup race at Calgary," Jackson jokes as he tightens the sled bars into the arch needed to get speed on the track before his first run of the day. "They call it that because when you hit the wall you scrape ice off the track."
Hitting the wall is not uncommon in a sport where the athletes are steering with their knees and shoulders. Yet, super human athletes like Jackson and his teammates make it look easy as they slide around corner after corner through the curvy labyrinth of frozen track.
Spectators clinging to the guard rails hoping to get a glimpse, swear Jackson's Navy blue blur just flew by at close to mach speed. In actuality, he soars on the ice at more than 80-miles-per-hour.
They say things like, "Wow!" "Did you see that?" and "Cool!"
But mostly the athletes get questions on, "What is skeleton?", and by those who have seen it, "How can you do such an extreme thing?"
"My first push was a little weird, but coming from bobsledding, it wasn't much different," said Jackson.
That's right, Jackson has been a member of the U.S.A. Bobsled Team. And that's exactly how he got into skeleton. While attending the Naval Academy, his father had mentioned to him that the U.S.A. Bobsled Team was going from college to college looking for interested athletes. Jackson, who had always wanted to represent the Navy in sports, jumped at the chance.
After passing the initial test, Jackson was asked to come to the Olympic Training Center, Lake Placid, N.Y., where he and 59 others vied for a seat on the team. That number was cut in half the first day, and luckily, Jackson was still standing tall. After a season of four-man bobsledding, Jackson decided to try something that would entirely count on his skills as an athlete, and skeleton was the road he chose.
Standing in the midst of an intenational group of skeleton competitors - some on the U.S. team, others from countries well known more for cold weather sports - he looks like a giant. At more than six-foot and weighing twice that as some of the other athletes, Jackson dwarfs many of the skeleton racers. If you can imagine, in bobsledding he is referred to as the "smaller guy," yet in skeleton where his size is definitely recognized, weight can have its advantages and its disadvantages.
"I find his weight gives him a little extra push at the end of the track," said Terry Holland, Team U.S.A captain and assistant coach for the America's Cup race in Park City. "His momentum really carries him across the finish line, giving him make-up time he could have lost on the tracks."
While Jackson is not ranked No. 1 on the U.S.A. team, he has placed in various cup races and earned himself enough points to compete in the Olympic Games. This could be considered amazing, as this is his first year competing in a sport others have been training in since it came back to Lake Placid, N.Y., in 1982 and was part of the 1986 World Cup races.
Off the track, Jackson finds himself immersed in watching skeleton track videos, physical training and resting. His room at Park City is free thanks to former Coast Guardsman, Mac MacQuoid and his wife Ann.
"What an amazing way to get involved," said Mac MacQuold. "We were at a fund raiser here in Park City, and my wife saw Harry in his dress uniform. The rest is history."
The MacQuoids offered to store Jackson's gear for him while he traveled to Lake Placid for training, and when he returned to Park City to claim his gear, the MacQuoids offered to let him stay with them.
"It was great," said Jackson. "I had to move five times last season, and the rent out here (in Park City) for a place is sky high. Living with the MacQuoids is far better than living stuffed in an apartment with five other teammates."
Like Sailors all around the world, Jackson is meeting new people and representing the Navy in a unique program. Sporting Navy shirts, ball caps or sweat suits, Jackson puts the Navy's name out to people who might not ordinarily see a Sailor walking the street. And best of all, it's in a positive way.
"I always wanted to be in the Navy," says Jackson. "From the time I graduated from Admiral Farragut Academy and went on to the Naval Academy, I knew my goals were coming true."
After the Olympic Games in 2002, when Jackson takes his last four Gs in the corners of the ice track, the Navy will be waiting for him at flight school where he will train as a naval flight officer (NFO). Jackson expects to eventually find himself in the back seat of a Tomcat roaring through the sky at speeds many times faster than a skeleton sled travels, banking turns and producing Gs that will make the ice track in Park City seem like child's play. Hopefully, he can withstand the cornering in the sky as well as he can on the ice.
Watson is a photojournalist assigned to All Hands.
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|Title Annotation:||Harry Jackson , sailor athlete|
|Date:||Apr 1, 2001|
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