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Andreas Drbal and Maureen Ajoku are linked through more than just the sport of bobsled. Long before they dreamed of pushing a sled on an icy track, a San Jose coach was pushing them to compete at the highest level on a very different track. Janelle Wang reports.
Of the thousands of Olympic hopefuls, two Bay Area bobsledders, Andreas Drbal and Maureen Ajoku, are linked through more than just the sport . Long before they dreamed of pushing a sled on an icy track, a San Jose coach was pushing them to compete at the highest level on a very different track.
Drbal, who calls Belmont home, was a track and field star at San Jose's Bellarmine College Prep. At UCLA, he ended up throwing the javelin.
"There was a great opportunity after I finished UCLA. I met a great two time Olympian and he introduced me to the sport, and he said all the qualities I have, my weight, my height, my power, my strength were all good qualifications for bobsled," Drbal said.
Ajoku, a San Jose native, had a similar experience, after graduating from UCSB and having a very successful collegiate track and field career.
"It was introduced by my college coach at UC Santa Barbara," Ajoku said. "He said I have a way for you to get to the Olympics and he said bobsled. I didn't take it seriously at all and he kept pressing the issue and I just gave it a try."
Both Ajoku and Drbal are relatively new to the sport, but both fell in love with it after they got over that initial fear.
"The first time I went down, I thought it was the craziest thing ever. It's like a washing machine," Drbal said.
"I have the 'holy crap feeling' because you never know what to expect when you go down," Ajoku said.
Drbal was named to the U.S. Men's team back in October, but anything can happen between now and the start of the Olympic games.
"Making the National team, there are 11 push athletes and three pilots and you still have to qualify the three sleds, so it's a high pressure for the drivers themselves," Drbal said. "Right now we're still in a pretty tough situation, and from those 11 push athletes, nine will be selected."
Ajoku didn't make the initial cut to the U.S. Women's national bobsled team, but continues to train with them in hopes of getting a last minute call-up. She knows plenty about training through adversity. Both of her parents died within six months of each other, just months after she graduated high school.
"It was one of the hardest things of my entire life, to start college a whole new thing without my parents, and I had to find strength within myself," Ajoku said. She uses her parents as inspiration to keep pushing herself, even on the most difficult days.
Through this high stakes competition simply to make the team, one may has been a steady strength for both Ajoku and Drbal; Belleramine College Prep's track and field coach, Derrick Bell.
"I'm not a bobsled coach, but the principles of bobsled are similar to track," Bell said. "I'm a jump coach so the power and speed of legs are in my line of expertise."
Bell coached Ajoku and Drbal in high school, but he's the first to admit he knew virtually nothing about the sport.
"First thing I thought of was Jamaican bobsled team and how cold it was going to be," Bell said.
Cold yes, but both athletes are intense and fierce competitors, willing to turn up the heat when it counts.
"When you get to race and wear that red, white and blue and see that USA come across the screen as first, that's a special feeling," Drbal said.