SHS grad finds skeleton key to success |

SHS grad finds skeleton key to success

KONIGSSEE, Germany – For those who know her, Katherine Uhlaender’s foray into the world of skeleton racing will come as no surprise.

The 2002 Summit High School graduate has always sought challenges, like when she tried out with the boys and made the SHS baseball team.

But it is remarkable that only eight weeks after first trying the sport – which people may remember from the 2002 Olympics is like luge, only head first – Uhlaender won the Junior National title and placed eighth in the world for racers 23 years old and under.

“That’s definitely her personality,” said SHS athletic director Gretchen Nies, “to take on some big challenges.”

Uhlaender got into the sport on the recommendation of Sarah Sprung, a Summit County resident and bobsled competitor. In November, Uhlaender went to a U.S. team camp in Lake Placid, N.Y., for her inaugural runs down a track. She was impressive enough that the American coaches put her on track to compete in the Junior National Championships, Jan. 25 in Placid.

Barely two months after first putting her stomach on a sled, Uhlaender was a surprise winner, the new Junior National Women’s Champion.

“I was excited, but I didn’t really know what it all meant,” she said. “I was just doing my thing.”

One thing the win meant was a trip to Germany for the World Junior Championships. She joined three World Cup veterans in representing the U.S. at the race, which took place Saturday. Uhlaender finished eighth. It was the third race of her career.

The sport is riding the momentum of the Salt Lake City Olympics, where Americans swept the men’s and women’s races. Saturday’s was the first World Junior Championships the sport has ever had.

“We hadn’t had the demand for it,” said U.S. assistant coach Peter Vaiciulis. “But now the sport is more recognized. The Olympics were a big hit, so a lot of (people) saw it on that.”

Uhlaender, who spent two years at Summit High School after moving from Texas, and whose brother, Will, is an SHS junior, said the sport, “feels like flying.”

She returns from Germany today and will spend a few weeks in Summit County before heading back to Placid to train. Her next big competition is the senior National Championships, March 3 in Lake Placid. Bolstered by her auspicious start, she plans to stick with the sport in the coming years but needs financial help to support her offseason training.

“There are a lot of girls fighting for funding, and I don’t really know where I stand,” she said.

Skeleton’s Olympic status has been on and off over the years. Before 2002, it was only included in the 1928 and 1948 Games, according to Vaiciulis. But the coach said it is now a permanent part of the Olympics.

Uhlaender’s dedication to athletics was likely learned from her father, who is an assistant general manager and scout for the San Francisco Giants. He used to be a third-base coach for the Cleveland Indians.

In addition to playing baseball, Uhlaender was a starter on the Summit High softball team.

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