As a member of the U.S. skeleton team, Lauren Salter routinely flies down the track at 75+ MPH with her head leading the way, mere inches from the glossy ice.
Heading into a curve late or losing concentration for a split second could spell a chilling disaster. Yet, Salter, 27, is perhaps taking more of a risk off the ice, where she is working two jobs just to support her Olympic dream.
For the southern California native, the gambles are fitting. She came into this world, not expected to live a normal life. If she has it her way, however, she’ll beat the odds that come with attaining success in an “off-the-radar” sport.
Entering life on the edge
Salter and her twin brother, Kendall, were born eight weeks early and required a team of over 90 doctors and nurses to care for them at two different hospitals for over seven weeks. Salter even dropped below her scary birth weight of 3 pounds, 2 ounces in the time consumed by intense care that included an open-heart surgery (through her back) to correct a condition known as Patent Ductus Arteriosus.
“We’re still known as the ‘Miracle Twins at the hospital we were born at,” Salter said. “At the last visit with the pediatrician, who was also the doctor who helped deliver us, he said, ‘So your heart still doesn’t bother you, huh?’ I said, ‘should it?'”
Although there were some developmental delays in her first 18 months of life, Salter has more than made up for them.
Her heart ticks to sports. She played nearly everything growing up, but was a four-year letter winner in track and field at Hemet High School, where she set a school record in the 4×100 relay and competed in everything from the 100-meter sprint to the long jump and triple jump. She also walked-on to the soccer team, and made the varsity squad by the time she was a sophomore.
Wanting to continue her athletic career, Salter ran track at Northern Arizona University, where worked toward a degree in Parks and Recreation Management. She took a break from the track during her junior year, but returned to throw the javelin in her final year.
Eye on the Olympic rings
During the 2010 Olympics, Salter and her throwing coach got to talking about various sports, including bobsled.
“I think the way he put it was, ‘You’re not the fastest athlete, but that’s what they recruit,” Salter said.
The thought of continuing as an athlete after college was incredibly appealing to Salter, so she sent in her running test scores and was contacted by a coach in Park City, Utah.
“He said I was a little too small for bobsled, but he gave me the contact information for someone in skeleton,” Salter said.
Salter happened to be moving to northern Virginia after college, so she went to Lake Placid for a visit.
“I borrowed my friend’s car and drove up for my first combine test, and I remember taking pictures of everything that had the Olympic rings on it, which is everything up here, so I looked like a total tourist,” Salter said.
After the trip, Salter was hooked on the idea so she moved to Lake Placid in 2012 to go through sliding school.
Her first full run down the track after much training was about as scary as it got.
“I remember standing at the top being so terrified because it’s different starting at the top versus going down four curves. I remember laying on my sled and barely getting over the timing line, and then of course, I picked up speed,” Salter said. “I wasn’t steering correctly, and my head was probably way up in the sky. I got to the bottom, and I definitely wanted to do it again because that first ride, I didn’t remember any part of it.”
Working to slide
By 2013, Salter took bronze at the National Championships in Lake Placid, but as for a spot on the 2014 Olympic team, she was one of 17 women competing for two positions. It didn’t help that Noelle Pikus Pace came out of retirement to earn one spot, and an eventual silver medal in Sochi. Simply lacking the experience, Salter took 9th in trials, and has since continued her journey on the developmental team.
Despite a nagging back injury suffered while lifting in January, Salter had her best season yet last winter as she honed her skills in the North American Cup, where she earned either a silver or bronze medal in her final six competitions.
If training and competing could be a full-time job, Salter would be one happy woman, but the U.S. national team doesn’t provide funding for its athletes.
Instead, she works two jobs — she’s full-time at a restaurant in a Lake Placid hotel, and she works another 15 hours per week at a local convenience store.
She starts at the convenience store in the morning, goes to the gym for some lunch time training, and then stays on her feet to work the restaurant job at night.
“Being on my feet and exerting so much energy is the most challenging part of it all,” Salter said. “People don’t really think a job at a convenience store is hard on your body, but I stand for five straight hours. Then I’m on my feet for training, so I’m on my feet for 8-15 hours a day in addition to my training. The physical hardship is a lot, which is why on my days off, it’s hard for me to hang out with friends or go do something because I know that I need to get my body rest for the next day.”
Athletes inspiring athletes
Salter, who is also a huge fan of the U.S. Women’s soccer team, saves wisely. She spent two years saving up to go to the World Cup in Canada just to watch the team play in person.
“The World Cup is probably what will have saved my career,” Salter said. “Often, I think about retiring or giving up, so seeing first hand the commitment and the passion that those girls have, it inspires me. They’re my role models.”
Salter grew up with great admiration for Mia Hamm and the 1999 national team that won the World Cup.
“They’ve always been constant role models in my life from when I was 11 and now watching them win the World Cup at 27. Nobody has really let me down, and that’s huge in a role model,” Salter said.
That’s what Salter strives to be for others.
“I want someone to see me and say, ‘Hey, that’s something I could do,'” Salter said. “I want to be the kind of person that I used to look up to. That’s hard because I’m in a sport that’s in the spotlight only for two weeks during the Olympic Games and then it goes back under-the-radar.”
Because Salter is a low-profile athlete gunning for the world’s biggest athletic stage, people don’t see her train between two jobs. They don’t observe the unrelenting passion that is needed to endure such a lifestyle. They don’t hear about the nearby fire that just last week, forced Salter out of her apartment due to smoke damage.
Those are the stories that slide by, but shouldn’t.
If you’d like to support Lauren Salter in her quest, consider making a donation. It would be money well spent on someone who would represent the country well.