Winter Olympic Gold Medalist Speaks of Catholic Identity in Fast-Paced World
Speedster Curt Tomasevicz Slows Down for Spiritual Stability
It is common for bobsledders to reach speeds of 80 to 90 miles per hour in international races. While this may make for thrilling competition, Olympic gold medalist Curt Tomasevicz — no stranger to flying on ice — has a deep appreciation for slowing down.
The Shelby, Nebraska, native recently helped to organize a retreat at a Benedictine monastery. This was a reminder for him of what is most important in life. Despite a decorated career that includes not only an Olympic gold and bronze medal, but also three gold, two silver and five bronze medals at the World Championships — he knows that he cannot take them with him when he departs from this life.
Before death, however, Tomasevicz has not been letting retirement from competition keep him idle. In December he completed a doctorate in biological systems engineering at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln (focusing on the mechanics of human output rather than genetic manipulation). He has been teaching undergraduate engineering courses, gives talks to youth and others, has appeared on Catholic radio, and is contending for induction into the National Polish American Sports Hall of Fame. The 37-year-old is also open to marriage — but in God’s time. He spoke of this and more as the opening of the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea, approached Feb. 9.
What do you think of the bobsledding team’s chances this year and the U.S. team’s chances overall?
Overall, the American team has had lots of turnover since 2014, so that makes it tougher to predict who will come out on top in various events. However, we are well-represented in that we are sending our largest contingent ever — 242 competitors — which is also the largest ever for any country.
The bobsledding team is similar to the overall situation, in that there are new competitors from the last Olympics. I retired and Steve Holcomb unexpectedly died in his sleep last year. That was a real shock to everyone. You just don’t think of a 37-year-old in great shape in terms of death, but that’s where we’re all headed sooner or later — gold medals or not.
The last time we talked, you explained how your gold medal meant less to you than your bronze medal. That’s counterintuitive for most people.
Yes, the prevailing philosophy in the culture is that winning is the only thing that matters, that gold is great and silver or bronze are kind of afterthoughts or even signs of defeat. The thing with my bronze medal, though, was that the competition was much tougher than it was with my gold medal.
If you look at it simply from a productivity/output standpoint, the bronze was better than the gold. It’s kind of like scoring 80 points as a basketball team and being outscored, versus scoring 60 points and outscoring the opponent. Yes, 60 points is good, but 80 is better, even if your opponent outscored you. The only thing you have control over is your own preparation and how you put that into play in competition, so if you do that well, there shouldn’t be any worries about whether you’re better or worse than someone else.
We measure times in races, but it’s too bad that we don’t measure character or integrity — things like sacrifice, perseverance and teamwork. Those are the things that stay with you, rather than external marks of success. Internal success, which is equivalent to having strong character or being honorable, is the only success that matters and that endures. I was recently able to give witness to that in a retreat in a monastery here in Nebraska, where I was one of the organizers.
Being Catholic has helped you maintain a stable identity amid all the competitions and travels, correct?
If I weren’t Catholic, I think my life would be the equivalent of a bobsled crash. Being Catholic allows me to get my priorities straight and know that, despite what most people will tell you, athletic competitions are fleeting and you should not measure your self-worth through them. There’s lots of pressure to do well, and pressure to do well badly, so to speak — meaning that winning is held up as the only thing and that a little cheating is understandable.
Competition is fun, but only in the context of following the rules. Taking given parameters and making the most of them can be a multifaceted, engaging adventure. That’s at the heart of one of the classes I teach to undergrads now. It’s an intro to engineering course involving sports — the tools we use in competition (bobsleds, rackets, bats, gloves and so on) and the biomechanics of competition (which postures, strides, timings and angles result in best runs, passes, pitches and so on).
I also teach classes on the economics of engineering and the ethics of engineering — topics that the Catholic Church can be involved in. I don’t use these as examples in the class, but building churches can certainly have lots of economic and ethical concerns.
There are various challenges of fundraising and determining exactly how the money is spent, and then how the structures themselves should be capable of withstanding tough weather conditions, yet at the same time be suitable for worship. A lot goes into a church, so maybe one day I’ll be involved somehow in Duncan Stroik’s Institute for Sacred Architecture — maybe writing an article for their Sacred Architecture journal or giving a talk at some event.
You already do plenty of public speaking, even aside from classroom teaching and retreats, right?
I give both secular and spiritual talks, which can be booked through my site (TomaseviczBobsled.com). For the spiritual ones, there are three main categories: One is centered on the start of my bobsledding career, the second on my first crash, and the third on my retirement. They all have a spiritual component of overcoming fear and trusting in God’s providence.
At the beginning of my career, I took a leap of faith. Getting into bobsledding meant giving up what I had planned and taking a risk on something that could have resulted in lots of failures, injuries and economic problems (bobsledders rely on sponsors rather than being paid a salary).
My first crash — which lasted so long that I was able to pray three and a half Hail Marys before the sled stopped — was very jarring, but I had to get back into things and not let fear take a hold of me. It was also a strong reinforcement of how I never pray to win, but so that everyone would compete to the best of their abilities and that no one would get hurt.
At the end of my career, I had a void to fill due to my departure from bobsledding. I had grown accustomed to planning everything else around the sport, so there was a big transition when it was no longer there. This reinforced how important it is to me to be Catholic — being a part of the Church that Christ founded for our well-being. I was very motivated to be the best bobsledder I could be, but I didn’t let it become a god for me. If I had let that happen, the transition away from it would have been devastating rather than challenging.
I’m in the process of getting into the speaker’s bureau of Catholic Athletes for Christ. They specialize in more familiar sports like baseball, so it should be good to get a representative from a Winter Olympics sport in there — although I did play football in college, so I’m not unfamiliar with that. I was also on The Son Rise Morning Show last week with Matt Swaim to talk about the Olympics and being Catholic, so I’m getting out there in the Catholic world.
Maybe you’ll end up finding a wife through the speaking.
I do want to be a husband and father, but that took a back seat to bobsledding for a decade. I’m still involved somewhat in the sport, but nothing like I used to be, which means that marriage is far more likely. Yet marriage is a marathon rather than a sprint, so I’m not rushing into it. The Diocese of Lincoln is one of the best in the nation, but even if I don’t find a wife here, there is one out there, if marriage is indeed what God wants for me.
Register correspondent Trent Beattie writes from Seattle.
His book, Fit for Heaven (Dynamic Catholic, 2015),
contains numerous Catholic sports interviews, most of which have appeared in the Register.