Spc. Frank Del Duca had a plan to reach his first Olympic Games in 2022. The Army’s World Class Athlete Program helped him achieve it.
Del Duca, a bobsled pilot from Bethel, Maine, shared his goals with U.S. bobsled assistant coach Sgt. Justin Olsen last September. Olsen didn’t disclose Del Duca’s unorthodox designs to reach the games, but months of training and World Cup competition paid dividends as Team USA named Del Duca to its Olympic squad on Jan. 17.
“He outlined his map to make the Olympic team and it was not what everybody else was going to do,” Olsen recalled. “I said ‘hey … go out there and get it.”
This February Del Duca will make his Olympic debut in Beijing and will be joined by second-time Olympians Spc. Ben Loomis, the top U.S. competitor in Nordic combined skiing, Sgt. Emily Sweeney, who will compete in luge singles, Spc. Hakeem Abdul-Saboor, a bobsled brakeman, and Spc. Jasper Good [Nordic combined].
Del Duca currently ranks No. 27 in the world in two-man bobsled racing and No. 24 in four-man. He missed the cut for the 2018 Games.
“I just want to take it all in and take a moment to be like ‘wow this is happening,” Del Duca said, during a livestream interview Tuesday night. “And it’s really a dream come true. I just can’t wait to compete.”
Olsen, a 2010 gold medalist who in 2018 finished in 14h place in two-man bobsled, offered advice for this year’s five Olympic competitors. After a neck injury, Olsen retired from competing to coach bobsled and skeleton athletes.
“We don’t need to overreach. We don’t need to go the extra mile,” Olsen said. “The work is done. We need to do what we have been doing to be successful at this point. And really just come out there on race day and execute to the best of our abilities.”
Del Duca had already been training as a member of the USA bobsled team before enlisting in the Army in 2019, competing as a push athlete with the late bobsled legend Steven Holcomb. As a youth, Del Duca took part in downhill salom skiing, earning a Maine state championship as a sophomore.
Del Duca said he became interested in joining WCAP after witnessing the leadership and discipline of WCAP Soldiers already in the program.
“They led by example and were well prepared,” said Del Duca, 30.
After he didn’t make the 2018 Olympic team, Del Duca decided to join WCAP to upgrade his training, enlisting in the Army in 2019 as an infantryman. The WCAP program offers Soldier-athletes the opportunity to train for national level competitions full-time while also serving the U.S. military.
Following basic combat training, Del Duca immediately had to fly out to take part in a bobsled race after in-processing into the program at Fort Carson, Colorado. Soldiers must continually compete at a high level in order to remain in the program while fulfilling military obligations and training. Each athlete strives to make the U.S. Olympic team during each cycle.
“We’re wearing two uniforms for the USA, but I don’t take that lightly,” Del Duca said. “It’s such an honor and I’m grateful to be a part of the Army and [WCAP].”
Del Duca said that contrary to perceptions, Olympic athletes don’t have the luxury have having their training fully funded. Athletes must often compete away from the track — for sponsors.
Under the WCAP program, the Army supplements their training and provides a salary, housing and access to training facilities. WCAP also helps Soldiers with treatments and recovery for injuries.
“The military has supported me to do the things that I need to do and get the equipment that I need to get for success,” Del Duca said “And I owe much of my success to the support of the Army and the [WCAP] program.”
Loomis already had competed for several years in Nordic combined skiing when he joined the Army and WCAP in 2019.
Loomis began skiing at the age of two and eventually moved from his native Wisconsin to Park City, Utah, to enhance his training. Loomis placed second during the U.S. Olympic Trials in Lake Placid in December and has recorded his longest career jump at 138 meters. Loomis finished 40th in the large hill and 41st in the normal hill at the 2018 Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea.
“It’s really been much easier to focus on the sport,” said Loomis, ranked No. 30 in the world. “It’s allowed me to … really take the next step in my career.”
Olsen started his bobsled career in 2007 as a push athlete who admired the team’s veterans. He quickly became acclimated to the sport and won a gold medal in the 2010 Vancouver Games with pilot Holcomb.
After leaving the Air Force Academy after his freshman year, Olsen had planned to walk onto the Texas A&M football team before his mother encouraged him to attend a. pop-up bobsled camp in San Antonio. Olsen said WCAP’s athletes can inspire America’s youth to dream big.
“Somebody might watch and see your actions through a different lens,” he said. “And all I can hope for is you believe that nothing’s impossible.”
This story was written by Joe Lacdan, Army News Service.Read comments