From Sochi to Gypsum: Former alternate on Olympic bobsled team joins Mountain Recreation
Kevin Ives has taken a winding path from his native Virginia to Eagle County
GYPSUM — Three years before he traveled to Sochi, Russia, as an alternate on the United States Olympic team, bobsledder Kevin Ives had never even tried the sport.
“I just vividly remember watching the Vancouver Olympics and the announcer saying that a lot of football and track athletes get into the sport of bobsledding,” Ives said. “I hopped on the internet and did a quick search of combine results and I thought I could, at least, physically compete with these guys.”
Thus a bobsledding career was born. It’s a great story. Ask Ives to tell it the next time you visit the Gypsum Recreation Center. That’s where he’s working these days. About a month ago he took over as the new Mountain Recreation Health and Wellness supervisor.
Ives is a relative newcomer to Colorado. He was born and mostly raised in Virginia.
“My dad was a lawyer for the military so we mainly grew up in the Quantico area,” Ives said. The family was stationed in Germany for a few years, however, and that time overseas sparked Ives’s lifelong passion for travel and finding new experiences.
After he graduated high school, Ives matriculated to Annapolis, Maryland, for a year, playing soccer for the United States Naval Academy.
“But I realized the military wasn’t really something I was interested in,” he said. Ultimately he transferred to Towson University, in Maryland, where he played wide receiver for the football team.
“Upon finishing up college and my athletic career at Towson, I was looking for a way to stay active and play sports,” said Ives. He didn’t think he stood a chance to play football or soccer professionally but then that fateful Vancouver Olympics broadcast happened. Ives told a buddy that he was going to become a bobsledder and that’s what he did.
After his internet research revealed he might have a shot at making it as a bobsledder, Ives sent an email to the Olympic program coach. In turn, he received an invitation to a team combine at Lake Placid. There were about 30 or 35 hopefuls at the event and Ives’s results put him in fifth place.
“So I got invited back to the next stage, which was called the push combine,” he said.
In the sport of bobsledding, you are either a driver or a pusher. Ives was the latter. At the push combine, athletes were tested using a cart on wheels that simulated the action of pushing a bobsled at the start of a race.
“I did well enough there to get a spot on the developmental team,” said Ives. “I started out with the USA 4 sled. Eventually, I was bumped up to USA 2.”
His rookie year in the sport was a whirlwind. He noted that pushers routinely rotate between two-man and four-man sleds and at the world championships that year, the four-man team he was on placed 11th.
But the very last race of his rookie season was a heartbreaker. While hanging out at the start house, Ives mentioned he had a tight hamstring to one of his fellow athletes. He recalled making a joke that he would probably tear it when it came time for his run. Turns out, it wasn’t a joke and he spent his sophomore season rehabilitating from his hamstring injury.
“It was a tough recovery at that time. If I knew then what I know now, I would do everything differently,” said Ives.
He said his third year with the program was scratch and claw. It was the lead up to, and the competition at, the 2014 Sochi Olympics. Ultimately he earned an alternate spot and made the trip to Russia with Team USA, but never competed.
Ives said the bobsled venue for the Sochi games was located in a town called Rosa Khotor.
“This town never even existed before. They built this town specifically for the Olympics,” he said.
The site was located about 10 miles from Sochi. “There was this obscene amount of stray dogs there,” he recalled.
His most vivid memory from the Olympics didn’t happen at events. It happened as he was leaving Russia.
“There was only one road in and out of Rosa Khotor and no exits,” he said. “We had a 5 a.m. flight out of Russia so we left in the middle of the night. Suddenly the bus stops and these Russian military guys get on.”
The soldiers only spoke Russian, but a team assistant was able to translate. They were looking for a convict who had escaped in the area and wanted to see everyone’s passport.
Ives, naturally, had a current passport. But it was the same passport he obtained back when he traveled to Germany with his parents. It featured a photo of him at age 14.
“Here I am, this 24-year-old guy with a passport photo of a child,” he said. “I figured they would think I was the convict, with a stolen passport.”
Luckily, that didn’t happen and the trip proceeded without incident. Shortly after Sochi, Ives made the decision to end his bobsledding career.
“Post Olympics, you face a decision. Continuing on means another four years of putting your career on hold,” he said. “At that point, I had the realization that I was OK with what my sports career had been.”
Reflecting on his bobsledding days, Ives is grateful for the friendships and journeys he made.
“Your typical bobsled track isn’t in Paris. It isn’t in London. You get to travel to all these unique places where bobsledding was invented,” he said.
Ives added that among the members of Team USA, there was a great spirit of camaraderie. That bond extended to athletes from other countries while hanging out at the start house prior to competition.
“It was just a really cool environment,” he said.
After he finished his days as a bobsledder, Ives launched his career in exercise science. He interned at various sports performance gyms and was eventually hired as the strength and conditioning coach at the University of Mary Washington in Fredricksburg, Virginia.
He loved the work — which he called hugely rewarding and financially difficult. He was working very long hours at the demanding position and while he enjoyed helping college athletes, he ultimately decided it was time for a change. His next gig brought him out west.
“I had come out to Colorado six or seven years prior to go snowboarding and I was just blown away by how big the mountains were,” he said. “I started wondering, how do people live here?”
He got the chance to find out when he was hired to work with the Wounded Warrior Project in Colorado Springs.
“I didn’t serve in the military, but this was my opportunity to give back to that community,” Ives said.
Ives described his work with the organization as building relationships and helping people reinvent themselves.
“Through Wounded Warriors, we could improve someone’s mental health through improving their physical capacity,” Ives said. “It was very powerful.”
“As rewarding as that was, I was behind the scenes a lot, doing administrative work,” Ives said. “I knew I wanted to interact with people and build relationships. That’s how I ended up here.”
“I love what Mountain Rec is doing in this valley — bringing health and wellness to the community outside of its facilities,” Ives said.
As the health and wellness supervisor, Ives is primarily stationed at the Gypsum Recreation Center. His job duties include overseeing the personal trainers and group classes, interacting with center members and overseeing the center operation. He’s excited about the rec district’s outreach efforts and its community partnerships.
For example, Mountain Rec is offering a new program in partnership with Vail Health called Rec RX. Through the program, local doctors can write prescriptions for Medicaid patients, referring them to an exercise/nutrition program at the Gypsum Rec Center. Rec RX will sponsor free memberships for patients for three months.
“Working with the Veterans Administration, I saw they had a habit of just prescribing medication,” Ives said. “We are trying to mitigate that. Instead of giving someone a pill, we give patients the opportunity to change their lives.”
Ives is a big believer in exercise as a life-changer.
“Back in Virginia, I had a nonprofit and I went to homeless centers and taught fitness classes,” he said. “I also taught yoga in at-risk neighborhoods. In those classes, none of the people spoke English and I don’t speak any Spanish. But if you use your energy to affect someone’s life, that will go a long way.”
He plans to put that philosophy to work for Mountain Recreation.
“We believe that everyone has the right to live a happy and healthy life,” Ives concluded.