Baltimore-born Summer Britcher will spend her February in Asia sliding around an icy track at speeds north of 80 mph.
For the second time in her life, Britcher, 23, is competing in luge at the Winter Olympics. I guess I needed to explain that. Britcher finished 15th at the 2014 Sochi (Russia) Games but will get an opportunity to improve upon that in Pyeongchang, South Korea. She's the daughter of Baltimore City fire department battalion chief Bill Britcher, she has two firefighter uncles, and her grandfather is a retired captain in the department.
You might think that being the daughter of a fire chief would walk hand in hand with a desire to compete in such a dangerous sport, but Britcher said it's the contrary.
"I think it's actually maybe the exact opposite,"
Britcher said in a Glenn Clark Radio interview
Jan. 23. "My dad -- I refer to him with my friends as 'Mr. Safety.' Yes, he risks his own life to try to help others and save others, but he's also seen the dangers of people not being careful and accidents that can happen from people not being safe and taking too many risks.
"He was that dad that would be at the elementary school for an event -- a school play or something -- he would see some other kids running and he was the dad that would say, 'Hey, no running in the halls!' Very embarrassing at the time. He definitely did not encourage me to take risks."
Twelve years ago, Britcher discovered the sport almost by accident while on a family trip to Ski Liberty in Pennsylvania. While her dad may not have encouraged such risks, he's supported her at every step in her career. And she admitted that those who believe she must be crazy to be involved in such a thrilling competition probably aren't that far from the truth.
"I get that a lot," Britcher said. "What I say is, 'Typically in luge, they recruit us before we know any better.'
"So I actually started sliding when I was 11 years old. So I had no fear. I didn't know any better. I didn't know I was supposed to be afraid. And then by the time when I realized, 'Oh, hey, what I'm doing is kind of dangerous and scary' and I started having maybe a little bit of doubts, I was already so in love with the sport and so committed and I just had to kind of push through that to a point where I wasn't afraid anymore."
Britcher's hopes of improving on her 2014 result have been buoyed by a strong competitive season, including a gold medal at the women's World Cup event in Lillehammer, Norway, Jan. 21.
"These are the same people I'll be competing against for the most part in the Olympics," Britcher said. "It definitely is a big confidence builder to win that race, but there's still a long road ahead. I mean, it's not super long -- it's only three weeks away -- but metaphorically a long road. There's a lot that needs to come together to be on that podium. There's a lot that needs to go right. I need to get a little bit lucky, and I'm just keeping my fingers crossed."
The thought of potential Olympic success is starting to become a reality for Britcher, who said reaching the medal podium in Pyeongchang would be incredibly special for her.
"It would be everything," Britcher said. "It's hard to describe. It's been my dream for so long. Only in recent years did I allow myself to say, 'Hey, I think this is actually possible and this is a goal of mine to bring home an Olympic medal and be on that podium.' And it's kind of scary to say it out loud, to say, 'Yes, I'm trying to bring home a medal.'
"It's something I've only started really saying out loud in interviews in the past couple of months because, I don't know, you can get a little bit scared of your own goals. But I think that's a dangerous thing so you just got to embrace them. And if I fail, I fail. But yeah, I want to bring home a medal."
Not only is Britcher performing well, but she also has the additional benefit of previous Olympic experience coming into this year's games. She's also looking forward to another aspect of her return to the Olympics.
"I will say -- I think I'm far enough removed now that I'm allowed to say this," Britcher said. "Some of the Russian fans weren't the nicest in Sochi. A lot of times I would be watching other events and any time a USA athlete was up they would boo and start chanting 'Russia!' I'm pretty excited; I think a little less of that will be happening in Korea, so I'm excited for that."
Despite being born in Baltimore, Britcher's family moved to nearby Glen Rock, Pa., at a young age and she attended Susquehannock High School (the same high school former Maryland football coach Randy Edsall attended). And while she recognizes her current home, Britcher makes it clear she has not turned her back on her hometown.
"I kind of claim both," Britcher said. "I think of myself as a Pennsylvanian, but I do claim Baltimore as my city. I mean, my dad worked there my whole life, I was born there, my mom went to University of Maryland Pharmacy School and my brother is going there now and is going to graduate in a couple of months.
"I guess the easiest way to say it is my sports teams are the Ravens and the Orioles. I don't cheer for the Eagles, I don't cheer for the Steelers."
For more from Britcher, listen to the full interview here:
Photo Credit: Courtesy USA Luge