As 2020 approaches, McKenna Mazlo has one goal on her mind. The 17-year-old Souderton, Pa., native dreams of representing the United States in the Luge singles at the Youth Olympic Games in Lausanne, Switzerland.
McKenna's journey started when she went to a Luge Slider Search at the age of 10.
"It's where they go to different cities and they put wheels on sleds. They have kids try it out. Then, a couple of years later, we did it again," she said. "I then got invited to Lake Placid to try it out and I was scared to go but [my sister] Finley made me do it. I really liked it and then I got invited back up to join the team. This is my fourth season."
In 2016, she started on the developmental Junior "D" Team and worked her way up to the "C" team. Before heading into her three-day competition last weekend in Lake Placid, N.Y., McKenna had mixed emotions. The next few days would decide if she would make it to the next competition in Austria to compete for a spot on the U.S. Youth Olympic team.
In the competition, every racer gets three runs every day and their top two times are added up. McKenna finished in first place on day one (1:29.595) to put her at the top of the race and give her 100 points. The competitor in second place earned 85 points, third got 70 and fourth received 60 points. On the second day, she led the girl's pack with a time of 1:30.299. She flew down on her sled going over 60 miles per hour and ended with the best score for the second consecutive day. If she crossed the finish line twice on day three, she could still maintain her top point ranking. On the last day of the competition, McKenna continued her dominance by placing first in all three of her runs (1:29.514). Her next stop is Austria, where she will attempt to reach the Youth Olympic Games. Then, her goal is to make the Junior National Team.
With that dream in mind, McKenna thinks about her coach, Aiden Kelly, and how he inspires her.
"He made it to the Olympics at a really young age and while he, unfortunately, had to retire due to an injury, he jumped straight into coaching and is one of the best coaches I've ever had. He really goes above and beyond to make sure everyone is sliding their best. The amount of effort and energy he puts into making sure everyone he coaches is completely comfortable sliding is really inspiring."
When asked how McKenna would describe Luge in three words, she said "fast, cold, and relaxed." While she lives in Lake Placid for several months during the year, there are times when she is home with her family. During that time, McKenna concentrates on her training.
"I just lift weights and go to the gym to get stronger," she said. "I focus more on the mental side. I can do mind runs and focus especially if I have a camp or a race coming up, then I will spend more time thinking about it."
After I interviewed McKenna, I was able to talk with racer Matt Greiner of the "C" Team. He finished in first for three consecutive days to punch his ticket to Austria and shared how he prepares for races.
"[You] can't go in there overconfident, but it's good to be relaxed and somewhat confident in my abilities to get a sled down the hill. Never underestimate your competition. I can always crash, [my teammate] Aidan can always put up a 43 out of nowhere. You just have to take it like it's any other run."
Helping mold these Lugers into Olympic athletes is three-time Olympian and silver medalist Gordy Sheer. He competed in the 1992 and 1994 Games before winning silver in men's doubles at the 1998 Olympics in Nagano, Japan. As one of McKenna's mentors, Sheer explained the keys to being a great Luger.
"You have to have good body awareness, a good sense of what your body is doing, feeling the sled moving under you," he said. "Also, the ability to drive the sled within an inch or two of this perfect imaginary line that exists down the track. You have to be able to drive that line while staying relaxed on the sled and also keeping a good aerodynamic position and trying not to look too much. If you pick your head up, it's like getting aerodynamic drag. If you notice the best athletes on our team will be sliding with their heads as far back as possible and only looking just a little bit."
As McKenna prepares to compete internationally, her goal is to stay in the ideal, perfect imaginary line like Sheer explained and inch closer to her dream of winning a gold medal at the Olympics.