Former Cal swimmer Colleen Fotsch tries her luck on ice

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Colleen Fotsch/Courtesy

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Bobsledding is not for the faint of heart. Athletes must run the sled for 50 meters and gain as much momentum as possible before leaping in and bracing themselves for a 90 mph ride down an icy, narrow track. As bobsledders plummet down curves in the racetrack, they experience forces as high as five times the strength of gravity. These forces are so strong that once they lower their heads, they aren’t able to raise them; human neck muscles simply aren’t strong enough to combat such strong forces.

Former Cal swimmer and Crossfit competitor Colleen Fotsch has become a participant in the high-speed sport. She is currently at the Olympic and Paralympic Training Center in Lake Placid, New York, attempting to qualify for the 2022 Winter Games. From swimming for Cal to competing at the CrossFit Games and now spending hours each week at the bobsled track, it is clear that her athletic career follows an unpredictable trajectory.

Fotsch swam for the Bears from 2009 to 2012, specializing in butterfly and backstroke. In 2011, she was a member of the 200-yard freestyle and medley relays, events in which Cal secured NCAA national team titles.

“Being a student athlete at Cal really taught me about having a solid work ethic and that nothing is ever going to be handed to you,” Fotsch said. “I also think it really taught me the importance of being a good teammate. Relays were my favorite thing in the world. Being able to walk up to the blocks with your team like you’re going into battle was the coolest thing ever.”

After her collegiate swimming career ended, Fotsch’s relationship with fitness and exercise — which was once supported by an unwavering dedication to the sport and her team — began to crumble.

“I had a tough time accepting and loving my athletic build. I was convinced that when I was done swimming, I just wanted to be small,” Fotsch said. “I was just so harshly judging myself based on how I looked. It just really took the fun out of working out and moving for me, which was kind of tough because movement and fitness was such a huge part of my life that brought me so much happiness.”

Fotsch was at this nadir in her life when one of her friends asked if she would accompany her to a CrossFit competition in Santa Rosa. Even though she barely knew anything about the sport, she agreed to tag along.

“It was just really inspiring to watch these really strong, powerful, badass females just get out there and move crazy weights and do all these ring muscle ups,” Fotsch said. “Me and my friend signed up for a CrossFit gym the following Monday and I was hooked.”

The huge variety of CrossFit workouts offered a change of pace from her training regime in the pool. But more importantly, CrossFit provided Fotsch with a team atmosphere and a spirit of friendly competition — two elements of fitness that she missed following the end of her collegiate career.

“For the first time in so long, I was going into the gym and all I was thinking about was ‘I want to get this time or move this weight or try and get this new movement.’ It wasn’t about how I looked anymore. It was about what my body could do,” Fotsch said.

And as it turned out, Fotsch could do a whole lot. In 2015, she earned the fastest time out of any woman in the world in Open Workout 15.5, a rowing and thruster duad. She has competed at the California Regionals a total of five times, earning one individual seventh place finish in 2018 and a first place finish with her team in 2017. She has competed on the world stage twice at the CrossFit Games, in 2017 and 2019.

On her YouTube channel — which has 7.5k subscribers — Fotsch documents her lifestyle, training and nutrition.

“Initially, I really wanted to be able to share more in depth my day to day story,” Fotsch said. “With YouTube, it allows me to share more of who I am, like my personality and be able to connect with people on a deeper level.”

Her channel is a project she took on with her brother, Connor Fotsch, who edits the videos. But the channel has opened more doors than the two ever could have anticipated. Her prominent social media presence may have been the reason she was scouted by the USA Bobsled Team.

While it may seem random, the skills required to compete in CrossFit seem to lend themselves well to the sport of bobsledding. Both sports demand explosive movements as well as laser focus. Several other CrossFitters, including James Newbury and Kelsey Kiel, have also tried their hands at the sport.

Fotsch’s athletic career has taken some sharp turns since her time swimming for Cal, but her work ethic and resiliency remain constant. Whether she is performing an Olympic lift at a Crossfit competition floor or gliding down an icy track at astonishing speeds, she is guided by the lessons she learned as a young student athlete at Cal.

“In sports and in life in general, not every day is going to be perfect. But you’ve got to keep grinding, keep pushing, keep working towards your goals,”Fotsch said.

Sarah Siegel writes for Bear Bytes and is a deputy blog editor. Contact her at [email protected].