Former UMaine sprinter competing in 2-man bobsled race in Beijing
Bethel native Frankie Del Duca is in Beijing, China, competing in the two-man and four-man bobsled races for Team USA at the Olympics. For the 30-year-old, being an Olympian is the culmination of a lifetime of hard work and a dream come true.
After medaling at all 16 North American Cup races this season, Del Duca was promoted to the World Cup bobsled team and competed in Winterberg, Germany earlier this year. Soon after the World Cup he learned that he had qualified for the US Olympic Bobsled team as a driver in the two-man and four-man sled races in Beijing, China.
"This sport combines everything I love in one adrenaline-fueled package. I wake up every day excited to do what I do, and I go to bed every night knowing that I gave everything I could on the day, and that I'm doing something that I absolutely love," he says.
While a student at UMaine, Del Duca discovered that he had strength and speed that made him a natural fit for sprinting and long jumping, and he excelled in those events. His UMaine Track and Field Coach Mark Lech suggested that Del Duca consider becoming a pusher for bobsledding, a role that requires an explosive burst of speed to launch a 500-pound sled so that it can reach speeds of 90 mph.
"More and more there were track and field sprinters getting into bobsled pushing, because what's better than a world class sprinter coming out of the starting blocks," Lech says.
Del Duca tried out for the U.S. bobsled team in 2015, was selected, and started as a pusher. He then joined the Army and was assigned to the U.S. Army World Class Athlete Program, which allows him to compete internationally and still serve in the military.
Four years ago, Del Duca started driving on the North American cup circuit to get as much experience as he could. Bobsleds don't have steering wheels, just a pair of rings on chains connected to a steering column attached to an axle atop rounded runners. He says one miscalculated tug on the D rings can lead the sled to hit the wall and flip, causing serious injuries.
Del Duca says even smooth runs lead to bumps and bruises due to the vibrations and G-forces the athletes endure on a run.
"All year long these kids are working on bobsledding and the goal for four years is the Olympics," says Frank Del Duca, Frankie's father. "When you say it's just a race, well, it's the race."
Frank Sr. says he never doubted his son would compete at the highest level in the sports world. From roller hockey as a boy to sprinting for UMaine, he says that his son excelled at sports and set records.
As for the Olympics, Frankie Del Duca says the U.S. Bobsled Team has been training hard for a chance to land on the medal podium. But most of all, Del Duca is thankful to all the people who have supported his dream.
"Overall, I'm very grateful for the support system and being from Maine and the outpouring of love and support from the University of Maine and the state of Maine, and friends, family, and even people I've never met. They're just very excited for us. It just feels very good and I'm just grateful for all of it," he says.
Del Duca competes in the two-man bobsled races Feb. 14 and 15 and the four-man bobsled races on Feb. 19 and 20.