DeKALB – Sycamore native and Olympic hopeful Lake Kwaza has had a busy year competing in international bobsled competitions, but she was back in town Friday to announce she will be changing uniforms.
Kwaza joined the U.S. Army on April 9 as part of the World Class Athlete Program, a decision she said would help her get to Beijing for the 2022 Winter Olympics.
The WCAP allows elite athletes who serve in the Army to compete at the international level, Army spokesman Kevin Gorzek said.
“I had a lot of teammates who were in the WCAP program,” Kwaza said. “It would allow me to pursue my dreams, so it’s what solidified my decision.”
Life as a bobsledder has taken her to elite competitions in Germany and Lake Placid, New York.
It’s a lot different than what she envisioned growing up in Sycamore, when she played soccer, capture the flag and built dirtbike ramps with friends.
Adding to the unknown, Kwaza won’t know if she will compete in Beijing until a month before the start of the competition, as that is when teams are notified.
“I’m going to take it race by race, season by season until 2022,” Kwaza said. “I won’t know until December , January of 2022.”
On the hill, Kwaza is a brakewoman, the person who pushes the sled from behind at the beginning of the race.
Her teammate, three-time Olympic medalist Elana Meyers Taylor, drives the sled. Working with an Olympic athlete is not as intimidating as it sounds, Kwaza said.
“She’s very humble, very driven, she works super hard,” Kwaza said. “She just cares about the sport.”
A hard get
Both the Army and the USA Bobsled team had tried to recruit Kwaza earlier in her life, but she took some convincing.
West Point wanted her to run track there after she graduated high school in 2012, but she said she wanted a traditional college experience, choosing to run track at the University of Iowa.
The USA Bobsled and Skeleton team wanted her after she ran at the 2016 Olympic trials, but she was unfamiliar with the sport. She turned down the offer from Mike Dionne, director of athletic development for USABS.
“It’s cold, I could die,” Kwaza said about turning down Dionne’s offer. “This does not sound like me, and I wanted to pursue track and field still, but I told him at the end of the conversation, ‘Hey, who knows? Maybe in a few years I’ll want to try it.’ ”
Time and track-related injuries changed her mind. She earned herself a spot behind a bobsled for the USABS in 2017 and since has competed in international bobsledding competitions alongside Meyers Taylor.
“I was like, ‘You know what? This is like a sign from God. I should just try it,’ ” Kwaza said. “Bobsled just opened up a new opportunity for me to continue my dreams to the Olympics.”
Now 25, she’s rethought the Army’s offer, too, and is bound to be an Army vehicle mechanic.
Her two brothers, Kweli Kwaza and Isaac Kwaza, initially were dismayed about Lake joining the military because they didn’t want it to stand in the way of her goals, but changed their minds when they learned about what she would do in the WCAP. Kweli and Isaac are serving in the U.S. Army and are stationed in Germany and Colorado, respectively.
“They’ve always been probably my No. 1 fan of anything I did in life,” Kwaza said. “My older brother [Kweli] was like, ‘You’re joining the Army. I’m for it now, so you owe me a Lambo.’”
Kwaza said she has a lot to do before the next winter Olympics.
First on her agenda is basic training at Fort Jackson, South Carolina, at the end of May and then vehicle mechanic training at Fort Lee, Virginia. Second, she will be training with the Army bobsled team while she continues to compete on the USA Bobsled and Skeleton team.
“I’m excited to wear a new uniform,” Kwaza said. “I’m super exited for the opportunity to represent my country in a different way.”