Anna Nostrant: KC Olympic Hopeful on the Fast Track

Anna Nostrant is training in Kansas City for the 2018 Olympics because of her unique physique.

What’s the first thing that comes to people’s minds when they think of Kansas City? Is it barbecue? Wrong. Fountains? Wrong again. Passion for our sports teams, either college or professional? Well, you’re getting closer but still not there. It’s bobsledding.

Perhaps you’re thinking that might be a bit off. After all, we live in the heart of America, not Jamaica. But there’s one person who is using the Kansas City area to train for a shot at the 2018 Winter Olympics in the two-man bobsled, and her name is Anna Nostrant.

Photo by Ryan Nicholson

Nostrant played volleyball at Mid-America Nazarene University (MNU)—which is what brought her to Kansas City from Salt Lake Junior College—and she now trains with Joseph Potts of Top Speed Sports Performance in Lenexa. “I went for a visit and fell in love with the area and the people,” she says. “I just felt like that was where I needed to be.”

While at MNU, Nostrant met Potts, who was a strength and speed coach for the Pioneers at the time. He found a tall (6 foot 1 inch), raw athlete with good flexibility and a strong base. His goal has been to translate that potential into performance. “Females tend to hold back from pushing themselves,” Potts says. “They don’t want to bulk up. Really, it’s a matter of overcoming some of the stereotypes of culture and pushing themselves.

“The advantage she has is longer strides,” Potts continues. “Think about (Jamaican sprinter) Usain Bolt. He’s about 3 inches taller than the next tallest world-class sprinter who is still considered above-average height for a sprinter. He’s got a mechanical advantage because he has a longer natural stride. He’s able to maintain the same stride rate as a shorter sprinter. If Anna is capable of doing that, there would be a mechanical advantage.”

Potts does not claim to know much about bobsledding, but he knows that speed is critical for the starts. And that comes down to core strength. “Flexibility and body control are critical,” he says. “All of that comes from the core musculature. If you’re not finely tuned, energy can leak. If you have the ability to stabilize the core, all your energy will go forward instead of leaking laterally.

“So, we train the core to remain as still as possible. We work on anti-rotation. If you’re able to keep everything moving ahead, you’ll be able to move forward faster. The less movement in the core, the more efficient the effort because everything is going in the same direction.”

Potts and Nostrant have only worked together a few months, but Nostrant already has seen major success. “She is one of the harder working girls I’ve worked with,” Potts says. “As her baseline strength improved, you could see her explosiveness really start to come around. After working with me for a few weeks, she was able to dunk a volleyball.”

While at MNU, Nostrant excelled at weightlifting, which caught the attention of an unexpected suitor. “I was put into a database somewhere,” she says. “The USBSF (United States Bobsled and Skeleton Federation) got hold of it. The USA Women’s 1 pilot, Elana Meyers, sent me an email telling me that she had wanted to compete in the Olympics as a softball player. Even though that was no longer possible, she still wanted to be an Olympic athlete. Bobsledding was her way to do that. She encouraged me to try it out.

“I laughed about it,” Nostrant admits. “I’m from southern Utah. I didn’t know anything about snow and ice. My trainer and some of my coaches told me to give it a shot. They said if I didn’t try it, I would never know. I went out for my tryout and walked away ecstatic. I hadn’t felt that love and passion for a sport in a really long time. I called my Mom and told her that it was something I had to do. People compare me to the Jamaican Bobsled team. Ever since I went to my first tryout it’s been a running joke. My friends will call me and say a line from the movie ‘Cool Runnings.’”

Nostrant is on the fast track—pun intended—to the 2018 Olympics in the women’s two-man bobsled team as a brakeman. “You work your way up from the back,” she explains. “If, for some reason, you enjoy being beat up in the back, you can stay. Generally, brakemen get sick of taking a beating and having no control so they want to learn to be a pilot.”

Nostrant knows it’s a long journey. She’s on the USBSF “developmental team.” For now, she’s focused on training. So, why Kansas City? It’s not exactly a hotbed for bobsled training. The nearest bobsled run is, well, nowhere near here.

“You have the land tracks in Park City, Utah, but you push your sled to go down the hill and then push your sled back up the hill,” she says. “It’s just a place to work on your start. Canada has some icehouses where it’s more realistic because it’s on ice. But there really aren’t places where you can go and ice train or track train year-round. It’s about land training until October or November. You just have to get yourself ready for when the season arrives.”

Once she gets on the track, Nostrant gets a rush that is hard to describe. But she tries. “They call your name and you get into place,” she says of the few seconds before the run starts. “You take off your ice-spikes covers so you can dig into the ice. The pilot gives you a couple of taps so you know to get ready. You’re watching the clock for the countdown. You get set, and the pilot puts her hand out to grab the push bar.

“As you start to fall, both of us explode together and push the sled. You run together as hard and fast as you can. The pilot will jump in and you’ll take a few exploding steps and jump in and fill your seat. Then you secure your back against the lip of the back of the sled. After that, you hold on tight with your head tucked.

“[On] the really big turns, your head gets sucked down to the bottom of the sled,” Nostrant continues. “You just count curves until you’re at the finish so you know when to pull the brakes. After you’ve made it through, you have to pull the brake as hard as you can to make sure you stop by the end of the track.

Bobsledders go up to “80 miles per hour without being able to see where you’re going; the pilot can see, but you can’t,” Nostrant describes, admitting that her first run was terrifying. “I didn’t know what I was doing. Every tap of the side, I had to convince myself that I was going to be okay. I just prayed that I would make it down.

“There’s nothing like being sent down an icy chute in a metal garbage can with a bunch of rocks in it, and being knocked around waiting for it to stop. It sounds great, doesn’t it?” she says with a laugh.

 Story by David Smale