Steven Holcomb, the Eagle Scout who piloted the U.S. four-man bobsled team to Olympic gold in 2010, has died. He was 37.
The U.S. Bobsled & Skeleton Federation said Holcomb died in his sleep on Saturday at the U.S. Olympic Training Center in Lake Placid, N.Y.
Holcomb was a three-time Olympian, three-time Olympic medalist and five-time world champion. But before that, there was a time when he dropped out of the sport completely.
In a summer 2010 interview with Eagle Scout Magazine (now called Eagles’ Call magazine), writer Mark Ray talked with Holcomb about being diagnosed with keratoconus, a degenerative eye condition that seriously affects a person’s vision.
He was slowly but surely going blind. Amazingly, as Holcomb’s vision got worse, his driving got better. Rather than rely on his eyes, he began to rely on his instincts, feeling a course’s curves instead of looking at them. Sports Illustrated called him “America’s sledi knight,” recalling the scene from Star Wars in which Luke Skywalker learns to use his lightsaber while wearing an opaque visor.
“Bobsledding’s not reaction,” Holcomb explained. “A lot of people think you’re reacting to what’s going on, but it’s actually more anticipation and correction. Once you see something, you’re past it and it’s over and you’re going to have some issues.”
By 2007, it was so bad that Holcomb left bobsledding entirely. His coach, however, wasn’t going to give up that easily.
He told Holcomb about a radical surgery that involved implanting polymer lenses behind the irises. Holcomb took the chance. The surgery immediately restored his 20/20 vision.
Sliding into victory
In Vancouver in 2010, Holcomb helped Team USA win its first Olympic medal in four-man bobsled in 62 years, driving the United States to gold.
That victory led to an appearance on The Late Show With David Letterman, where Holcomb and his teammates shared the “Top Ten things you don’t want to hear from a guy in your bobsled.”
Among the highlights: “We’re lost” and “Stop breathing down my neck.”
“We were able to put bobsledding back on the map,” Holcomb told Eagle Scout Magazine. “It’s really going to help us get back in the spotlight and get our sport rolling again.”
Despite his newfound fame, Holcomb still made time for Scouting. In March 2010, less than a month after winning gold, he gave some Atlanta-area Cub Scouts the thrill of meeting an Olympic champ.
In May 2010, Holcomb shared his Scouting and Olympic stories with volunteers and professionals at the BSA’s National Annual Meeting in Dallas (pictured at the top of this post).
In Sochi in 2014, Holcomb was back for another shot at the medal stand. The Eagle Scout earned bronze medals in both the two- and four-man bobsled.
Holcomb and Scouting
From the Eagle Scout Magazine piece:
Scouting didn’t introduce Steve Holcomb to winter sports, but it certainly gave him plenty of time in the outdoors.
“Growing up here [in Utah], we did a lot of outdoor stuff,” he recalled. “Every weekend, we were out with Scouts doing something.”
Beyond the outings, Holcomb credits Scouting with broadening his horizons.
“Earning all the merit badges really opens your eyes to more than just one thing in life. There’s so much to learn, so much you have to do,” he said.
The advancement program also whetted his appetite for achievement.
“You always have to do your best; you really do have to perform,” he said. “It’s not like you just show up and automatically get your merit badges. You actually have to learn and use your skills.”