Bryan on Scouting

For a Winter Olympian, Eagle Scout Justin Krewson has a surprising favorite merit badge

Justin Krewson is one of the world’s best at sliding 80 miles an hour down an icy track.

So good, in fact, that he’ll represent Team USA in the luge doubles event at the 2018 Winter Olympics this month.

Before he was into sliding, Krewson was into Scouting. And his favorite merit badge involved H20 of the unfrozen variety.

“I took [Small-Boat] Sailing merit badge at Scout camp, and I loved it,” Krewson says. “I bought a sailboat to sail around Lake Placid. You would learn the basics, prove your skills, and now later in life I can apply those skills and enjoy it.”

I spoke to Krewson by phone last month from Oberhof, Germany, where he was preparing for a pre-Olympics luge competition.

The Eagle Scout from Troop 221 of Manorville, N.Y., discussed how his Scouting past prepared him for an Olympics future.

Mind tricks

Krewson is speeding down the icy track going 80 mph. He executes each turn flawlessly. When he crosses the finish line, he and his doubles partner have posted an excellent time.

And then Krewson opens his eyes, switching off the movie playing in his head.

This is visualization, a technique used by elite athletes in nearly every sport. Krewson, who has committed the track’s layout to memory, closes his eyes and zooms through each turn in his head.

“We actually call them mind runs,” Krewson says. “They are so important, because we’re going 80 mph, and when things are happening that fast, they really have to be muscle memory.”

By the time Krewson and his doubles partner, Andrew Sherk, begin their first official run on Feb. 14, the pair will have been down the track countless times — in their minds.

A viewer’s guide

If there’s one complaint viewers have about the sliding sports — luge, skeleton and bobsled — it’s that each run looks rather similar. If not for the on-screen clock comparing the current run to the fastest time, viewers wouldn’t know whether they’re seeing a world-record pace or a last-place run.

Krewson offered a couple of tips for those of us watching from the warmth of home.

“Listen to the commentator who knows the sport,” he says. “They’ll point out the smaller things the viewer might not notice.”

Like a sled entering a curve too early. Or a little bobble. In a sport with razor-thin margins, these minor mistakes have a major effect.

In the luge doubles competition at the 2014 Sochi Olympics, for example, the team that won gold finished just 2.119 seconds faster than the team that finished 13th. And that’s a combined time from two separate runs.

So how can we tell whether Krewson, who is the top driver, is having a good run?

“If it looks like we’re doing nothing, we’re doing really well,” he says. “Toes pointed, head back.”

Justin Krewson in October 2010 at a West Point campout.

Sliding to a start

Krewson was 6 years old when he and his dad were at a New York Islanders hockey game and met Adam Heidt, a 1998 and 2002 U.S. Olympian in luge. Heidt told Krewson he should try the sport when he got older.

He told Krewson about the White Castle Slider Search, where (lowercase-S) scouts go around the country to let kids ages 9 to 13 try luge on wheeled sleds.

“They had us go through a labyrinth of cones, go through physical and agility test,” Krewson says.

When he was 11, Krewson’s parents took him to give it a try. He didn’t make the cut, but a year later he did. The next step was a week in Lake Placid, N.Y., during winter to slide on an actual luge track.

By then Krewson was fully involved in Scouting, and balancing the two took work.

He camped and earned merit badges. He went geocaching on the beach with his troop and visited Washington, D.C., as a Scout. All this while working his way up the luge ladder.

While some might have been tempted to quit Scouting, Krewson wanted to finish what he started.

“You get to learn all these different things you wouldn’t learn in a school environment or back home,” he says. “It opens up a lot of doors, which is really cool.”

Ed Champ had just joined Troop 221 as an assistant Scoutmaster when he first heard about Krewson.

“This was in 2010,” he says. “Back then, I remember hearing that there was this kid in the troop that rides a luge in Lake Placid. I thought that was pretty neat, and in talking with Justin over the years, I got the sense that he was really into this. That it wasn’t just a passing fad. He would be absent for quite a bit of time practicing, training, competing in luge events, but when he came back, he was always helpful in the troop.”

Justin Krewson (second from left) at his Eagle project.

Crossing the finish line to Eagle

His 18th birthday was zooming into view when Krewson realized he still had more Eagle requirements to complete.

“Everything was coming down to the wire,” he says. “I was getting closer and closer. You put the work in, and you finish what you started.”

For his Eagle project, Krewson renovated the Kent Animal Shelter on Long Island.

“He remodeled, reclaimed and repaired the building that was falling apart,” Champ says. “He worked very hard on planning and executing the project, and I could see how proud he was when it was completed.”

Krewson is proud, too. He wears his Eagle medal with pride.

“When you tell people, they get this awe,” he says. “Like, no way. It’s not a very common thing that people get. Because everyone else remembers doing Scouting when they were a kid. Most people remember being in Scouting, and when they realize that you’ve finished it, that’s really impressive to a lot of people.”

Justin Krewson (third from left) at Camp Hero in Montauk, N.Y.

How to watch Justin Krewson

Competition date: Wednesday, Feb. 14. Krewson and his doubles partner, Andrew Sherk, will have two runs. The times are combined to determine the winner.

How to watch:

Other Eagle Scouts in the Winter Olympics

Meet the other Eagle Scouts here.