By Harrison Cann
Not many people imagine finding their calling while watching television in their dorm room, and Bradley Chalupski is no exception.
Chalupski, a skeleton racer for Israel, first discovered the sport during his time at this university , but had no idea what the next 10 years following would entail. Skeleton racing, a solo winter sliding sport in which it’s just the racer against the clock, caught his eye.
“I saw it in my dorm room in 1103 Allegheny Hall in the ‘06 Olympics in Torino,” Chalupski said. “It’s kind of a paradox of a sport which on one hand it looks super cool and thrilling, and on the other hand it looks like they’re just lying down, and you think, ‘I can do that.’”
After witnessing the sport for the first time during the 2006 Winter Olympics in Torino, Italy, Chalupski decided to pursue the sport after college, and attended skeleton school in Park City, Utah after graduating from this university. He said his height of 5-foot-4 had previously kept him off athletic teams, but is perfect for skeleton racing.
“I felt like I had something left to prove and something left to do in athletics, and this was a clock,” Chalupski said. “So this was just fastest to the bottom, it was very objective.”
Over the next 10 years, Chalupski’s life would be full of ups and downs, including missing the qualification for the United States National Team by two-tenths of a second. But now, he said, those were the “luckiest two tenths of a second of my life.”
Soon after Chalupski missed the cut in March 2010, he was approached about racing for Israel. He had never been to Israel, but under the Law of Return, he would be eligible for citizenship, and therefore, able to race for the Israel.
Chalupski was hesitant to race for Israel at first, but he quickly found his answer. “One thing I did notice was that all my Jewish friends said ‘of course you can represent Israel, you’re Jewish’ as if it was the most natural thing in the world,” Chalupski said. “That really struck a chord with me and made me think, ‘I’m missing something here.’”
Once he went on birthright and carried the Israeli flag to the starting line, Chalupski said, “I fell in love with the country and felt very strangely at home in the land.”
David Greaves, president of Bobsleigh and Skeleton Israel, said, “Brad was my guy on the ground. He was very helpful in the last few years showing up at the committee door and putting a face to the name.”
AJ Edelman, a fellow skeleton racer for Israel, said he looked up the Chalupski, almost like a mentor.
“It’s inspiring to me that Brad took immense pride in racing for Israel,” Edelman said. “Whenever Brad ever spoke about his goals, it was about qualifying Israel and not about himself.”
Since starting in 2002, Bobsleigh and Skeleton Israel had never gotten to send a sledder to the Winter Olympics. In 2014, Chalupski wasn’t granted the opportunity from the Olympics Committee of Israel for reasons he said “boiled down to bureaucracy.” At that point, Chalupski decided to quit.
But even after being out of the sport for two years, Chalupski couldn’t say no when the Olympic Committee gave the approval in the summer of 2016. He had won Israel’s first medal in international sledding in World Championships, but that’s only the first step. Only nine countries have ever medaled in the sport, but Israel is trying to change that.
Chalupski had hoped to be that athlete for Israel, but he sustained three fractured ribs and a collapsed lung in a training accident in early October 2017. At the same track in Whistler, Canada where a Georgian luger lost his life during the 2010 Winter Olympics, Chalupski crashed, ending any chance he had of qualifying for the 2018 games.
He said crashes are common in the sport, but this time, pride got in his way.
“I drove it wrong and crashed…I was going into the next curve and tried to get back on my sled, which I know better than to do,” Chalupski said.
Edelman said Chalupski’s competitive nature got in his way.
“The competitive instinct is not always the healthy instinct,” Edelman said. “When I heard about [the injury] I could understand how it happened.”
Chalupski said the sled then got stuck on the next curve for a moment. “In that instant my body was still going 65 mph so I essentially got impaled by [the sled] on my chest,” he said.
After the crash, Chalupski was able to cheer on his teammates at qualifiers in Lake Placid, New York. Greaves said the outpour of support from all of his competitors was amazing.
“It’s a tight-knit community and they were all really sad to hear about Brad,” Greaves said.
The 2018 Olympics would have been the end for Chalupski, who said he was going to retire from the sport regardless of the outcome. But after his accident, he said he’s not done just yet.
Chalupski said, “after 10 years in the sport I’m not going out on the worst injury that I’ve heard of [in the sport].” Chalupski said the 2022 Winter Olympics may not be entirely out of the question, but at this point, but he’s already raring to get back on the sled in a few weeks time.