In 2004, a seven-year-old boy from the tiny town of Saranac, NY, took his first bobsled ride down the 1980 track at Mt Van Hoevenberg in Lake Placid. “I was immediately hooked,” he recalls now.
“My dad was a slider in the late 70s and early 80s. My great uncle slid pre- and post-World War II. I started the junior bobsled program when I was 12, and I loved it.”
Given that legacy and his interest in the sport, it might seem Hunter Church making the Olympic bobsledding team was destiny. As if his story were written for him.
But Hunter’s Olympic dreams were not inevitable. Nor were they simply a matter of chance. His quest to make it to the top level in the world in his sport was one of determination and perseverance, all nurtured to fruition by a close-knit community supporting him along the way.
Finding Perspective and Purpose
With a smile on his face, he remembers those early bobsledding years being stress free, simple, and full of joy. “I was in the junior program in Lake Placid for about three years. It was such a great opportunity just to be able to go and have fun.”
Then, at the invitation from the US Bobsled Team, Hunter traveled to Park City, Utah, for his first ever driving school at the only other bobsled track in the United States. And with that experience, he and his family committed to traveling from Saranac to Lake Placid every day after school for his training.
Though reaching the Olympic Games was always his dream, his goals and attitude toward the sport were evolving in those years. He was immersed daily in the Olympic legacy in Lake Placid. And he was supported by his community, and school, and family at home. It was through the many people championing Hunter’s development that he was infused with personal values, with a humble and human perspective, and with a true purpose to his life – all things he credits as the foundation on which he built his success.
“The three Rs at Saranac High School were Respect, Responsibility, and Resilience,” Hunter remembers. “Those values did a lot for me. One of the most important things in sport is having respect for your competitors and understanding their craft and their sacrifice. And of course, the responsibility is on me for achieving my goals. It falls on me to get to where I need to be.”
With the thoughtful guidance of teachers, coaches, and especially family, Hunter absorbed the Olympic philosophy of life, and he made its values his own. “It’s living with integrity,” he says emphatically. “Always being true to yourself and being true to who you are as a person and who you want to be and the example you want to set.”
Of course, he recognizes dedication and hard work are also required. Hunter is steadfast in holding himself to that standard every day.
Yet it’s clearly humanity that energizes him most. “For me, the biggest thing about being an Olympian is being a good human and setting a good example for others around you and treating others as you want to be treated yourself. My most important goal on this journey is to inspire others from the North Country to pursue their craft and know they can achieve great things. Whatever they want to do, whether it’s sports, academics, or the arts.”
An Olympic Experience Unlike Any Other
Setting an example, in Hunter’s case, meant overcoming a painful and nearly career-ending injury. And to make the journey even more challenging, his injury came at the very outset of his World Cup and Olympic season.
“I dropped 360 pounds on my big toe,” says Hunter. In crushing his toe just eight weeks prior to the start of the World Cup season – a season that required his team to qualify through an eight-race series – Hunter faced perhaps his biggest challenge. “I spent five of the eight weeks in a walking boot and had just three weeks to get ready for our season.”
Pushing a bobsled off the start line and getting it up to speed makes or breaks a team’s performance. “The two-man events were a struggle this year, but I had a great four-man team behind me that helped push me forward and led us to finish top 10 in the world.”
Of course, piloting a bobsled after the push comes with a lot of pressure, too. “That’s a pressure I welcome,” says Hunter. Reflecting on his 2022 Beijing experience, he says, “It’s incredible. Just the honor of being there to start was amazing. But I also realized just how difficult it is to compete at an Olympic level. It’s a completely different stage. You know you have all these eyes on you. You know a heightened sense of pressure and urgency to perform well. But come race day, that’s when it’s time to just relax and trust yourself and all that you’ve put in to prepare for that moment.”
“It makes me proud. I don’t know of any other third generation Olympian in the sport of bobsled. At least not from the United States. Now, I know about the sacrifice that goes into the sport. I know what my great uncle had to sacrifice, and I know what my dad sacrificed as a young athlete in the sport. To come full circle and cement our family legacy in the sliding sports is an incredible experience.”
He’s not decided whether to pursue the Olympics again in 2026. Still, Hunter looks back with gratitude. “The junior bobsled program in Lake Placid was an incredible opportunity for me to launch myself forward and really fall in love with the sport. We live in a great area, and ORDA [the Olympic Regional Development Authority] is incredible for all the programs they offer. We have the greatest sliding hill of all time in our backyard. I hope there are more kids from our area who feel that urge to take advantage of it and just try it to see if it’s something for them.”
To young people and athletes alike, Hunter articulates one clear message. That there are no limitations on what you can accomplish if you “Fall in love with whatever your craft is. Don’t just love showing up and doing it but love the history of it, too. Love all the extra hard work that comes with it. And fall in love with the failure that comes with it because that’s the only way to learn. Once you embrace all that, just focus on your goals and what you want to achieve. Wake up every day with purpose. Whatever that purpose is. It doesn’t mean you have to push your body past its limits, but it does mean you have to find that one percent or even a quarter of a percent every single day that you’re going to get better and march on toward your goal.”