Jamie Greubel isn’t the red-eyed, fire-breathing town-destroyer her nickname – the Blonde Dragon – brings to mind. But just like the mythical monster ignites fear in those in its path, the 30-year-old bobsled driver will scare her opponents with her speed, strength and competitive drive.
“She is so focused,” said Peter Greubel, father of the first-time Olympian. “A bomb could go off behind her and she would still be looking down the track thinking about the first turn.”
Born in Princeton, N.J. and raised in Newtown, Pa., Jamie competed in the heptathlon for Cornell University’s track and field team and still holds the school record for the event
More recently she surpassed 280 pounds max on the three-rep squat press.
“She’s a fierce, fierce competitor,” added 27-year-old Eric Greubel, Jamie’s younger brother. “Once she decides it is time to compete, she flips that switch.”
Jamie says the nickname, which came about after her coach misheard someone say, “blonde driver,” stuck in part because of her intense gaze at the starting line and the whipping motion of her long, blonde braid during races.
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“In one of the video review sessions, my braid was waving back and forth in the sled,” she said. “My teammate is like what is that, stop the video. And my coach said that’s just her tail.”
The Blonde Dragon’s ascent to the Olympic bobsled team began when a former Cornell teammate suggested she try the sport about eight years ago.
“We were both what people call multis,” said Ethan Albrecht-Carrie, who competed in the decathlon and heptathlon for Cornell. “It is the combination of strength, speed, power and explosiveness, which translates well into bobsledding.”
Yet the transition wasn’t easy.
“I actually didn’t really like it at first,” said Jamie, who compared her initial bobsled run to a car accident.
The sleds can hit speeds of up to 90 mph along the icy tracks.
Unsure the sport was the right fit, the Hun School of Princeton alum decided to continue her education at Lesley University, which had already accepted her into their master’s in education program.
“And that is when Phoebe [Burns] called me and said she needed a brakeman for a race,” Jamie said.
The pair went on to win gold at the America’s Cup in Lake Placid, N.Y. in November 2008.
Jamie continued to race as a brakeman for 2 ½ years, before making the switch to the pilot position in 2010.
“It is definitely a lot more responsibility,” she said. “You are responsible for the safety of both yourself and the brakeman going down the track.”
“As a new driver that could be a lot of stress,” she added.
But her father knew she could handle directing the sled, just as she managed a partially blind horse during equestrian competitions as a child.
“Nobody else could jump with that horse but Jamie,” Peter said.
When his daughter was about 9 years old, she often rode Lady in western competitions involving cattle herding, he said.
“The horse went blind in one eye and could no longer participate in any events that had cows,” Peter said. “[Jamie] loved that horse so much she wanted her to still be productive in life."
So Jamie and Lady, both new to jumping, spent weeks training for hours at a time until they were ready to compete.
“It was a different ribbon or trophy she brought home every week,” Eric said.
The accolades piled up in bobsledding too, but not before a devastating injury sidelined Jamie for months.
In July 2011 she tore her ACL while playing a pick-up soccer game with other Olympic hopefuls.
"It definitely made me think about how badly I wanted to get to the Olympics,” she said. “I had to really consider how this injury would affect me moving forward towards Sochi.”
Following surgery and rehabilitation, her doctor cleared her for competition in November 2011 – a month after officials selected the three American teams to compete at the upcoming World Cup.
“I had to think about what the next best move would be for me,” she said.
Undeterred, Jamie decided to foot the bill and compete in as many of the same races as her teammates who were on the World Cup circuit.
“I needed to stay on the same driving level as them,” she said. “I wasn’t physically able to compete at the same level as them…but the important thing for me was getting the driving experience.
”The bold move, racing less than two weeks after her doctor’s OK, paid off.
She competed in a World Cup event in Whistler in February 2012, placing 11th.
The next season, Jamie raced in all nine World Cup races, earning her first World Cup medal with a second-place finish in La Plagne, France.
Her 2013-14 season was even better.
She medaled in five of the eight World Cup events, taking home the gold with brakeman and fellow Olympian Lauryn Willliams from the Igls, Austria competition.
“Whoever I push with at the Olympics, I’m going to have an amazing start and I’m confident we’ll do really well,” Jamie said.
Williams is paired with pilot Elana Meyers in Sochi, while Jamie will partner up with brakeman Aja Evans.
“She is always focused and determined to be the best,” her dad added.
You can catch the strong-willed and fiery Jamie heat up the track on Feb. 18 and 19.