ARLINGTON, Va. - For Army Sgt. Matthew Mortensen, from the New York Army National Guard's 1156th Engineer Company, years of training have finally paid off.
Mortensen, 28, will be competing in the upcoming 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia. The games begin Feb. 7.
Mortensen, who enlisted in 2010, secured his spot on the Olympic team when he and fellow Army athlete Sgt. Preston Griffall earned a ninth-place finish in the luge doubles event at the Luge World Cup Dec. 13 at Utah Olympic Park in Park City.
For Mortensen, the journey to the Olympics has taken more than half his life.
"I have been actively trying to make this Olympic team for 16 years now," said Mortensen.
Mortensen became attracted to the sport at a relatively young age.
Mortensen said when he was about 11 years old, his father worked for a company that sponsored the U.S. luge team." He would visit his father at work and see posters for the team hanging up in the office." From that point on, Mortensen said he knew what he wanted to do and after hearing radio commercials about tryouts for a luge team, his dad asked him if he wanted to go."
"It seemed like something fun to do on a Saturday," said Mortensen, "so we went and gave it a try."
Now, more than16 years after that Saturday, Mortensen said he has a sense of relief and fulfillment after qualifying for his first Olympic appearance.
"I could not believe that I was actually going to go," he said, adding that he finally knows he is capable of making the team.
"No more race-offs, no more qualifications, this time I will be going to the games," he said.
Mortensen said his military training helped him reach his goals of being an Olympian.
"Both types of training (military and athletic) require attention to detail and firm dedication," said Mortensen, adding that being a dedicated Soldier helped him to be successful in his endeavors as an athlete.
Being competitive at this level takes commitment, motivation and hard work, Mortensen said.
And, he was up to that challenge.
"It is something that has made me push myself to the absolute maximum of my capabilities every year to maximize my chances of attaining my goal of going to the games," he said, adding he has given everything that he can to this sport.
Training for the Olympics is a year round practice with little time off.
"A typical day of training during the season consists of three hours at the track, video review of our runs, and two hours in a weight lifting gym," said Mortensen. During during a race week, athletes get six practice runs before the actual race, he said.
Mortensen's off-season training consists of weight lifting, sprints and use of an indoor refrigerated start facility that stays iced during the summer to practice luge starts.
Even when Mortensen would have alified times, he said he continued to work out continuously with his luge partner, Griffall.
"There were some issues with our sled that took a long time to figure out; we had to learn how to slide with each other and we had to learn how to communicate with each other effectively," said Mortensen.
Mortensen missed the Olympic time cut by less than a second in 2010.
"I was completely heartbroken," he said adding it took a while for him to get back into a luge mindset, but when he was, it was full steam ahead to make the 2014 team.
For Mortensen, there are both high and low points of the sport.
"My favorite part of the sport is the speed and the competition," said Mortensen, "I like the feeling that my body gets before each and every run and when I compete. It is a pure adrenaline rush. There is nothing that can quite compare."
One of the downsides of competing is having a bad race, he said.
"I am a perfectionist at everything I do; even if I go slow in a race, I can come to terms with it if I had good runs," Mortensen said. "When I have bad runs, I am hard on myself and it affects my attitude."
Seeing the world in a different light is one reward of being on the luge team.
"You get to see the world, observe and take part in different cultures and learn so much through the years," said Mortensen. "The world is an amazing place and I would never have been able to see it the way that I do if I was not an athlete on this team."
As a Soldier, an athlete, and as an individual, it is an incredible honor to be representing the United States in the Olympics," said Mortensen.