Originally created 09/16/97

Rafting guide makes U.S. women's bobsledding team



CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) - As one of eight children, Babs Isak knows what it's like to swoosh down a snowy slope on a used pair or skis or thunder down a frosty hill atop a hand-me-down runner sled.

And it's made the Kill Devil Hills woman tough. Tough enough to make the U.S. Women's Bobsled Team at 32.

Now, her biggest obstacle is affording a sled.

"It's roughly $10,000," she said. "Four times the cost of the car I drive."

As the newest member of the team, "Babs the Bobsledder" said it's up to her to find a sled before the women's tour that begins in November.

She said she caught sledding fever while working as a rafting guide in Hico, West Virginia. After seeing an ad in "Snow Country Magazine," she began raising the $1,000 it took to attend bobsledding driving school in March.

"I saved money up and went off to camp," Isak said. "I got there and inquired about what it would take to make the national team."

After training all spring and summer, Isak put on 15 pounds of muscle and in August scored 662 on a six-item test of sprints, jumps and shot put throws that requires a score of 575 to qualify for the team.

The team consists of six members ranging in age from the early 20s to mid-30s. Four compete regularly and two are on an alternate team.

Isak said another great part about the sport is it's not just for young athletes.

U.S. National Bobsled Team coach Steve Maiorca said the rookie has a lot of potential.

"She has made one step further, and now she needs to go on the ice and see how she rides," Maiorca said. "She's very athletic and very coachable. She's got to prove herself on the ice to make the team that will be competing."

The sport consists of a 400-pound sled that resembles a soap box car on blades.

After a mad dash with sled in tow at the onset of a race, the driver and braker hop in to maneuver down an ice track at speeds up to 90 mph. The braker is in charge of getting the sled off to a fast start and stopping it after crossing the finish line.

As a driver, Isak said she must focus on rounding curves and not making any abrupt steering adjustments. The sled is maneuvered by pulling on a metal ring that is connected to cables that guide the sled.

"I'm more afraid of driving my car," Isak said. "I hate driving in traffic in cities. I'm good at it, but it's unpredictable."

With bobsledding, "you're the only one out there so you know what you're up against," she said. "It's like a frozen water slide."

Isak said her dream is to qualify for the U.S. Olympic team.

But first, she said the sport must be sanctioned by the International Olympic Committee.

Bobsledding is currently an official Winter Olympic sport for men only, but female bobsledders from around the world are lobbying to change that.

An official for the Olympic committee in Los Angeles did not immediately return a telephone message Monday.

Maiorca said luge has men's, women's and double's events, while female bobsledders are left out. She said the sport is gaining international popularity, which will hopefully help it become a sanctioned event by 2006.

"I think it's tremendously unfair. I wish we had women in there," Maiorca said.

"It's just like women's ice hockey. The more women's sports we get in there, the better it is for everyone."

Bobsledding is just one sport Isak enjoys. She works as a rafting guide in West Virginia and as a hang gliding instructor in North Carolina. When she's not working, she is kayaking, rock climbing, scuba diving, boogie board surfing, skiing and, of course, sledding.

"I can remember getting excited about lugeing and bobsledding," Isak said. "It seemed so far removed and so out of reach."