Originally created 12/11/97

A stricken luger waits and wonders as Olympics near



Three weeks on a couch. Running errands around town. Snowboarding. Not exactly the way luger Duncan Kennedy expected to prepare for the Winter Olympics.

For the past month, Kennedy, the senior member and leader of the U.S. luge team, has been sitting in a daze at home, pondering his future as he fights the dizziness and nausea from a malady he was born with -- a bleeding brain stem known as arteriovenous malformation.

"I am feeling considerably better, but I'm not quite right," Kennedy said Wednesday during a conference call from U.S. luge headquarters in Lake Placid, N.Y. "It's sort of always there, but sometimes it's a little worse than others. My balance has been a little bit strange. It's not easy."

It hasn't been since he was stricken in early November, three days into a 10-day training trip to Nagano, Japan, site of the Winter Games.

"I was sitting there in a little, teeny cubicle, literally not knowing anything at all," Kennedy said. "I didn't know what was wrong with me, and that was a little bit scary. The team was at the track all day and I was just sort of sitting there not knowing what was going on."

Just like in 1981, when he was first affected by the disorder, blood had begun seeping slowly from the stem of his brain. When he was cleared to travel, he returned to the United States and was examined by several neurosurgeons.

"Most people are surprised just to find a brain and a brain stem," Kennedy said as he lent some gallows humor to a difficult moment. "It's a little unnerving sometimes. Sometimes I feel maybe I'm a little too lax about it. I do realize the seriousness of the situation, but at the same time there's really nothing I can do about it. I've just got to keep on going."

Kennedy said the nausea and dizziness that he felt the first couple of days has since subsided. Now he just gets headaches, which come and go suddenly, leaving him somewhat disoriented and sometimes a little off-balance when it's at its worst.

Consequently, Kennedy, who has competed in the past three Winter Olympics, has not raced on the World Cup circuit this fall and is in danger of not making the U.S. team. Next stop on the tour is Calgary, Alberta, on Dec. 19-20.

Doctors have given him the go-ahead to race -- they say there is no further risk from any kind of head trauma -- so he plans to be there. He is on edge.

"Even though they may say it's OK to slide, common sense tells me that if the brain is bleeding, it might not be such a good idea," said Kennedy, who hopes to make his first run on Tuesday, from the women's start. "Who knows exactly how dangerous it is?

"I really don't know how I'm going to feel laying on my back going through corners and feeling the G forces and everything. But I need to get on a sled and find out where I'm at, see if it's even possible.

"I might know after one run. I might take one run and say, `This is a little bit crazy. It's not going to work.' But if I find I can slide, then the whole goal of the trip changes from a test to a medal."

If he fails that test, Kennedy will not make the team. The decision will come on his 30th birthday.

"It's coming down to the zero hour," said Kennedy, who has won a team-high 21 World Cup medals. `If I am ready to slide, now is the time that I have to do it. I've got to race and place fairly well in the three (World Cup) races prior to the Olympics. There's a lot riding on this race if I do slide.

"It's important for me to try to get to the Olympics. Racing's in my blood, that's what I want to do. The rest of my season's been lost. That's kind of all I have left right now."