By Alicia Dziak
Over the years, Western New York has produced many athletes chasing the Olympic dream.
One of those athletes is Thomas (Tom) Abbey, a graduate of Pioneer Central, who grew up in East Arcade, not far from Ellicottville. Abbey’s sport was the skeleton, a speed-infused sport that involves a descent on a special ice track in a sled with steel runners and a weighted frame. In this Olympic discipline, the athlete lays face down and head first, controlling the sled using special spikes on their shoes.
“Skeleton is a great sport,” said Abbey. “It requires speed, power and skill. But best of all, it’s a dream come true for a kid who grew up sledding in Western New York!”
Abbey, a college athlete, had moved to northern Virginia to become a personal trainer, where he learned about the skeleton.
“I’d taken a course for my personal training career with the NSPA (National Strength Professionals Association), an organization created and run by a former bobsledder,” explained Abbey. “I had to submit an athletic history, which detailed my career as a Division 1 track and field athlete for the University at Buffalo. I guess they liked what they saw, because I was invited for a tryout. It was sprints and jumps, two things that I’ve always excelled at, so I did really well. I was then invited to Lake Placid, where there were more tests and they actually had us slide on the track. After that week, I was extended the offer to become a developmental athlete, which I gladly accepted.”
Abbey spent three years with the Olympic Development Team starting in 2007, culminating with an appearance at Olympic Trials for the 2010 Winter Games.
“Although three years seems like a long time, the Olympians you’ll see in Sochi have been sliding for over a decade,” Abbey said.
He also pointed out that two of the athletes making an appearance in the Olympics were his one-time roommates.
This period involved a demanding schedule for Abbey and included a lot of travel.
“During this time, I spent two- to three-week stints living at the Olympic Training Center in Lake Placid. I’d routinely have to travel back to Virginia to throw fundraisers and train (personal training) clients as skeleton was costing me $12-$15,000 a year,” Abbey explained. “As Americans, we love the Olympics, but I think we often fail to realize the monetary toll it takes on those who are truly giving everything to represent their country.”
Abbey urges fans to support local Olympians.
“Money is the biggest reason we end up retiring,” he said. “If you have local athletes with big dreams, please reach out to them. Whether it is a tax deductible donation or a sandwich, they will be very grateful!”
These days, Abbey has traded in his life as a skeleton competitor for growing his personal training business and family life.
“I didn’t race after the Olympic Trials for the Vancouver Games in 2010,” Abbey said. “I’d progressed quite fast over my first three-plus years in the sport, but I was feeling torn. My girlfriend and I had recently purchased a home and I’d starting working on the creation of my current business, Functional Fitness VA. I spent the rest of that season watching my teammates compete and trying to see if I’d miss it.”
He didn’t, and he hasn’t regretted his decision to leave the sport in pursuit of his other dreams.
“Skeleton is a wonderful sport, which I will love forever. But, I left at the right time. I am completely in love with my growing family and my business is thriving,” he said.
Tune in to the Olympic skeleton events scheduled for Feb. 12, 14 and 15. The fast-paced action won’t disappoint!