Mississippi is known for a lot of things, including blues music, comfort food, cotton, and hospitality, but definitely not snow. That’s why when 14-year-old Allen Blackwell, a Jackson native, told his parents he wanted to compete in the Skeleton at the Winter Olympics, they thought he was crazy.
Skeleton was officially added as an Olympic sport at the 2002 games in Salt Lake City, Utah. American Jim Shea won the gold medal that year and that medal ceremony is what sparked the fire inside a kid from Jackson to pursue his dreams.
“We watched the race and Allen said: ‘That’s it. That’s what I want to do,” Ann Blackwell, Allen’s mother, said.
Ann admits that she and her husband originally discounted Allen’s desire to pursue Skeleton, but Allen was persistent in making his dream a reality. Online he found the coach’s name and email address and asked for a chance.
With some reluctance (because the Blackwells did live in Mississippi, after all), the coach invited Allen to participate in an athletic combine. At 14, it was quickly apparent that he could run faster and jump higher than many of the 20-somthings at the combine. So, he was offered a chance to try his skills on the ice.
Then Allen was invited to try out for an Olympic developmental team in Park City, Utah. The Blackwells stayed at a friend’s apartment and Allen did well at every event.
After returning to Jackson, the coach called Ann.
“He said to me ‘If I give him a spot on the development team, what is your commitment, mom?’” Ann said. “That’s all I needed; we were all in.”
Ann and her husband alternated two-week shifts in Park City and Jackson for Allen’s first two years of training, eventually even buying an apartment in Park City.
“Allen is so persistent at it,” Ann said. “He doesn’t miss practice and he doesn’t slack up. He’s really worked his way up.”
In 2014, 26-year-old Allen made the National Team. He was presented with his Team USA jacket and placed fourth in the Olympic trials. Only the top three proceed to the actual games, however.
Ann and Allen both considered it over for a while until the team called and asked Allen to be on-call as an alternate.
“Matt [Antoine], John [Daly] and Kyle [Tress] really earned it and I want them to compete,” Allen said. “I want to earn my spot.”
When asked why he chose Skeleton, Allen said that it’s the most awesome sport because “we’re just big kids sledding down even bigger hills.”
Skeleton is a time-trial event where an individual competitor races down a frozen track on a sled headfirst. Competitors can reach speeds of more than 90 miles per hour and experience forces up to 5g.
Allen’s brother, Scott Blackwell, is a student at the University of Mississippi and often hosts viewing parties for his brother’s televised events.
Allen is currently ranked 4th in the nation, 44th in the world, and 1st in Mississippi.
– Kate Sinervo, managing editor, HottyToddy.com, firstname.lastname@example.org