NEWBERG, Ore. – Lake Placid, N.Y., in the heart of the Adirondack Mountains, is almost 3,000 miles from Newberg, Ore., but the two communities will be linked for a while through former George Fox University track star Dakarai Kongela, who has moved from the West to the East to continue his athletic career – with the U.S. bobsled team!
“Dak” (as in “doctor”) was a sprint standout for the Bruins from 2007-11 (with one medical hardship year), twice earning All-American status in the 100 yard dash by finishing eighth in the NCAA Division III National Championships in 2009 and sixth in 2010. He graduated this past spring and went to work for the seventh straight summer on the maintenance staff at the IslandWood Wildlife Preserve on Bainbridge Island, Wash., not too far from his home town of Suquamish.
“Because of injuries, my senior year didn’t turn quite as well as I had hoped,” admitted Kongela, “and I was kind of wondering if there was any reason to keep working out as hard as I had in college. I don’t remember exactly how I found it, but I came across this recruiting ad for the U.S. bobsled team on the internet this summer that said they were looking for athletes who had run track or played football – no bobsled experience necessary. I started to apply just as a joke, but curiosity got the better of me, so I signed up for their ‘bobsled combine’ in Park City, Utah, which was obviously closer than the ones being held in Lake Placid.”
In camp with about 20 other athletes, and a couple of women trying out for the women’s bobsled team, the candidates were first put through a series of tests to calculate speed, strength, and power.
“There were guys there much stronger than me,” Kongela observed, “but they didn’t score as well as I did in the sprints and jumps.”
Kongela’s score of 733 was the highest of all the athletes at the Park City combine, which earned him a trip to Lake Placid in September to compete against the best from the other combines.
“There were roughly 38 or 40 athletes there, including former Green Bay Packers’ receiver Johnny Quinn, and I tested well,” Kongela recalled. “In the combine, I came in 12th, just underneath the existing national team athletes and some of the top rookies. And in the push championships I beat out all the other rookies, finishing right behind the national team and previous Olympians, which made it so I was able to squeeze my way in.”
Kongela was back in Newberg this past weekend to watch some of his former George Fox track teammates in the Pacific Dual / Bear Fete cross country meet, but will fly back to New York on Oct. 9, and team training will commence for the upcoming winter season.
“All of the U.S. team members will be there,” said a thrilled Kongela. “There are seven sleds to train on, and the top three teams, which are determined by a point system, will represent the United States in several international competitions such as the America’s Cup. The World Cup will be held in Lake Placid in January and February, and God willing, I’ll get to be there.”
Kongela and his fellow bobsledders will be housed in the Olympic training center lodge at Lake Placid, along with cross country skiers, Nordic skiers, and skeleton riders.
“It’s kind of like being in college again,” said Kongela. “There’s a dorm for the athletes, of course, but it also has a visitor center in it. There’s a nice cafeteria, a big gym, a weight room, and two cardio centers.”
The next Winter Olympics are scheduled for 2014 in Sochi, Russia. Will Kongela be there?
“That’s a long way off,” the former Bruin declared with a laugh. “U.S. team members have to keep working out and earning their spots anew every year, so who knows where I’ll be in two years. But it would be fun and I’d sure like to give it a shot.”