YANQING, China — Charlie Volker has spent most of his 24-year-old life seeking out competition wherever he can find it. He played half a dozen sports growing up, and two in college. He took up CrossFit afterward. But all along, at heart, he’d been “a football guy,” and so, at this time two years ago, he was an NFL hopeful.
He had a Princeton degree but no interest in a desk job.
He’d been an all-conference running back, and received an invite to an NFL rookie minicamp, and wanted one more shot.
It was a long shot. He understood that. But he chased it, and chased it, until the pandemic came along and effectively cancelled it, and “sh*t,” Volker thought.
So he gave up the chase, and decided to become an Olympian.
He is here in Beijing as a bobsledder. Eighteen months ago, he’d never been down a bobsled track. But he had linear speed and power, and a background that USA Bobsled and Skeleton has increasingly sought.
One of Volker’s teammates recently explained it to some counterparts from the Netherlands: “We’re former football and track athletes that were good, but not good enough to go pro, and we’re mad about it.”
“And I fit into that category,” Volker says. “That perfectly describes me.”
Charlie Volker played football for three seasons at Princeton, but when his NFL dreams didn’t pan out, he shifted his focus to bobsled. (Photo by M. Anthony Nesmith/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
Finding ‘talent transfer’
For years, U.S. bobsled officials have invested in a concept they call “talent transfer.” It’s a belief, as U.S. Olympic and Paralympic committee high performance director Scott Riewald says, “that there’s so much untapped talent here in the United States, athletes who have tremendous physical skills, and developed attributes, physiologically, mental, physically, that could…