LAKE PLACID - U.S. bobsled Olympian John Napier returned home to Lake Placid on Sunday after a six-month deployment in Afghanistan as an Army soldier.
Napier was expected to take his first training run since competing in the Olympics in Lake Placid on Monday. He is expected to rejoin the U.S. team for the second World Cup event of the season in Calgary, Alberta following the completion of administrative procedures.
"We are so excited that Napier is returning," said Brian Shimer, men's bobsled head coach. "It says a lot about a man that's willing to pay the ultimate sacrifice for his country. He elected to support his unit overseas, which was very unselfish of him. He's a great guy, and it's a pleasure to be his coach and to have the opportunity to be associated with an athlete like that."
USA-2 pilot John Napier, of Lake Placid, waves to the crowd after competing in the four-man bobsled event at the Olympics in Whistler, British Columbia in February.
(AP File Photo — Michael Sohn)
Napier chose to join the Army National Guard's 86th Infantry Mountain Combat Brigade out of Williston, Vt. in Afghanistan following his debut Olympic performance, stating that his fellow soldiers were just as much his team as his fellow bobsledders.
"He served his country as an Olympian, and then turned around to support his unit while serving his country as a soldier," Shimer said. "I can't say enough about him. We need Napier's leadership as a veteran to help our young team grow in the sport, and I know he'll easily transition into that role."
"The entire organization is excited to have John back," added Darrin Steele, U.S. Bobsled and Skeleton Federation CEO. "We are a pretty close family when it comes down to it and we couldn't truly rest until he was out of harm's way. We are proud of him as an American and excited to have him back representing his country on the ice rather than the desert."
Even though the team has been navigating the North American tracks for five weeks, Napier doesn't have any concerns about returning to the sport after a six-month hiatus plotting a course through the rugged terrain of Afghanistan.
"It's sort of like riding a bike, just a lot faster," Napier said. "I'm not worried one bit about my sliding ability. What I did over the last six months matured me as a person, which is only going to enhance my driving skills and make me a better competitor and team leader. I'm a better person because of my experience as a soldier."
Napier was deployed in June and returned to U.S. soil on Nov. 17. After five days of demobilization to get used to being back in the states, Napier finally returned home Sunday.
"This is the weirdest feeling ever in my life," Napier said. "There's a difference between being on a base and then being on your own. I was overwhelmed at the airport with the flashing lights, shopping centers, even bathrooms. It's like losing all of your emotion and then having it all come back at one time. I have a new perspective now after seeing such a wide range of lifestyles and living situations. To represent the U.S. means a lot more now, and my team is going to strive to be the best we can so we can be the best for our country."
Napier said he didn't have much time to think about the sport while serving as a soldier, and will never again take modern conveniences like a shower for granted. Excited to return to the team, Napier has high expectations for the U.S. squad leading into the next quad.
"I was able to release the Olympic-year tension and now I can come back with an open heart to do what it takes to win," Napier said. "I'm ready, and I can't wait to see what we can do together as a team."