Published May 24, 2012
From childhood, John Napier of Schenectady, N.Y., dreamed Olympic dreams and called the winter wonderland of Lake Placid his second home. With nearly two decades of bobsledding experience and enthusiasm beneath his belt, he became a world-class athlete.
As a bobsled pilot, he won gold and silver medals in the 2009 Lake Placid World Cup race, moving on to the Olympic team, competing in the 2010 Winter Games.
"Although it was prideful, it's also very, very humbling to know that I was there amongst the world's best," said Napier.
Now he trains with a different goal. With the 2014 Winter Olympic Games looming, the 25-year-old is retiring from the bobsledding world with hopes that he'll earn a spot in an elite military unit.
"I love it. I just love the military and the brotherhood and the camaraderie soldiers have for each other. The world of athletics -- it kind of gets a little selfish at times," said Napier. "I wanted to be better and try and represent my friends and my nation better."
Napier is already a soldier in the Vermont National Guard. After the Winter Games he joined his unit in Afghanistan, serving five months in the war-torn country, an experience that changed his life.
"Since the age of 8 I've been bobsledding, and it's pretty much all I wanted to do with my life until I went to Afghanistan that is, and not a day goes by that I haven't woken up and missed it," said Napier of the time that has inspired him to seek a way to serve full time. "It was a great honor. A lot of my motivation for wanting to serve more and wanting to get back into the military active duty is that so many people before me have done so much more."
"I'm just hoping to serve as another soldier. I don't want to be anything special. I don't want to be known as we've got this Olympian coming to us," said Napier. "I just want to be a normal guy with soldiers serving to the right and the left of me."
His colleagues in the bobsledding world admit that they fear for his safety.
"Some of us tried to talk him into competing rather than representing our country in Afghanistan," said Darrin Steele, the CEO of the U.S. Bobsled and Skeleton Federation. "We're kind of a family when it comes to our team so we were concerned for his safety as any family member is when somebody gets deployed."
Napier knows, given his age, that he can’t wait if he wants to join an elite fighting force
"John's going to be successful in whatever he puts his mind to and, you know, it's not a guarantee that anybody makes it into these special forces," said Steele, who believes Napier has a good chance of achieving his new goal. "They're incredibly demanding and competitive, but I wouldn't put anything past John. And if it comes down to whose got the strongest mind, I wouldn't bet against him."
There are no guarantees. Napier is remarkably humble about the difficult process ahead, but focused on training and finding his chance to earn a place among America's best.
"It's going to be the most difficult physical and mental and spiritual event in my life, and that's a lot of the reason I'm doing it: because I want to see what else I can achieve in life. I want to push myself to new bounds," said Napier. "I love serving my nation, and I just want to be with other people that have the same goals as me now."