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16.02.2018

How this duo from Long Island ‘accidentally’ became luge pros.

Some Olympians don’t have a choice, but a calling. There are toddlers who learn to figure skate shortly after learning to talk. There are preschoolers who grow giddy watching slap shots. There are children who find ski lifts more thrilling than roller coasters. Lugers Matt Mortensen and Justin Krewson will be among them in Pyeongchang,...
Time: 00:12     Date: 13.02.2018
US Living News: How this duo from Long Island ‘accidentally’ became luge pros. NY Post 24 - US News

There are toddlers who learn to figure skate shortly after learning to talk. There are preschoolers who grow giddy watching slap shots. There are children who find ski lifts more thrilling than roller coasters.

Mortensen, 32, and Krewson, 21, are there by choice, but mostly, by chance; a pair of Long Islanders who stumbled into a sport they didn’t know existed.

“[Even] with all the mountains on Long Island,” Mortensen joked. “We looked it up in an encyclopedia because the Internet wasn’t really kicking.”

The old-school investigation began only because Mortensen’s father, Jerry, worked for Verizon, a luge sponsor, and he’d learned the company was offering an introductory event at SUNY Old Westbury.

The Huntington Station family attended, simply to throw a weekend curveball.

“We just did it as a fun Sunday,” Matt’s mother, Mary Mortensen, recalled. “And our journey began.”

Mary and Jerry Mortensen

Krewson’s father, Steve, just wanted Islanders tickets. He called into radio station WBAB, won the prize, and took his son to Nassau Coliseum. When the Eastport natives arrived to their luxury box, 2002 Olympic luger Adam Heidt of Long Island was also there, and encouraged the young boy to try the sport that changed his life.

“It’s the butterfly effect,” Steve Krewson said. “One thing that happens so far away ends up influencing events so far down the road.”

More than two decades later, Matt Mortensen vividly remembers traveling down the paved hills of the Slider Search — a series of nationwide events in which young athletes are evaluated and the most qualified are invited to Lake Placid, home of USA Luge — steering down the yellow line and swerving in between the cones.

By the sixth grade, Mortensen’s family was routinely packing their van and making the 12-hour round-trip drive from Suffolk County to upstate New York. He’d be away from his family from October through March, and split his time between home, the training complex and competitions across North America and Europe, receiving his school work from St. Dominic’s HS via fax, because, well, the Internet wasn’t really kicking.

Matt Mortensen

“I had a suitcase that was just textbooks and notebooks, and I’d get back and take the tests, and I did it that way from sixth grade through 12th grade,” Mortensen said. “To me, it all didn’t seem like a big deal. I was an outgoing kid and I liked traveling and I liked being on my own. I was doing this thing that’s letting me see the world for free and meeting all these new people, and that was awesome to me.

“We don’t really have the same crazy winters on Long Island, so when I went up to Lake Placid for the first time, it really opened my eyes to winter sports, and I knew if I got really good at [luge], I might be able to get to the Olympics. When I was playing soccer or basketball or baseball, it never crossed my mind that I could be a professional athlete in that. I knew the chances were not there.”

Krewson made his first run down Bald Hill in Farmingville, LI — and wanted it to be his last. The 10-year-old crashed, and cried, and asked to go home.

His mother, Regina, insisted he make at least one more run.

Justin Krewson

“This all probably wouldn’t have happened if I don’t say, ‘Stop crying. Don’t give up. We’re not going home. Just finish it, because then you get a water bottle and a T-shirt at the end,’ ” Regina said. “The following year, he said he’d try it again, and it was amazing. They picked him to be on the developmental team. You just never know.”

Steve and Regina KrewsonEdmund J. Coppa

When you think you know, disappointment is only more devastating.

Mortensen fell just short of securing Team USA’s final spot for the Vancouver Games in 2010 — he had also failed to qualify for the 2006 Torino Olympics — and began questioning the sacrifices he’d made.

“I was 24 and I was thinking: What am I doing with my life?” Mortensen said. “I really thought I was going to that Olympics. That was a life-changing moment for me. I was super depressed after that, and I was thinking about my options. I hadn’t gone to college, and I didn’t really have a future set up. If I stopped sliding, I could go and paint a house, and that’s not the future I wanted.

“At that point, I’ve already put 11 years into this sport, and how much more am I gonna put into this before I start thinking about my future. It was a moment of self-realization that I needed to get my stuff together. I had to make a plan that if I stayed with the sport, I was gonna land on my feet when I’m done.”

The Army addressed every concern.

Mortensen enlisted in February 2010, and joined the Army World Class Athlete Program, which allows athletes to compete in elite-level sports while serving in the military.

Joining him was his brother, Joseph, a former luger, who recently returned from a tour of duty in Afghanistan.

Matt’s education was taken care of — he graduated from DeVry University in October — and he remains in the National Guard, keeping up with annual training, including combat and marksmanship.

Sgt. Mortensen — up for promotion to staff sergeant — successfully qualified for the 2014 Sochi Olympics, where he finished 14th in doubles with Preston Griffall. He will team with a different partner, Jayson Terdiman, in Pyeongchang.

‘I have a real passion for firefighting, and I’d like to do it as a career one day.’

 - Justin Krewson

“Honestly, if I didn’t join the military, I wouldn’t still be in [luge],” Mortensen said. “You grow up, you get bills, you go to school, you have to do these things. It was really tough, and it was a lot of work, but I knew where I wanted to be when this Olympics was over. I wanted to have my college degree, I wanted to have enough money to buy a house and I wanted to be able to walk away from this sport if that’s how I felt after this Olympics, and so far, all those goals have been met.

“The last time around, I didn’t really view myself as a medal contender, but my goal this time is definitely to bring home some hardware, which I think we’re more than capable of.”

Krewson will experience the dream for the first time. Signs in Eastport brag about it. People his parents haven’t seen in years are sending their best, and classmates of his sister, Jessica, keep stopping her to share their disbelief.

Krewson is one of theirs, even if he hasn’t lived there in years. Now living in Lake Placid, with hopes of more Olympic appearances, Krewson also thinks about what happens when the ride is over.

In June, he will begin a six-month welding program — he has already sold furniture he built, and worked as a server at Lake Placid Pub & Brewery to make extra money — and he is also a volunteer in the Lake Placid Fire Department, likening the calls’ effect on him to the adrenaline high from luge.

“I wanted to give back to the community once I was settled,” said Krewson, who is teaming with Andrew Sherk. “I have a real passion for firefighting, and I’d like to do it as a career one day. I’ve thought that since I was really young.”

Justin Krewson (No. 3) and Andrew SherkReuters

Chance presented this Olympic possibility. Choice — of dedication, of focus, of will — allowed it to be realized.

“We all made sacrifices, and he made more than anyone, but we always encouraged him to follow his dreams,” Krewson’s mom, Regina, said. “I would’ve liked to have him home until he was 18. It was hard to keep going up there, and it’s expensive, but this is gonna be the ultimate validation, seeing him with Team USA, with the flag.

“It’s gonna make me and everyone else cry.”

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