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U.S. bobsled athlete overcame tough life to achieve 2002 Games glory

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via: Amy Donaldson, deseretnews.com

Roaming the streets with his drug-addicted parents, it never occurred to young Bill Schuffenhauer that he might someday compete in the Olympics.

Instead, he worried about whether or not gangs would harass him, if his mom’s “tricks” would come lurking around or where he might score some booze. But even as he bounced from living on the streets to foster care

and ultimately juvenile detention, he yearned for a better life.

“It wasn’t so much me starting to get into trouble, I was kind of born into the situation,” said the 36-year-old who won a silver medal in the four-man bobsled event in the 2002 Winter Games and will represent the U.S. in Vancouver in the days to come. “Both my mom and dad were heavily into drugs and the street life. … I was following in the same footsteps as my mom and dad.”

It was his maternal grandmother who finally gave him a chance to be something other than what he saw on the streets of Salt Lake City.

“My Grandma stepped in, she lived just outside Ogden at the time, and I moved up there with her,” he said. “Every child is looking for something better. … When I moved to Roy, I had an opportunity to see what better was. It was the family life. That’s what I wanted.

“I didn’t have to always look over my back. I didn’t have to think about running from cops. I didn’t have to think about gang members or tricks coming to my house to put down my family. … It was such a refreshing feeling that I thought, ‘That is something I need to pursue. Do I know how? No.’ ”

He couldn’t have felt more different than his peers in those first few weeks, but he found a way not only to fit in, but to thrive in his new home.

“When I went up (to Roy) in seventh grade, I had raggedy clothes and an afro,” said Schuffenhauer. “It was definitely a very different experience. … When I walked into the junior high, all the kids were like ‘Whoa, who is this guy?’ ”

So, at 13, he found himself a role model. It wasn’t a movie star or a professional athlete. It was just another junior high student — Jake Schultz.

“He was the All-American-looking kid,” he said with a grin. “He did sports; everyone liked him. He was just ‘that guy.’ I wanted to be like him.”

He began making changes in his life. First and foremost, he began to do better in school so he could participate in track and field and then football. It was a track coach, Neville Peterman, who got him daydreaming about someday winning Olympic gold.

After teaming up with Schultz to help Roy High win a state track and field championship, Schuffenhauer went on to achieve stardom as an outstanding track athlete at Weber State University.

“It was a long process,” he said.