By: Michelle Magnan
April 18, 2013
In the summer of 2000, Jesse Beckom III was helping a friend move when he received the phone call that changed everything. Charlie Partridge, his former Iowa State University football coach, was on the other end. He had a simple question: “What do you think about bobsled?” Beckom was stumped. “I don’t know. Why?” Partridge had just run into a USA Bobsled pilot, Travis Bell, who asked if the coach knew of any former football players that would be interested in trying out for the team. Partridge thought of Beckom, a former 220-pound outside linebacker who was working on his Master’s Degree in city planning, and made the call.
“At the time, I thought, ‘What the hell are you calling me for?’ I thought he was pulling my leg.” He wasn’t.
After some consideration, Beckom put his studies on hold to attend a training camp at Lake Placid, ultimately landing a spot on the USA Bobsled Team. “I’ve been bobsledding ever since,” says the 35-year-old Chicago native.
For Beckom, the crossover from football to bobsledding has been successful – he’s represented USA around the world, medaled at races and is a 2014 Winter Olympics hopeful – but it was definitely a transition. “I went from hitting and tackling people to hopping in a sled and getting banged down a course. The ride is kind of rough but, coming from football, that first run didn’t shake me up much,” he says. “I just thought, ‘Well, that’s a bit different.’ It was like a runaway roller coaster ride.”
Beckom had to tweak a few things to manage on the ice. For instance, learning to run on the front of his foot as opposed to the heel, where there’s no traction. “A football cleat has grip all the way around the shoe.” Bobsled is also more linear than football, he says – the only lateral movement is when you step into the sled. And then there’s the matter of opponents.
“In football, you’re going against another person. In bobsled, you’re going against the clock. There’s no contact with the other team. If you had to fight the other teams as you went down the track, that would really separate the boys from the men,” he says and laughs.
Though the sports may differ, many football players have made the jump to bobsledding because their skills translate so well. “You have powerful, fast, athletic guys who are used to converting that strength in their weight into explosive power, which is what it takes to get a bobsled off the line,” says Beckom. “You need that good explosion and reaction time, which a lot of football players have. It’s full power, full speed ahead.”
Throughout his bobsledding career, he’s had ups and downs – victories, defeats, injuries and recoveries – but he says one thing has stayed constant and certainly helped him make the crossover from football to bobsledding: his faith. “I’m a Christian and that plays a lot into me and what I do. My faith keeps me strong when things are tough or looking down, whether it’s performance or financial stuff. I feel like this is the path that God wants me on.”
If Beckom has changed as an athlete, it comes down to self-awareness. “I think I’m maturing as far as how to pay attention to my body and knowing what that means for me in training and recovery.” But, as he says, the change is likely a natural progression in his long career as an athlete. “I’ve grown as any other athlete would.”
The growth has also involved a fundamental shift. When he received that life-changing phone call in 2000, Beckom had reservations. “I wasn’t really quite sold on the whole bobsled thing,” he says. But all that has changed. “I love the competition in bobsledding. I love being able to not just be better than someone in a different state, but to go against the best in the world. You get to represent your country against the best in another country,” he says.
“And I like the camaraderie you have with your teammates, similar to how it was in football. You’re all working towards the same goal.”
Read Beckom’s one on one with Michelle Magnan here.