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Distinguished Buffalonian Weekly

(Pictured: Steve Mesler and his World Championship Gold Medal; the first won by a Men’s US Bobsleigh team since 1959.)

Entertainment, politics, sports, literature, and more.  Our city has
and will continue to produce people who have made significant
contributions to these forums, which is why we’ve decided to highlight
these individuals and celebrate their lives every week.

This week:  Steve Mesler

Some people work jobs they hate because they keep bills paid, stomach’s filled, heads protected by roofs, backs adorned with clothing, et cetera.  Sometimes I hear people talk about the chance they should’ve taken, but “the timing wasn’t right” or “it just wouldn’t have worked out.”  For Buffalo’s own Steve Mesler, the easy road will have to deal with being un-taken.

Steve is an Olympic Bobsledder, a sport that takes regular sledding and adds some blades, ice, and about 100 miles per hour.  As is the case with many Olympic sports, time matters most.  So you can understand how bad I felt when I was five minutes late to meet a guy who sees hundredths of a second as a decade of work.  But Steve was very cordial and excused himself from the house that was filled with family members, preparing for his sister’s wedding.

Steve graduated from City Honors in 1996 where he was an impressive soccer player, making the All-Western New York team in 1995, winning the National Championship in indoor track and field as a pentathlete in 1996 and becoming an All-American athlete that same year.  Steve’s performance, both on the track and in the classroom, elicited attention from plenty of schools, including Harvard, Yale, Duke, and others.  He chose the University of Florida for their track program.  Several injuries and a “Tommy Johns surgery” later, and Steve knew his track career was close to being over. 

“I wasn’t ready to be done yet,” he said, displaying his surgery scar. 

It was the perfect lead-in to my next question: How does one become a Bobsledder? 

“Somebody at some point mentioned bobsled.  So I emailed the Olympic committee, and I said ‘I’m this big, I’m this strong, I’m this fast. Can I do this?’  They forwarded it to the Bobsled Federation and they said I was what they were looking for.  Eight months later I was at training camp, got on ice three months later, and made the National team five months later.” 

First time on ice, and he’s making the Olympic team.  Not bad for a guy whose dad didn’t let him play hockey. 

By the way, all of this happened in June 2001.  In no time, he would compete in the 2002 Olympics in Salt Lake City.  It’s about as close as you can get to becoming an Olympian “overnight.” 

Steve attributes his hard-working attitude to growing up in Buffalo.  “When I look back at what I do, why I am the way I am, I think of Buffalo.  It’s a blue-collar town, and Bobsled is a blue collar sport.  It’s a tough sport.  I want to win a gold medal and bring it back here to say ‘Look what I’ve done–Thank you.'”

He lives in Calgary now, a city with a lot more wealth.  “The Buffalo community is much more cohesive.  You can sit on your porch and talk with neighbors.  It isn’t like that everywhere.”

US Men’s Bobsled hasn’t been too highly regarded in the last 50 years.  They came in Seventh in the 2006 Olympics–fuel for Steve’s desire to win. 

Then Lake Placid hosted the 2009 World Championships.  Steve and the boys won.  By almost a second–a massive margin in the sport.  They’re heading into this year’s Olympics as the favorite.  And Steve is confident.

(Steve’s Gold Medal from the FIBT World Championships)

“As much as I hate to say it, we are one of the favorites, if not THE favorite.  We feel really good.  Everybody [on the team] looks amazing.”

We often hear stories about the “Olympic journey.”  Not every Olympian receives Michael Phelps’ million-dollar endorsements.  The cost to compete is high, and Steve is in need of some financial backing.  And even though he’s emailed 50 Buffalo businesses for a little help, only Tops replied, and they politely declined. 

It’s the perfect time to help out.  Toss Steve some money, and you’ll reap serious benefits.  Your donation is a tax-write off, plus the free advertising your business would receive from being associated with what hopes to be a gold medal winner.
“I used to tell businesses what I’d give them for a certain amount of money.  A few years ago I started asking what they wanted from me.  I like it much better.” 

I’ve met professional athletes before and they’re all very good at what they do.  But all of them are handsomely rewarded for their hard work.  Steve dedicates himself to a sport because he loves it.  There’s no huge payday involved. 

It would be very “Blue-collar Buffalo” to forget the financial crisis and help one of our own.  We’d get a gold medal out of it.  Which way is the hard way?           

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