AAU high school strength sports athlete Noah Crofton recently had the opportunity to train and compete as a member of the Team USA junior bobsled team.
The 16-year-old from Shreveport, LA, trained and competed as a full-time junior athlete in the monobob, single-person bobsled from October through December 2015. He moved from Shreveport to Lake Placid to commence intensive training in October, and subsequently trained and competed in Calgary, Canada; Igls, Austria; and Lillehammer, Norway, completing more than 80 bobsled runs and 18 training and competition races, placing as high as second in international competition.
As a competitive weightlifter and powerlifter, Crofton already had a deep background in speed and strength training, which are essential to bobsled and skeleton, the winter sliding sports. His father John Crofton is head coach of the Jets Barbell Club, a Shreveport-based, nationally-known AAU youth weightlifting club that has captured multiple national team championships; as one of the Jets’ founding members, Noah has competed in weightlifting since the age of nine, and was no stranger to international competition.
During the summer, he qualified at a USA Bobsled & Skeleton recruiting combine in Dallas, and after winning the gold in both weightlifting and powerlifting at the AAU Junior Olympic Games in Virginia in August, he turned his attention to training to compete for a slot on the USA junior bobsled team.
It was challenging, essentially being on the road and away from home for three months of intense training and competition. His family set up a “GoFundMe” account online and collected donations to help pay for his three months of training, travel and competition, and he kept in touch with his teachers and classes at C E Byrd High School through email and online classes.
“Collectively, all of my close friends raised enough money for me to travel and compete for team USA,” Crofton says. “I can’t thank them enough for the love and support they have shown.”
Local business owner Michael Labban donated to the GoFundMe account to help Noah train with the team and compete internationally.
“I contributed because I know him and his family,” Labban says. “Every kid has a dream, and the Olympics is a dream for most. This was a small part of me being a part of Noah.”
Crofton’s high school teachers were equally supportive through online classes.
“Noah has learned skills in a very short time due to a very strong work ethic and intense passion for winning and perfection,” says Lt. Col Rick Roberts, head of C.E. Byrd’s JROTC program, where Noah is a student. “His mastery in powerlifting, and now his pursuits in bobsledding, are true confessions of his character and fire as a competitor.”
Crofton’s parents are appreciative of the opportunity that has been afforded the young athlete.
“I definitely think this was a great opportunity for Noah,” says his mother Deniese. “It has taught him responsibility and accountability, and he has been able to see other parts of the world and experience other cultures that he might not have otherwise. He has also met new friends that I think will be with him for the rest of his life.”
“This has also been an amazing experience for us as a family,” says father John. “It was good for Noah learning to be on his own, and for us to let go of him so that he could follow his dream. He worked very hard for this, he earned the opportunity to compete with Team USA, and we are thankful for it.
“His school, community, family, and friends supported his efforts 100%,” the elder Crofton continues. “Our church even followed his races. I feel like people here in Shreveport are proud of him; friends of friends reach out and ask about him, and total strangers approach us in restaurants and talk about the experience, or extend their congratulations. Not many kids can say they spent their 16th birthday racing bobsleds in Europe, but he’s pretty mellow about the whole thing -- he’s handling this better than just about anyone.”
America’s bayou bobsledder is effusive about his recent experience training and competing overseas. “There is so much more to the world than just the USA,” he says. “These are experiences I can’t even describe in words, experiences that I can’t even realize how cool they are yet. I enjoyed bonding with my teammates, and the rest of the teams from around the world, and learning about their culture and way of life. I made good friends with the British, Jamaicans, Canadians, Austrians, and Brazilians, and we all had a fantastic time together.”
Preparing to compete for a slot with Team USA required intense strength training and conditioning. In addition to weightlifting and sprinting every other day, Crofton pushed weighted sleds and worked on jumping and plyometrics for physical preparedness. He trained in Olympic style weightlifting at the LSU-Shreveport USA Weightlifting High Performance Center under coaches Dr. Kyle Pierce and Aaron Cunanan, and also at the Downtown Shreveport YMCA. The YMCA set up a training area specifically for his use during his preparations. “I can’t thank them enough for their incredible support,” he says. “Everybody bent over backwards to make this happen for me,” Crofton says. “Coaches Pierce and Cunanan were great, and the Downtown YMCA took great steps to help make sure my training didn’t miss a beat. They were the epitome of supportive!”
Once Crofton hit the ice in October, it didn’t get easier. He crashed once during training in Igls, and twice in Lillehammer during his many bobsled runs in the single-person monobob sled. “I didn’t have any real injuries during the rollovers,” Crofton says, “but my entire body was sore after those crashes – and I mean deep-tissue sore!
“The track in Lillehammer was fast, with multiple double pressure curves,” he continues, “and it got faster until the final corners of the track. This was a really difficult track to learn, and it beat me up mentally and physically.”
However, after seven straight days of training in Lillehammer, Crofton pulled out fourth and second place finishes in his final two heats during Youth Series Competition. He completed the fall series of races in 14th place overall, with 305 points, falling one position short of qualifying to participate in the 2016 Youth Olympic Games in Lillehammer as a member of Team USA.
Crofton arrived back home in Shreveport to a hero’s welcome on December 19th, and more than 50 Jets Barbell teammates and friends joined him for a “Welcome Home” party at Chimi V’s restaurant. Now it’s back to class, back to the gym, and back to his teammates at Jets Barbell, but Crofton will continue to train for bobsled, and he sees fast ice in his future.
“I’m excited for the journey that is ahead of me,” he says. “I’ll have to find a brakeman as soon as possible and start training in the two-man. That means getting back to Park City, Utah, and Lake Placid for training, and getting bigger, stronger, and faster. I’m just getting started.”
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