Tag Archives: John Vester

Life Goes Downhill For John Vester

Nearly 4 years ago, “06880” profiled John Vester.

The story told how the Westporter — a former national luge team member-turned-bobsledder, whose Olympic dreams were shattered several times by injuries — had joined a small non-profit determined to end years of failure by US bobsled teams.

Vester and his group’s goal was to make the best sled possible. In 2010 — when the story ran — the Americans had just won gold in the 4-man bobsled, at the Winter Olympics in Vancouver. It was our 1st since 1948.

Another 4 years, another Olympics.

Vester is still involved. His project — called Bo-Dyn — is sliding rapidly downhill. In bobsled terms, that’s great.

Last weekend, at World Cup races in Lake Placid, the various men’s teams went a perfect 7-f0r-7. The women’s teams had plenty of success too.

John Vester at Lake Placid yesterday. The US sled is visible underneath his arm.

John Vester at Lake Placid yesterday. The US sled is visible below his arm.

Vester — whose day job is as a principal with KPMG’s Advisory Services — is thrilled with the US successes. He’s part of a team that has worked long and hard to get this country where it is, in a sport long dominated by Germany and Switzerland.

The Olympics in February are one more — well, mountain to climb. Vester is cautiously optimistic.

But he won’t be in Sochi to see it.

He’s headed to Lake Placid, where he and the rest of his Bo-Dyn team will watch on TV, in a special facility.

Right next to the US Olympic Committee’s bobsled run.

John Vester’s Olympic Gold

If you’re like me, you were probably surprised there were no local connections to the recent Olympics — beyond, of course, the few dozen Westporters who traveled to Vancouver, and the thousands who watched on TV.

Now I’ve found one.

John Vester

The story starts years ago, when John Vester was a boy in Ohio.  He loved watching “Wide World of Sports” — which, spanning the globe, every February found sledding events.  One day Jim McKay — a Westporter, though that has nothing to do with this story — turned to the camera after another dismal US performance and said:  “Kids!  America needs you!”

John’s father — an Army colonel and college professor — could not buy him a $5,000 bobsled.  But a luge cost 1/10 that amount, and John was hooked.

He made the national luge team, and for 5 years trained for the Olympics.  He traveled to Lake Placid, Austria, Germany and Eastern Europe.  Just before Calgary in 1988 he tore his rotator cuff — a bad injury, because shoulders are a key component of luge — and at 25 realized he had to move on with his life.

He entered grad school at Yale, and got a real job.  Today he’s a partner/prinicipal at Ernst & Young.  For the last 10 years he’s been a Westporter.

But John never lost his love for winter sports.

Several years ago he did what many former lugers do:  He took up bobsled.  He performed well prior to the 2002 Salt Lake Olympics, but then he separated both shoulders — and, soon after, broke a rib and suffered a concussion.

His wife put her foot down — “nicely,” he says — and his athletic dream died.


In the fall of 2002 he joined the USA Bobsled & Skeleton Federation’s new board — as usual, our Olympic performance sucked, and changes were needed — and tried to put together the best pushers, drivers, coaches and sleds for the 2006 Torino games.

Despite much hard work, a variety of factors caused the board to resign — en masse — just before the Olympics.  Once again, the US team failed to medal.

In the aftermath of that sporting disaster, a small non-profit was formed.  John was asked to join the 4-person board.  That tiny group — with just 1 paid executive director, and 1 designer-manufacturer — got right to work.

“We had a single-minded focus,” John says.  “We wanted to make the best sled possible.  The Germans have a massive government machine behind them, but we thought we could do it.”

Slowly, they did.  Last year, Americans won World Cups and world championships.

The US 4-man bobsled team. (Photo courtesy of http://www.owc.cn)

Last month, at Whistler — despite what John circumspectly calls “emergencies” (click here) — the US earned the 4-man gold.  It was America’s 1st since 1948.

John calls the accomplishment “very satisfying.  At 47 years old, I don’t care that the medal was not around my neck.  Being 1 of a few key people who made it happen was enough.”

Early the next morning, John flew home.  His real job beckoned.  Now — with the perspective of a few days — he looks ahead.

“Our job is to retain that capability to win,” he says.  “I hope we’ve demonstrated that our approach to winning  works.  Now we have to keep doing it.”

He is unsure if he’ll be part of the US bobsled effort 4 years from now, in Sochi.  But he’s not sitting back and basking in Olympic glory.

John also coaches a Westport Little League team.  Their season starts soon.  They’re going for gold.