RIDGEFIELD, Conn. — A cell phone vibrating uncontrollably disturbed Tucker West’s concentration as he stood atop the Sochi Olympic luge track.
He quickly checked his notifications, despite being just 10 minutes away from his first run. Shocked by the volume, he fired off a “What did you do?” text message to the person running his social media accounts: his proud father, Brett.
Brett, who was nervously pacing in the stands, laughed. He knew exactly what he had done.
“I told him not to worry about it,” Brett recalled, “but I knew I was going to have a lot of explaining to do later.”
Brett had inadvertently created a social media firestorm with an offhand comment that aired on NBC’s “TODAY.” He encouraged girls to reach out to his “shy” and “very single” son on Facebook.
“I don’t know where the word ‘very’ came from,” Tucker said, “but it was true at the time.”
The plea worked. Tucker, who is 6-foot-1 with blonde hair, blue eyes and a disarming smile, received thousands of messages on social media with the hashtag #TeamTucker. Several included prom invitations and marriage proposals. Even 2002 Olympic figure skating champion Sarah Hughes reached out:
“My dad has always been eccentric, so this was just another trick out of his playbook,” said Tucker, pointing out that Brett often went to great lengths to support him. After watching luge together during the 2002 Olympics, Brett built Tucker, then 6, a grandiose wooden luge track in their backyard that grew to be more than 700 feet long with an automatic icing system, lights and speakers (PHOTOS).
The viral reaction was exactly what Brett had hoped for, although finding his son a date was not his primary goal.
Brett, a digital data and marketing executive, took his role as his son’s social media manager very seriously. After all, he was engaged in a friendly competition with the parents of the other U.S. Olympic lugers to see who could gain the most followers.
He sensed an opportunity to promote his son’s social media accounts while being interviewed on “TODAY.” The 10-minute interview focused on his backyard luge track, but the spontaneous 10-second quip about his son’s dating life garnered the most attention.
“My plan was just to somehow mention ‘Team Tucker’ on Facebook,” Brett said. “And then that came out of my mouth.”
The unexpected publicity helped Tucker both on the ice, calming his nerves as he became the youngest U.S. Olympic luger ever at the age of 18, and off the ice, more than doubling his Facebook followers to over 4,000.
“I raced to the best of my ability in Sochi, so it didn’t distract me,” said Tucker, who finished 22nd at the 2014 Olympics. “It was more of a fun side thing.”
When he returned home, Tucker did not have time to meet with any of the girls who contacted him on social media, since he immediately started classes at Union College.
“I tried to thank as many as I could, but I couldn’t get to everyone,” he said, noting that most of the marriage proposals turned out to be from mothers on behalf of their daughters.
Despite all of the attention he received from strangers, Tucker is now dating a girl he has known since he was 13.
“Sometimes you don’t have to look too far,” he said.
Tucker first met Raychel Germaine at a USA Luge camp in 2008, and asked her out in spring 2016 while on vacation with several other lugers in Florida. They now live next door to each other at the Olympic Training Center in Lake Placid, and collect passport stamps on the international World Cup circuit.
“They are really, really good for each other,” said Chris Mazdzer, a 2010 and 2014 Olympian who rooms with Tucker on the road. “And I don’t say that about a lot of relationships, so me saying that actually means a lot.”
“We don’t really go on dates,” Germaine said. “We do everything together.”
Germaine is hoping to make her Olympic debut in PyeongChang. Coming off shoulder surgery, she finished fourth among U.S. athletes in the 2016-2017 World Cup standings. Countries can send a maximum of three athletes to the Olympics in women’s singles luge.
Tucker is expected to make his second Olympic team, and could be a medal threat. Since the Sochi Games, only three-time Olympic champion Felix Loch of Germany has won more Olympic-distance World Cup races, although all three of Tucker’s victories came on familiar North American tracks.
Brett, who sold his company West World Media in 2015, plans on reprising his role as his son’s social media manager in PyeongChang with his trademark enthusiasm. He travels to many of the World Cup races to gather content, using a “secret method” to photograph the fast-moving sport.
“Everyone knows Tucker’s Dad,” Germaine said, “and they love when he’s around.”
Brett owns license plates that read “LUGE” and “LUGE DAD.” A large Olympic flag welcomes guests to his Ridgefield home. He also has two daughters, but the first line of his Twitter bio is “Tucker’s Dad.” He distributed 4,000 “Team Tucker” shirts at his own expense to supporters prior to the Sochi Games. Even his 150-pound English mastiff is named Sochi.
“If he’s not USA Luge’s biggest fan, he’s certainly top-three,” said Gordy Sheer, USA Luge’s Marketing Director and a 1998 Olympic doubles silver medalist.
Tucker still receives occasional social media messages, especially during prom season. Germaine joked that other girls are going to be disappointed when they find out Tucker is in a relationship. Even Brett, who is happily married to Tucker’s mother Pam, has received messages asking if he is single.
Now that Tucker has a girlfriend, he joked that his father is “blacklisted” from saying anything incendiary to the media. But as they spoke to NBCOlympics.com from their kitchen table, they acknowledged that silencing Brett might prove impossible.
“I will certainly keep my mouth shut this time,” Brett said, laughing. “But I’m not supposed to be talking to the media, and here I am I talking to you!”