RIDGEFIELD, Conn.—Tucker West was intrigued watching luge on television for the first time during the 2002 Winter Olympics.
“I thought it was the coolest thing in the world,” recalled Tucker, who was 6 years old at the time.
He immediately ran outside and started sledding in his backyard.
When that wasn’t fast enough, his father, Brett, iced the hill with a garden hose.
When even that wasn’t fast enough, Brett agreed to start constructing a luge track in their backyard.
The wooden luge track grew to be more than 700 feet long. Brett eventually installed an automatic icing system, speakers and lights for nighttime rides.
For about two years, Tucker would ride down the luge track whenever the weather allowed. According to Brett, the temperature needs to be about 20 degrees Fahrenheit overnight to ice the track.
Tucker has gone as fast as 30 mph down the track, and it takes about 20 seconds to reach the bottom.
“I call it a ‘luge track,’ but it was essentially a glorified wooden chute that you would just hurl yourself down,” Tucker said. “We bashed every wall the whole way down.”
By the age of 9, just as Tucker was starting to want to go even faster, he received a visit from Gordy Sheer, the 1998 Olympic doubles silver medalist who is now USA Luge’s Marketing Director.
“When I heard about this lunatic in Connecticut who built a luge track in his backyard,” Sheer said, “I got out there as fast as I could.”
Impressed, Sheer decided to invite Tucker to the Olympic Training Center in Lake Placid.
Watching the “Fastest Sport on Ice” in person, Tucker saw lugers reach speeds as high as 90 mph.
“That’s when I really fell in love with the sport,” he recalled.
Tucker went on to become the youngest U.S. Olympic luger ever at the age of 18. In December 2014, he became the first U.S. man to win a World Cup race since 1997.
He has not gone down his backyard luge track since he was 12, because he now spends winters training in Lake Placid and competing on the international World Cup circuit.
Brett keeps the track operable, replacing rotten wood planks and applying fresh paint. In 2015, he opened the luge track to fellow Ridgefield residents.
“Half of the town came over,” he said. “They loved it.”
Tucker grew up playing baseball, basketball and football, but it was not until he discovered luge that he developed a true passion for sports. He hopes his story will inspire others to give niche sports a try.
“I think there’s a sport out there for everyone,” Tucker said. “It’s just a matter of finding it.”