Archived from My Winnipeg Life, Fall 2003
Remember those lovable Jamaican bobsledders who bumbled their way through the Olympics a few years back? Hollywood even made a movie about them.
Well, Winnipegger David Greaves is one of the players in a similar plot.
Call this one, Cool Runnings - With Chutzpa.
Greaves, 36, is part of the first Israeli bobsled team. Compared to their Jamaican counterparts, though, Team Israel takes its sledding very seriously, and plans to compete - all the way to the 2006 Olympic Games.
"If Israel thinks this is a novelty act, they won't send us," Greaves says. "We're not going to be laughingstocks."
Greaves and his two Jewish teammates have already enlisted the help of the Israeli government, which has created a bobsled federation. They've also done all the legal work necessary to gain their citizenship, work which included a two-week trip to Israel in the spring.
And they've raised some $50,000 US toward their first season of competition, which gets underway in November.
Credit Greaves' teammates, a former American fighter pilot and a retired pro football player, both from San Francisco, with that last one.
Aaron Zeff, the pilot, is basically a friend of a friend, and the guy who first hatched the idea. He recruited his buddy, former San Francisco 49ers tight end John Frank, and the two wound up training in Calgary.
When Zeff went down with an injury, Team Israel needed a third man.
"A Jewish guy in Calgary, essentially, is what they were looking for," Greaves says. "I happened to be in Calgary, happened to be Jewish... and they gave me a call."
The next thing he knew, he was in a sled, hurtling down the ice at 100 kilometres an hour.
"It's a terrifying experience doing it the first couple of times," Greaves recalls. "You're sliding out of control, you don't know when this thing's going to stop."
Even when he didn't crash, the G-force was almost too much for him.
"It's like five guys sitting on your back," he says. "You can't breathe, your eyes are popping out of your head.
"To be honest with you, I have no desire to pilot that thing. I'm happy to be sitting back with my head between my legs and having no view of what's coming up in front of me."
A sprinter in high school, Greaves' job with the sled is to power it to a quick start, sit tight through the wild ride, then hit the brakes at the end. He recently began a rigorous weight program designed to build up his strength.
Team Israel needs to bulk up financially, too.
Greaves and Co. will compete in six races on the America's Cup, the sport's entry-level circuit, including three events in Europe. That could cost as much as $85,000 US. Eventually, they'll need to compete on the elite World Cup circuit in order to nail down the Top-30 world ranking needed to qualify for the Olympics.
Earlier this summer, Zeff and Frank staged a fundraiser in San Francisco, bringing in around $50,000.
Now it's Greaves' turn.
With the help of the Jewish Federation of Winnipeg. he's holding a benefit concert on Sept. 25 at the Delta Hotel, featuring his brother's group, The Watchmen. He'll also solicit donations at a swanky, one-hour, pre-concert presentation, featuring a five-minute DVD presentation telling the story of Team Israel.
The video contains footage of the athletes' trip to their homeland, where Greaves found himself signing autographs for adoring Israeli youngsters. Giving an Israeli kid something to cheer for, Greaves says, is what this is all about.
"In three years, he's going to see us in the Olympics," Greaves says. "And he's going to remember seeing me talking to him in broken Hebrew and letting him push our training sled.
"It's a unique opportunity to support and represent Israel in a positive light. And it's a great privilege."
For more information on the bobsled team, check out its website at www.israelibobsled.com.