Former Boise State track and field captain Nick Cunningham wears two American uniforms.
One as a soldier. Another as a bobsledder.
His Army job every winter: To literally win medals. They are very, very good at backing me up doing that, he said.
Cunningham, 28, is the worlds sixth-ranked driver in the two-man bobsled going into Sundays competition at the Sochi Olympics. He also ranks 13th in the four-man bobsled, which begins Saturday.
He competed in both events as a brakeman in 2010 in Vancouver, then set out to become a driver. His sleds finished 12th (two-man) and 13th (four-man) in Vancouver.
After the last Olympics, I missed that Olympic buzz, Cunningham said. I went home to my parents house in California for maybe 10 days, and then I was on a plane out to Lake Placid (N.Y.) to do driving school, trying to learn everything I could. I knew it was going to come down to this year and we managed to pull it out.
Cunninghams Olympic pursuit led him to the Army in 2011. The World Class Athlete Program helps him afford to pursue his dream.
Four bobsledders at this years Olympics including two of the push athletes who likely will ride with Cunningham and an assistant coach are in the WCAP program. U.S. bobsled star Steve Holcomb is a former WCAP soldier.
Cunningham committed to a six-year stay in the Army. Hes a sergeant in the New York National Guard and lives and trains in Lake Placid, N.Y. His company is based in Kingston, N.Y.
During bobsled season, Cunningham serves as an active-duty soldier for WCAP. In the offseason, he works for his unit in New York.
If that unit gets deployed, Ill be there with my company, he said. Theyve helped me out so much. I wouldnt think twice.
Cunningham has not been deployed since joining. He assigned himself to Hurricane Sandy relief, though driving to the New York/New Jersey area with his two-man brakeman, Dallas Robinson, to spend 48 hours helping residents clean up the damage.
Robinson, a WCAP member based in Kentucky, also serves on Cunninghams four-man sled. This is his first Olympics.
Looking back at all the adventures Nick Cunningham and I have had together, its been a cool four years, man, Robinson posted on Facebook. Huck Finn and Tom Sawyer style. Lets finish this last couple off right, bud.
Part of driver school, Cunningham said, is finding brakemen with the courage to get in the sled with you. Cory Butner, who will drive a two-man sled in Sochi but lost the four-man spot to Cunningham, was in the same driving school with him.
Youre all in the same boat, Cunningham said. You take a beating. There are guys who will try to drive for years and just cant get it, but luckily for a couple of us, it clicked right away. If you make a panic move, chances are youre going to hurt yourself, hurt your sled and hurt your crew.
Cunningham has improved from 22nd in the world in the two-man event in 2010-11 to 13th in 2011-12, 12th in 2012-13 and sixth this year.
He controls the sled with two D-rings that sit in his lap. He pulls the right one to go right, the left to go left.
The two- and four-man teams work in unison with no verbal communication.
Cunningham, who finished sixth in a World Cup in the two-man Jan. 25 and fourth in the four-man Jan. 19, said hes getting medal-worthy pushes from his teammates.
Theyre definitely doing their job, and I have the tools to do very, very well in Sochi, he said, but I have to hit all my marks. Its up to me now. No pressure, right?
Its pressure he wanted. Even before Vancouver, his sights were set on getting in the drivers seat for Sochi.
His four-year odyssey culminates over the next eight days.
Were not usually in the spotlight when were on tour, so this is our one shot to show the world what we have, Cunningham said. We definitely want to make the best of it.
Sochi is another building block for Cunningham, who is committed to the Army until 2017 and plans to compete through at least the 2018 Olympics.
Its too good of a gig to give it up just yet, he said. Learning to drive, it takes years to get good. Im only four years in. Who knows how much Ill learn in the next four years.
Chadd Cripe: 377-6398, Twitter: @IDS_BroncoBeat