Former Penn running back and 2016 graduate Kyle Wilcox now represents the USA on the international stage. But not for the sport that you might expect.
Trading the football field for an ice track, Wilcox is one of 12 members of Team USA bobsled, and was a part of the four-man team that placed sixteenth at the 2019 World Championships in Whistler, BC.
While at Penn, Wilcox was part of the Ivy League championship winning team in 2012. The following season, after finishing first on the team in rushing yards with 493, Wilcox earned honorable mention All-Ivy designation.
Appearing in 37 games for the Red and Blue, Wilcox finished his career with 724 rushing yards and 17 tackles while also contributing on special teams. Showing early signs of versatility, he changed positions to play defensive back as a sophomore before returning to the backfield for his final two seasons.
“Kyle was extremely talented, very focused on the field and in the classroom,” coach Ray Priore, who was the Assistant Head Coach while Wilcox played, said. “Very self-motivated and very driven. He played running back for us and some slot receiver, and had a very good career when he was here.”
After graduating, Wilcox attended the USA Bobsled Combine to test himself against other elite athletes vying for a chance to compete on the world stage. After meeting a threshold in different athletic tests including a 45-meter sprint and a standing long jump, he was invited to rookie camp in Lake Placid, NY to learn the basics of becoming a push athlete. Following success as a rookie, Wilcox then earned an invitation to the national push championships.
Wilcox was inspired to try out by his brother Justin, who had similarly made the transition from football at South Florida University to bobsledding for Team USA’s development team.
“It definitely wasn’t my focus at Penn, it was just in the back of my mind,” Wilcox said. “I wanted to keep doing sports, and I went into it expecting I’d probably go along the bottom tier, and it would be fun to keep doing it. And I actually ended up being pretty good, so it’s now been basically my full time job.”
In addition to the World Championships, Wilcox regularly competes against the best bobsledders in the world at Four-man and Two-man World Cup events. In the two short seasons since beginning bobsled competition, he has secured a number of high placements for Team USA, including fifth at the Four-man Lake Placid World Cup event.
“If you know Kyle, how motivated a young man he is, his self-discipline was very, very unique,” Priore said. “It is not shocking that he has taken on this challenge.”
In an ordinary year, Wilcox would be preparing for the upcoming season in Lake Placid with his teammates during the summer, but coronavirus restrictions have kept Team USA training separately for now. His regimen involves sprinting, lifting, and recovery circuits six days a week, multiple times per day. While this schedule is similar to what the team would be doing together, the challenge is strengthening chemistry in a sport dependent on teamwork.
“It’s how you mesh. We start practicing in the summer to start meshing for a competition that ends in March,” Wilcox said. “We’re practicing timing. Your steps have to be in sync, jumping in the sled at the same time.”
Instead of an in-person recruiting combine this year, Team USA has gone virtual, asking athletes to send in videos to measure their talent. This potentially broadens the scope of prospective bobsledders available to participate in the combine, eliminating the need to travel to limited events.
While at first glance Wilcox’s two sports might seem disconnected, bobsled attracts many former football players looking to prolong their athletic careers. At the 2018 Olympics in Pyeongchang, Team USA sent five football players as members of their bobsled team. Former track and field athletes are also common in the sport.
“Playing football helps you deal with the pain that comes with [bobsledding], and the grind that comes with it,” Wilcox said. “But I think the probably the most transferable skill that comes with football is that you have to know how to drive with weight in front of you, similar to getting tackled, you’re not going to stop your feet, you have to keep pressing so you won’t go down.”
Team dynamics is also a critical part of a successful bobsled, a similarity to football that also gives former players an advantage.
“It’s about how good a teammate you are,” Wilcox said. “Coming from a football background, that actually really helps me, because I’m used to being on a team and like being on a team.”
Looking ahead, Wilcox hopes to have the opportunity to represent Team USA at the 2022 Beijing Olympics. With such an achievement, he would join an elite group of Penn alumni who have gone on to Olympic fame.
So for other Quakers looking to extend their athletic careers beyond graduation, maybe the opportunity could be found on a bobsled track in Lake Placid.