Olympian with local roots representing USA in luge

Kathryn Terdiman came home from work one day in the Berwick area carrying a flyer she thought would be of interest to her son.

Little did she know the monster she was creating, or the sense of pride she would one day experience since her curiosity ultimately led her son, Jayson, to represent the United States in the Olympics as a luger.

As the world gathers for opening ceremonies today in Sochi, Russia, the Terdiman family – which has deep Altoona roots – is basking in the Olympic thrill and how the journey began.

“I asked him if he wanted to try a sport called luge,” said Terdiman, a project manager for Verizon, “and he said ‘Mom, what’s luge?”’

Kathryn wasn’t totally sure, but she said once he tried it, Jayson “looked like he was having a blast.”

Jayson Terdiman’s ties to the area run through his father, Jay, who graduated from Altoona Area High School and lived here until 1985. A number of the Olympian’s relatives still live in the area, and his godfather was his uncle, Rob, better known to many as Steve Kelsey, the longtime radio personality at Froggy 98.

Kelsey passed away suddenly this past November at the age of 56.

“My sport is extremely mental and keeping my mind on what I’m doing is a huge priority for me,” Jayson Terdiman said. “I don’t carry anything extra with me that may help my imagination to wander, but I know that he will be with me on the sled. And hopefully he can give us a little extra push for a little more speed.”

Terdiman’s interest in luge, a sport in which competitors can achieve speeds of up to 87 mph by using either their calves or shoulders to help steer a sled that weighs anywhere from 55 to 66 pounds, blossomed quickly.

He will compete in the men’s doubles event in Sochi on Wednesday and possibly the following day.

His parents joined him in Russia, and his extended family will be glued to the TV.

“He loves anything that’s fast,” said his grandmother, Sharon Terdiman, who lives in Boca Raton, Fla., formerly of Altoona. “And this is fast.”

Thrill-seeking ways didn’t always run through Terdiman’s veins.

It was a trip to HersheyPark that hooked him on adrenaline rushes, his mother said.

“I’m a big roller coaster person,” she said. “And he wouldn’t even go near them. I said ‘I’d pay you $5 if you go on the Comet with me.’ So he went on, and then we couldn’t keep him off the roller coasters after his first time. He likes the speed and the thrill. He’s a thrill seeker.”

And so, about four or five years later, Terdiman was introduced to luge. The family initially traveled to Schenectady, N.Y., with about 600 to 800 other kids attempting the sport for the first time, but Terdiman didn’t make the cut.

He tried again the next year in Philadelphia, first becoming one of about 75 kids who tried the sport on ice, then ultimately being named to one of 15 spots on the development team.

His mom realized immediately he was hooked.

“He went about a quarter-mile, and he has this grin from ear to ear, and I knew his adrenaline, junkie self was in love with it,” she said.

Terdiman knew it, too.

“I’ve always been a fan of speed and adrenaline,” he said. “Luge gives you both of those in the same package. Reaching speeds up to 90 mph, just a foot off the ice in nothing more than a helmet and a skin tight suit, is a rush every time.”

Pursuing that rush initiated frequent trips to Lake Placid, N.Y., where Terdiman trained and currently lives. Terdiman, who was 11 when he first started the sport, traveled the 360-plus miles from his hometown of Berwick to Lake Placid for three training camp sessions lasting two or three weeks at a time.

“We’d take one day off from work, we’d leave early in the morning. We’d drive him up. We’d stay there maybe 30 minutes, then we’d turn around and drive home,” his mom said. “That was our sacrifice.”

While in Lake Placid, tutors there worked in conjunction with the Berwick Area School District to ensure Terdiman remained up to speed academically, including a mandatory and daily two-hour study session.

Terdiman gradually spent more and more time in Lake Placid training, and he ultimately qualified for the Olympics with his partner, Christian Niccum, after winning a race-off between U.S. teammates Jake Hyrns and Andrew Sherk.

“It was unbelievable,” Terdiman’s father said. “The only part I missed was being able to call my brother. He had passed away three weeks before this happened. It was tough. Mixed emotions, because I’d call him for every major event in my life. I miss doing that. But the sense of pride is still off the charts. We’re over the moon for him.”