PARK CITY, Utah — Kimber Gabryszak is an adrenaline junkie.
She’s bungee-jumped, skydived, and raced downhill on a mountain bike dressed in full body armor.
Yet nothing compares to the ride she’s been on since her boyfriend persuaded her to get on a skeleton sled five years ago in Park City.
From that first run, despite looking out of place in her bicycling body armor, Gabryszak was hooked.
Now, thanks to an unexpected series of events, the city planner from Park City is a member of the U.S. World Cup team.
“Never, ever in a million years did I anticipate I’d be on the World Cup and loving every minute of it,” said Gabryszak, who is competing in Lake Placid, N.Y., the fourth stop on the World Cup circuit.
But with former World Cup champion Noelle Pikus-Pace retiring, former Utah State track star Rebecca Sorensen opting to coach and two-time Olympian Katie Uhlaender still recovering from hip surgery, Gabryszak is on the team.
She even admits to Olympic dreams, admittedly far-fetched at one point for someone whose toughest athletic endeavors growing up in remote Yentna Station, Alaska, were shoveling snow and chopping firewood to help heat the family home.
“We were 40 miles to the nearest road,” she said of the family’s homestead, which doubled as a gas station, fishing and hunting lodge and Iditarod checkpoint. “The first time I ran a mile I was 23 and in college, so I didn’t think I’d be an athlete.”
She ended up in China backpacking for a year as a tour guide before finding her way to the University of Utah to finish her masters degree in planning.
In Park City, she got hooked racing her bicycle downhill, until her boyfriend talked to her about skeleton.
“I said, ’You’re crazy,”’ Gabryszak recalled. “He said, ’You’re going to love it.”’
He was right, but even after a series of runs, her plans were simply to slide in a local club.
“But I kept getting better and better, and said, ’Hey, maybe I’ll give it a go,”’ she said.
She competed on the America’s Cup Tour, then qualified for the sub-elite European Cup and Intercontinental tours two years ago, footing her own bills and using vacation time from her job with the Summit County Planning Department.
“I thought, ’When am I going to have this opportunity again?”’ she said in justifying the expenses.
With Pikus-Pace, Sorensen and Uhlaender out of the picture, Gabryszak vaulted to the World Cup.
“It’s been a little bit of an eye-opener for her this year, seeing the level of professionalism and the competition being so strong,” U.S. Skeleton coach Tuffy Latour said.
Not only that, her first race three weeks ago was on the most dangerous course in the world, in Whistler.
“I will admit to having some doubts about my sliding ability on that track,” she said. “My ribs were taped for the next couple of weeks after my runs there, so it was a very humbling experience.”
While her race wasn’t spectacular, she made it down unscathed, finishing 16th.
She finished 16th again in Calgary, and was 14th on her home track in Park City last week. She didn’t meet her goal of a top-10 finish, but broke her personal record by more than half a second.
“So I really can’t complain at all,” she said.
No, life is pretty good for the 30-year-old planner.
After the holidays, things could change depending on Uhlaender’s recovery. Uhlaender has qualified for the World Cup based on points but still needs to meet certain team standards.
“Katie is a great slider,” Latour said. “She’s been consistently in the top eight the last five years and knows what it takes to get to that level. But she had that surgery and she’s maybe only at 70-75 percent where she needs to be.”
A decision on who will compete in the second half of the World Cup season will be made after Lake Placid.
Gabryszak knows she could find herself bouncing between the World Cup and Intercontinental competitions.
“There’s about four or five of us who are really competitive,” Gabryszak said. “There’s going to be a lot of that in the next three years going into the Olympics.”
For now, Gabryszak is flying high, even if she’s just an inch off the ground going 80 mph.
“People definitely think I am (crazy), but it’s just so fun,” Gabryszak said. “It’s like if you ever wanted to fly when you were a little kid, it’s the closest you’ll ever get to that. ... You’re like Superman.”