Amanda Alvarez used to excel in soccer, gymnastics, and track and field back in her high school days at Columbia River. Now, she is in training for the Winter Olympics.
“This is completely the opposite direction I expected my life to take,” Alvarez said. “I hope to swing with this change and just keep up.”
Alvarez is still very much a beginner in skeleton, a sport she had never heard of just a couple months ago. But U.S. Olympic coaches see potential.
Last week, a nationwide television audience witnessed that potential as well. Alvarez was one of the winners of “Scouting Camp: The Next Olympic Hopeful.”
The U.S. Olympic committee invited 91 athletes from across the country to compete in a series of challenges to see if they had what it took to excel in one of four sports: bobsled, rugby, track cycling, and skeleton. There were eight winners, one woman and one man for each sport. Cameras were there for the week-long event to capture all the key moments, to be broadcast as a reality TV show.
The winners earned invitations to each sport’s team camps, financial aid to train, and some medical coverage. The show debuted Friday night on NBC Sports Channel, and Alvarez won the skeleton challenge.
“I was really stressed out before the announcement. I felt like I was going to puke, right up to that moment,” said Alvarez, who graduated from Columbia River in 2009.
Then she heard her name.
“It was such a relief,” she said. “I wasn’t going to give them a second to change their minds, so I ran up there.”
Interestingly, there were three athletes from Clark County who participated in the competition. Gabi Dixson (Battle Ground High School Class of 2009) and Erin Russell (Prairie Class of 2012) also were on the show. While Dixson and Russell did not officially “win,” they, too, were invited to the U.S. rugby team camp in September.
All three watched the show Friday night. Alvarez was in Lake Placid, N.Y., at a skeleton camp. Russell was back in college. She competes in track and field for Colorado State-Pueblo. And Dixson had a viewing party with her family in Clark County.
Alvarez figured she was performing well but did not concern herself with looking at any of the results during the competition.
“There was never a time that I was for sure winning this,” Alvarez said. “There are tons of great athletes there. It would be stupid for me to say … I’m the best.”
Maybe within the competition that was true, but for those outside, just watching, it was obvious. Russell, who was on the show competing in rugby, and Dixson, who was invited to try out for bobsled, said the athletes from the different sports all got to watch the other competitions.
“Just watching her, she dominated the entire skeleton competition,” Russell said of Alvarez.
“She’s amazing. She deserved everything she got,” Dixson said. “She’s such a killer competitor. I knew the moment I saw her, oh yeah, she came to play. I knew she was going to be one of the winners the whole time.”
In fact, the broadcast showed organizers talking about their top athletes. “She was the clear winner for us.”
See Amanda is announced as the winner at the 1:35.08 mark. Video courtesy NBC Sports.
The sport of skeleton requires the athlete to ride, face down, on a small sled while sliding down a track of ice. The event for the reality show was in July in Colorado, so there was no ice. The first skeleton team camp since the competition just happened to be the week that the reality show was broadcast on NBCSC.
Alvarez said it was fun and a little bizarre to be watching the show alongside her new friends in the skeleton world in the famed Olympic city in upstate New York. No ice again, but Alvarez said she is excited to see what she can do in the real thing this winter. (It should be noted that it is highly unlikely Alvarez will be representing the U.S. in 2018. But if all goes well, perhaps she could make the team in 2022.)
For now, she is pumped to be in the training program and is hoping this experience will benefit her career. She is a personal fitness trainer, now living in the Seattle area.
For Russell and Dixson, their Olympic dreams are still alive, too.
Russell had never played rugby before this competition. She did not win, but, in a way, she did. Russell still earned an invitation to the next rugby camp.
Dixson was not even in the rugby competition for the show, but she showed so much athletic talent that she, too, was invited to camp.
Both Russell and Dixson will meet up again in Chula Vista, California, in September.
“The goal is still the same as when I got the letter,” Russell said, referring to the note from the U.S. Olympic Committee that she would be a competitor on the reality show. “I want to pursue rugby and see how far it can take me.”
Dixson has an interesting point of view heading into camp.
“My goal is just to not die. I’ve been told by friends there is no amount of running that can prepare you for rugby camp,” Dixson said. “I’ve been working my butt off to get into the best shape that I can.
“I’ve been learning the game. My goal is to show my strength. That’s why they picked me. I want to be better than the last time they saw me.”
As far as the broadcast, Dixson got a lot of screen time. Almost too much, she said with a laugh. He friends call her “Showtime.”
All three Clark County athletes said producers did a perfect job of showing the excitement associated with the event, even after cutting the five-day competition into a two-hour television window.
“I thought it was awesome,” Dixson said. “I thought they did a great job of keeping it genuine and real.”