Microkhan by Brendan I. Koerner

The Perks of Having a Huge Noggin

February 20th, 2009 · No Comments

breeschaafI’ve previously delved into how physical anomalies can sometimes be a boon to athletes; check out this recent post on Muttiah Muralitharan, the great Tamil cricketeer, whose crooked arm has made him an especially devious bowler. Bree Schaaf’s peculiarity, by contrast, doesn’t necessarily make her a better bobsledder. But it’s nonetheless played a role in her athletic success.

Schaaf started out as skeleton slider, and was good enough to make the U.S. national team—but not good enough, alas, to become a meaningful contender. Her main problem? A larger-than-normal head:

“Every girl here wears an extra small helmet except for me,” Schaaf said. “I wear a medium. I’ve got a big noggin.”

A small head is important when lying face down on a skeleton sled because of the G-forces on sliders’ bodies in the turns. Because her head is big, Schaaf couldn’t hold it high enough to see in high-speed turns.

“I was racing blind,” Schaaf said. “When they’d air races on TV, you could actually hear my helmet scraping on the ice.”

So Schaaf decided to try giving bobsled a whirl. Less than five years later, she’s the best female bobsled driver our country’s ever seen.

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