In February 2018, SGT Matt Mortensen joined more than 200 American athletes as they took the stage to compete in the 2018 Winter Olympics in PyeongChang, South Korea.
Mortensen is an Olympic luge athlete and a trained electrician with the New York Army National Guard (ARNG). He first discovered luge as a child through his father, who thought the sport would be a fun way for the two of them to bond. Mortensen instantly took a liking to luge and the rest is history.
By the age of 13, Mortensen started competing and travelling internationally for the sport. In 2010, he hit a professional crossroads—he just missed securing a spot on Team USA for the Winter Olympics in Vancouver and decided to make a change. He enlisted in the ARNG and joined the U.S. Army World Class Athlete Program (WCAP).
Through WCAP, Mortensen receives elite-level athletic training and support to compete in national and international competitions. The program allows him to be both a Soldier and an athlete.
As a WCAP athlete, Mortensen has represented Team USA at two Olympics: the 2014 Winter Games in Sochi and 2018 Winter Games in PyeongChang. “Being able to represent the United States as not only an athlete but a Soldier was one of the most honorable positions to be in,” Mortensen said. “In that moment, you are bigger than yourself and it carries a lot of responsibility.” Mortensen was one of several Guard Soldiers competing in the 2018 Winter Games.
The luge athlete, who competes in doubles, described his first trip to the Winter Olympics in 2014 as “sparkly and shiny”. “I entered [the 2018 Winter] Olympics with more seasoned eyes,” he said. “I was really there to focus and compete.” Although Mortensen did not win any medals in PyeongChang, he finished fourth in the luge mixed relay and 10th in men’s luge doubles.
Having spent 20 years competing, Mortensen is now enjoying a much-deserved rest as he ponders his next steps. “The warrior ethos is ‘I will never accept defeat and I will never quit.’ I think that details what it means to be a Soldier and an elite-level athlete,” Mortensen said. “I take the leadership skills that [the ARNG] has taught me and use it to make the luge doubles discipline cohesive and a good team.”
While Mortensen continues to weigh his options as an athlete and a Soldier, one thing is clear, he said: “Without the support of my Army National Guard unit and WCAP, I never would have been able to get to where I am today.”