Canadian Olympian has Hawaiian ties
Athletes from the around the world are gearing up for the Olympic games, including one athlete originally from the Big Island - who is now making a name for himself as an Olympic bobsledder.
Justin Kripps is at home racing down the icy bobsled track at nearly 100 miles an hour, but what many may not know is this Canadian Olympian used to call Hawaii home.
He was born in the very small town of Naalehu, on the southern-most tip of the Big Island.
Like many other kids growing up in the islands, Kripps spent a lot of time at the beach.
"He loved the ocean, did a lot of bodyboarding and wanted to be a surfer," said his mother, Libby Harrison.
How did a Big Island boy who wanted to surf end up bobsledding in Canada?
You could say he was "fast-tracked" to the Olympics.
Before exploding off the bobsled's starting line, Kripps gained attention for sprinting off the starting line on the track, another sport he enjoyed while living in Naalehu.
According to Harrison, Kripps started his winning ways at the Hawaii Island elementary school track and field championships. He joined other boys from Pahala who ran barefoot on a cinder track, beating teams from bigger schools - who ran the race in running shoes.
His speed as an All-American sprinter caught the attention of bobsledding experts in 2005 and Kripps has been competing in the icy sport ever since.
He sped his way from brakeman to driver, and now leads his own two and four man teams in the Olympics.
As the leader, he was able to name his sleds. Kripps named them after Hawaiian goddesses: Pele, the goddess of fire, and Poliahu, the goddess of ice.
In the months leading up the games, Kripps and his teammates grew out their facial hair to draw attention to their sport. They also had some fun making a commercial to attraction the attention of sponsors.
Harrison said even the intense international pressure of the Olympics hasn't changed her son's easy-going style.
"He's an outsider, but it is good because he's not really expected to do well. He may just do well, so there is not a lot of pressure on him," stated Harrison.
Helping to remind him to keep cool as the competition heats up are pictures of geckos and other Hawaiian images Kripps brought with him to Sochi. Reminders of his relaxing, carefree days growing up in Hawaii.
"He just likes to have a little bit of Hawaii with him because it is his roots," said Harrison.
Kripps heads into the Olympics with a victory at the final World Cup competition before the games, so he has already had a taste of winning on the international stage.
No matter how he does, Harrison states Kripps will head back to the Big Island to spend some time with his family after the Olympics.
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