Muskegon’s Jake Hyrns, who barely missed the Olympics twice, ending a great career

By Steve Gunn
LocalSportsJournal.com

It’s funny how a split second – or a bit of rotten luck – can alter someone’s dreams.

Jake Hyrns knows all about it.

Hryns, who grew up in Laketon Township and attended Reeths-Puffer schools, has come close to becoming the second luger from Muskegon County, after two-time medalist Mark Grimmette, to make the United States Winter Olympic team.

But he barely missed out, two different times, over the past four years.

Hyrns has been competing in the adult World Cup luge circuit for about six years, while living in Lake Placid, New York and operating out of the Olympic Training Center in that storied town.

In late 2013 he and his former partner, Andrew Sherk, had all but sewn up a spot as the second and final doubles squad on the U.S. team that would compete in the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia.

The first thing they had to do was qualify for a World Cup event in Park City Utah, by finishing in 12th place or better in the Nation’s Cup competition that preceded it.

After that, all they would have needed to do was compete in the World Cup event. They wouldn’t have had to win a medal, or even place high. They just had to do their two runs and finish, and they would have been Olympians.

They accomplished their first goal, or so they thought, by finishing third in the Nation’s Cup qualifying race.

But the next day Hyrns learned that a coach from the Slovakian team had filed a protest, because he discovered that the “steels” on the Hyrns-Sherk sled (the part that touches the ice on the luge run) had been overheated by the crew that prepares all the sleds for competition.

The steels had been measured for temperature before the competition, but nobody raised a fuss over it, because they were only slightly above the limit.

It was only after the fact that the Slovakian coach learned about it and registered his protest.

Hyrns and Sherk were disqualified from competing in the World Cup event, and suddenly had to compete against another American team, that same day, in a special runoff, to determine who got the final American Olympic spot.

They lost, and their Olympic dream was over.

“It made me angry,” Hyrns, 24, said about being disqualified over something he had nothing to do with. “And then, hearing we were disqualified and doing a run-off fairly quickly – we only had a few hours to prepare. It would have been nice to have a day. It definitely hindered things. I wasn’t thinking clearly or properly, because I was still angry.”

While the disappointment was crushing, Hyrns decided to stick with the sport. He remained in Lake Placid and stayed on the grueling World Cup tour, competing all over the world for the next four years, in hopes of making the 2018 Olympic squad.

It all came down to the World Cup event in Lake Placid in December, two months ago. Hyrns and his new partner, Anthony Espinosa, were battling his former partner Sherk and Justin Krewson for the final spot on the American Olympic squad.

Hryns and Espinosa needed to finish in the top five of the competition to nail down the Olympic spot, but they finished eighth. The other way would have been for Sherk and Krewson to finish outside the top 10, but they finished seventh.

Hyrns thinks he and Espinosa would have made the top five if they had shaved a tenth of a second off their time.

So Hyrns missed out on his Olympic dream again, for the second time in four years, and he admits it’s been tough to deal with.

“I’m still not over it,” said Hyrns, the son of Todd and Vanessa Hyrns of Laketon Township. “It’s probably going to take getting back home, and doing something else with my life, to get over it. It almost feels like I sat here and wasted a bunch of my life, but I know I really can’t say that.

“I still got to travel all over the world, experience so many awesome things, meet some great people, and see so many things that most people will never see.”

As it turns out, Hyrns will be back home in Muskegon, doing something else with his life, very soon.

“I am going to retire from the sport,” he said. “I’ve put a lot of effort into it, some people say too much time to just up and leave, but I was married more than two years ago, and I’m ready to start a new life.”

A great career

Hyrns will leave behind a pretty remarkable career that has consumed his life since he was very young.

He grew up in Laketon Township, but never had much awareness of the luge run that exists at the Muskegon Winter Sports Complex at the Muskegon State Park.

But his mother worked at Mercy Hospital with Wayne Baird, the former  coach of the youth luge league in Muskegon.

“He told my mom about it, and she called me one day on her way home from work and asked me if I wanted to try it,” Hyrns said. “I was 11 at the time.

“I really don’t remember this part, but my mom told me after my first run down the track, I jumped off the sled and told her ‘I was born for this.'”

Just a few months later, Hyrns was part of a group of young Muskegon lugers who traveled to Lake Placid for fun, just to experience the thrill of luging on a full-sized Olympic track.

While they were there, a national youth competition was going on, featuring some of the top young American lugers. The Muskegon kids entered, just for fun, and ended up with comparable times to the elite youngsters.

“From there they picked five of us from Muskegon to go back out there for a screening camp,” Hyrns said. “It was like a second evaluation. The whole point was to see if you listened and were coachable. I was the only kid from Muskegon, and only one of seven overall, chosen for the (USA Luge) junior development team.”

For a few years Hyrns’ parents drove him back and forth to Lake Placid every few months to train and compete. By the time he was 15, he moved by himself to Lake Placid to live in a dorm at the Olympic Training Center.

He attended the National Sports Academy, a school in Lake Placid, for one year, then finished his high school work through an online course.

In the meantime, he’s been on the road competing, first in junior World Cup events, then the adult circuit, for about a decade. He’s been training year-round to compete in about 10 events per year.

Over the past few years he has supported himself by being a member of the New York Army National Guard.

He enrolled in a special National Guard program – the World Class Athlete Program (WCAP) – designed to allow Olympic-caliber athletes to remain in active duty while training full-time in their sports.

But now Hyrns is ready to come home to Muskegon to join his wife, Amee, who is already living here and working at Goober’s Bakery in Norton Shores.

He said he will be back in town by the end of February, and hopes to train to become a DNR conservation officer.

“She’s actually a New Jersey girl,” Hyrns said, when asked about his wife. “I met her at the NSA school. She was a ski racer.

“I told her within a couple of months after we started dating, if we were going to be together long-term, we were going to live in Michigan, and she was fine with that. It’s home. I love it. It’s a gorgeous place to be. All of the seasons are beautiful.”

While he would love to be in South Korea, competing in the Olympics, Hyrns said the disappointment won’t keep him from tuning in the games and watching as much as he can.

“I will be watching,” he said. “I’m disappointed for sure. It’s definitely a bit of a heartache, especially since this is the second time it’s happened, but it’s still my team. A few of them are really, really good friends. I’m going to be watching all of Team USA.”

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