Luge was added to the Winter Olympics in 1964, and since then people have watched in horror and excitement as men and women raced down an ice track at about 90 miles per hour. This year's Winter Olympic luge team featured a local Medway native, Zack DiGregorio, who joined hosts Paris Alston and Jeremy Siegel on Morning Edition to discuss his journey to China, where he placed 11th in double men’s luge with his partner Sean Hollander. This interview has been edited for clarity and length.
Jeremy Siegel: Good morning, Zack, and congrats on your run in the Olympics.
Zack DiGregorio: Good morning, guys. Thank you very much for having me.
Paris Alston: Yes, thanks for being with us, Zack. So this has all been a bit of a whirlwind for you, hasn't it? I mean, you left the World Cup luge competition and went on to the Winter Olympics. What's that been like?
DiGregorio: Yeah, it's been a pretty crazy year the season. We weren't fully expected to go to the Olympics at the beginning this season and then based off how the World Cup went all season, we ended up qualifying in early January and then a month later found us found ourselves going to Beijing, China.
Siegel: That's incredible. So Zack, we at the studio were in here watching you because we're up early and you were on pretty early, so it was super exciting. As I mentioned, it's a little horrifying to see you guys flying down a hard ice course at these insanely fast speeds. I mean, what goes through your mind while you're doing that?
DiGregorio: Yeah, I mean, when you first start, it's a lot more just of a rollercoaster ride. You can't control as much as you think when you're young and 10 years old, but as you get older, you're really just chasing that perfect run throughout your whole career and especially during the Games. So it's a lot of concentration during the run, and you don't notice the speed as much as you'd think until the run's over and then you get that whole adrenaline rush. So it's great.
Alston: Now, neither Jeremy nor I are Olympic lugers, I think that is pretty safe to say. But when we were watching, I still sort of got that adrenaline rush, just watching you two go down but I also was worried because I was like, "oh my God, what if they're getting really close to that edge there? What if something happens?" What are the things that you worry about the most? Or are there any common injuries that you have to watch out for?
DiGregorio: Yeah, you get a decent bit of ice burn and scratches and stuff like that as you go through your career. Doubles tends to have a little bit more for the guy on top than singles or the guy on bottom and doubles, which sadly I am there, so I'm a little bit more exposed than the normal slider there. So it's not too many big injuries from my career. I think it's mostly been just a couple of cuts and bruises. And yeah, you're really just focused on staying relaxed through all that craziness because that's how you're going to get the sled down the process.
Siegel: How does it work when there are two of you, is one of you keeping an eye on the course and telling the other one what to do when you're on the bottom? Are you the one sort of steering the ship? What are the roles?
DiGregorio: In doubles, it's a bit strange the way the person underneath can't see much, so he basically is making it so the entrance and exits of the curves are as smooth as possible because he's the only one touching the actual slide there. So me on top, I'm touching with my legs and the handles, so I'm doing the bigger drives that you need to be able to see for. And he's doing this smoothing out of entrances and exits.
Alston: Luge racing is not necessarily a big sport here in Massachusetts. How did you get introduced to it?
DiGregorio: So it's a strange story there where one of the moms from my town, she works for Norton Saint-Gobain which is one of our biggest sponsors. And she told my mom about there being a tryout in Carlisle, Massachusetts. So we went up and it was a summer day and we were going to go to Kimball's farm and then try luge. And we went up and it was me, my brother, sister, mom and dad.
So it was like a nice summer day to just kind of go hang out. Me and my brother tried out and ended up getting a letter back, I think, four months later and we kind of forgot about it for the most part. It was more just a fun thing to do on a summer day. And then ended up, you know, 10 years later, I went to the Olympics, right? So it's a pretty wild ride that way.
Siegel: That's just incredible. I mean, you're younger than a lot of Olympians and you're on the world stage, you're headed to China for the Olympics. When did it become this huge part of your life and what's that like, being a student, being a young person, but also competing in this wild Olympic event on the world stage?
DiGregorio: Yeah, it was. It always was like a slow progression there where the first season you're only gone for two or three weekends and then the next, like two or three weeks. And then by the time I was probably a freshman in high school, it was when I started going over to Europe for a little bit longer of a period. So it was when I started missing more school than going to school, so it was mostly online. I went to public school through junior year of high school and then switched over to online, which at the time wasn't as fun, but then by my senior year everyone was online with COVID so it ended up not being too different.
But then it really took over my life right around freshman year of high school, where in the summer I was gone for close to seven or eight weeks and then in the winter it's two to three months of travel.
"It's a pretty wild ride."-Zack DiGregorio
Alston: In fact, you've become a hometown hero, essentially. Medway has really rallied around you. They've had watch parties to cheer you on. I know there was a big welcome back party for you when you came back over the weekend. So how does that feel and how does it feel now that you're back home?
DiGregorio: Yeah, it's been so amazing how Medway acted throughout all this. It's been crazy support — anywhere from my first grade teacher all the way through high school teachers, all texting me or emailing me, reaching out and telling me how they're supporting me and they had it on for the school kids. So it was it was amazing to see that in them and that welcome home was so special.
Siegel: Medway's Zack DiGregorio, thank you so much for talking with us and huge, huge congratulations on one of the biggest accomplishments you can have in sports.
DiGregorio: Thank you very much and thank you for having me.