15-year-old Biancha Emery stood in a back room of her Bend home on Tuesday. Her hand passed over a jacket with “Team USA” embroidered on the back, before gesturing to a sled leaning against the wall.
“I still have my competition sticker on it,” she said. It’s a skeleton sled, one Biancha has had to assemble and re-assemble multiple times to take overseas.
Most recently, it was in Pyeongchang, South Korea for the qualifying competition for the 2024 Youth Olympic Games. There, Biancha placed 15th.
So far, her averaged scores across competitions has placed her 8th in the world in her age group (14-19) in a sport focused on steering and balance.
She is currently the youngest female skeleton competitor in the United States- a feat made even more impressive by the fact that her first skeleton run was just a year ago.
Before that, trying the sport had never crossed Biancha’s mind.
“My dad used to be a bobsledder so he was like ‘you should try skeleton.’ So I tried it and I hated it,” Biancha chuckled. “And then I went down again, and I got better. And I started liking it more as I started doing it more.”
There aren’t any skeleton training areas in Central Oregon, so she’s had to travel to places like the Olympic Park in Utah and Lake Placid, New York, in order to get her runs in. That means a lot of online school and determination.
At home in Bend, she is able to work out and undergo sprint training — preparing for the initial sprint before the race begins.
“It’s the feeling of just going fast, and it’s also the risk of, like, if you make a wrong turn, then you will get hurt. But it’s also feels good when you make the right steering,” Biancha told Central Oregon Daily News.
Her international success after just a year has shocked both her and her family, including mom Michele.
“I love to see her personal and sportsmanship growth over the past year,” she said. “Bianca loves this sport, which I find absolutely crazy and terrifying. I love watching her compete and she’s just grown so much as a young lady and a competitor and having fun doing something that’s really unique to most people.”
She said people often don’t know what skeleton is when they talk about it.
“People are just kind of either in horror, or in awe of how someone can, you know, go down the mountain so quickly, so fast,” Michele said.
Around 80 miles per hour, to be exact. That speed is definitely a cause for some nerves.
When asked whether the sport scares her at all, Biancha laughed “yes!”
She said mindset is everything when it comes to that fear.
“It’s really easy to flip off your sled, I’ve done that quite a few times. It doesn’t feel great,” Biancha said. “Normally when you hit a wall, you can’t really tense up. You have to just like let it happen so you can keep going, and it hurts. So having just the mindset of if you’re going to hit a wall, you’re going to get bruised, but you have to just like let it go.”
It’s not always just a bruise. Last year, it was a sprained neck.
“As a parent, you hold your breath for a long time,” Michele said. “You hold your breath when you watch everyone go down the mountain. You want everyone just to be safe and, you know, have a great competition. You don’t like to see people get hurt. But it’s the reality of the sport, sadly.”
It’s a reality, Biancha is more than willing to face for the foreseeable future. After the Youth Olympics, she’ll aim for a spot with a World Cup team or North American cup team. The long-term goal is to make it to qualifying races for the Olympics.
The Youth Olympic Games take place in January and February 2024 in Gangwon, South Korea.