Steven Holcomb is a three time Olympic medalist. He won gold in four-man bobsled at the 2010 Olympics and a bronze medal in both two-man and four-man bobsled at the 2014 Olympic Winter Games. However if you rewind eight years, Steven was hiding a degenerative eye condition. It was a secret that nearly ended his career as well as his life.
Below is a transcript of Shauna Lake's interview with Steven Holcomb:
SHAUNA LAKE: Tell us what being a bobsled driver is.
STEVEN HOLCOMB: Well drivers do push as well. All the athletes are pushing. But I mean you really do drive the sled down. The pushers get in, sit down, and kind of hold on and hang on for the ride and just try to minimize any sort of moment and not disturb the sled as it's trying to go down the course.
SHAUNA LAKE: And what does it feel like when you're going down at those speeds?
STEVEN HOLCOMB: It's exhilarating. It's hard to explain because everybody's like it's like a rollercoaster, but it's not really like a rollercoaster. It's like a rollercoaster that's completely out of control. You're going 80 miles per hour, pulling 5gs.
SHAUNA LAKE: When did you have that moment of this is my sport?
STEVEN HOLCOMB: I was an alpine ski racer for about ten years. I was a pretty good skier, ski racer, better than most but not great. But then the U.S. Bobsled Team was here training for Salt Lake City, and they had an open tryout. I thought I would check it out. Did well, made the team, and decided well here I am.
SHAUNA LAKE: And it was not the easiest journey for you. You had a lot of twists and turns in your road to the Olympics.
STEVEN HOLCOMB: Yeah.
SHAUNA LAKE: When I was reading about you, I guess your eye issue. I mean what did that feel like to be doing all the work and doing all the training and then you have something that's out of control?
STEVEN HOLCOMB: I mean it was terrible. I was diagnosed with Keratoconus in 2000...2001. At the time it was really hard to identify. I actually had Lasik surgery because I just wanted, I didn't want to deal with the contacts anymore. Went back about a year later and saw the same doctor and he's like, "Didn't I do Lasik on you?" I was like, "Yeah." He's like, "Well that's not good. We need to look at something else." He's like, "Well don't worry. It's a degenerative disease. It's slow. It will take 30-40 years." Unfortunately my eyes, because of the Lasik, it accelerated the process and I went from 20/20...well 20/30, to 20/1000 in about six years. Unfortunately everyone was saying the only procedure you can do is a cornea transplant, which unfortunately, if I did that route, would take me out of the sport. It was pretty much just like if you get this cornea transplant, you cannot bobsled ever again.
SHAUNA LAKE: So when was the moment when you found this other alternative?
STEVEN HOLCOMB: So about 2006-2007 season, right after the Torino Olympics. I just had one of the greatest seasons of any U.S. pilot. We won the first two-man overall World Cup title ever for the United States. So my career's now taking off. Everybody is starting to back me. At the same time, now in 2007, my contact lenses were so strong they were -18.75.
SHAUNA LAKE: Wow.
STEVEN HOLCOMB: And I finally went to go and get a new pair and they said, "Well we don't actually make them any stronger. You're kind of at the end of the rope." It was wearing on my quite a bit and I started falling into a depression because I knew my career was coming to an end, my athletic career, my Olympic dreams, and hopes.
SHAUNA LAKE: And yet you're just soaring. You're just peaking.
STEVEN HOLCOMB: And yeah. I'm starting to reach the top of my game.
SHAUNA LAKE: And didn't you have to kind of keep it a secret?
STEVEN HOLCOMB: Nobody knew.
SHAUNA LAKE: Because if you tell anybody then you lose your backing and all the support.
STEVEN HOLCOMB: Well and also, nobody wants to jump into a sled with a blind guy. I wouldn't. I mean knowing where my eyes were and now, I wouldn't have gotten in a sled with me. That would be crazy.
SHAUNA LAKE: But you're carrying basically a huge secret.
STEVEN HOLCOMB: Yeah a huge secret and nobody knew about it. And it was just a huge overwhelming burden and this weight on my shoulders, and it just you know started to turn into a depression and just...and once you start going down that road there's almost like no turning back. The chemical imbalance that once it starts going, it just snowballs and you're just in a downward spiral. There was a point where I just...we were at an event and things just kind of...all these backers and sponsors and I'm just continuing to lie to their faces, over and over and over, and finally I just, kind of one night in a hotel, I thought I would take my life. But it didn't work, thankfully. And it's one of those you look back and you think to yourself, "I could never do that I was lucky that it didn't work, and it was not until then when I started seeking out help, is when I got help. I was...I thought I was pretty tough, but you can't beat it.
SHAUNA LAKE: So tell me, you go to this doctor in Beverly Hills, and what is this miracle procedure that you had never even heard of?
STEVEN HOLCOMB: So at the time it was called C3-R and it's been awesomely renamed the Holcomb C3-R. It sounds crazy but it's just eye drops and light. They use riboflavin eye drops into your eye and they hit it with UV light and it basically, it interacts with the collagen in your eye and strengthens the eye and keeps it from getting worse.
SHAUNA LAKE: So you go through this crazy journey, right?
STEVEN HOLCOMB: Yep.
SHAUNA LAKE: So what does it feel like, is it sweeter to win when you've fought so hard to be there?
STEVEN HOLCOMB: I mean I think that's one of the biggest parts. I went from literally rock bottom, the bottom, pretty much to the top.
SHAUNA LAKE: What do you see yourself doing say ten years from now?
STEVEN HOLCOMB: I'll probably still be bobsledding.
SHAUNA LAKE: Do you really think that?
STEVEN HOLCOMB: I don't know actually. I don't know. I'm a lifer. It's too hard to tell. I mean my life is lived in four year increments so I kind of have to take it one day at a time.
SHAUNA LAKE: It's been so nice to talk to you and get to know you better "Person 2 Person."
STEVEN HOLCOMB: My pleasure. Thank you.
SHAUNA LAKE: Steve thanks.
STEVEN HOLCOMB: Thank you.
Follow Steven on Twitter @StevenHolcomb
To contact Dr. Brian Boxer Wachler visit www.BoxerWachler.com/olympics
-Written and produced by Leslie Tillotson
(Copyright 2014 Sinclair Broadcasting Group.)