She’s the one and only … Licensed Lady Bobsled Driver

by Philomena Hogarth | History, Winter 1971

IT’S IN THE AIR—everywhere you look. At Pimlico and Belmont Park lady jockeys are doing men’s work, racing horses and winning. Lady skiers and skaters are old hat, of course,—pre–Women’s Lib, although we’ve yet to hear of a lady ski-jumper. But our nomination for the North Country Women’s Lib Champion is tiny Miss Lynn Van Arman, the only active—and only the third in history-licensed lady bobsled driver.

She shouldn’t be so pretty. She should be burly and tough, maybe a welder by trade. Instead, she’s a 5’3″ mini-skirted, 22-year old Kindergarten teacher who graduated in 1970 from the State University at Plattsburgh. And no matter what fun she has talking about the challenges of her small students, she really lights up when the challenges of Mt. Van Hoevenburg are mentioned.

Three years ago Lynn went to the bob races to watch, took a ride on one of the Conservation Department sleds, and was hooked. A friend began to take instruction as a driver, and Lynn went along as his brakeman. After six trips as brakeman, she was allowed by the Conservation Department to begin instruction. She earned her license for the half-mile after ten good runs as a driver of a two-man sled and graduated to the mile by completing sixteen good runs. Her license is stamped February, 1970.

A member of the Plattsburgh Bobsled Team, Lynn will try driving a four-man sled this winter, under the instruction of the Vermont club she calls the “Social Security Sled” because the members are seasoned, older drivers who’ve been racing a long time and never make mistakes.

Last February Lynn’s bitterest disappointment came when she was disqualified from the races because the AAU rules bar women from competing with men. So she has never been allowed to race at all, and has never been timed. She says the Conservation sleds (from the half-mile) reach speeds of 50-60 mph, and the racing sleds from the mile reach 90 and 100 mph. Nobody—even driving just for fun, like Lynn—is allowed to take more than six runs in a day.

Everything about sliding is exciting to Lynn—the first run left her shaking with tension she didn’t know she had, and the high fast curves are a quick challenge every time: “Just to do it right—go into the curve at the right spot, and up and down and out again is beautiful!” she says. She’s not afraid of tipping over, as she says many of the men are, but she does have one spot above Cliffside near the beginning of the run where the sides of the track are low, and she shivers every time at the thought her sled might jump out of the track and go into the woods. She’s had two or three good scares on the big curves—once on Shady where the extra weight of her brakeman pulled the sled sidewise, and once on Zig-Zag when she bounced right off the sled, and her helmet hit the top lip of the curve. But she’s survived all this with nothing more than a swollen ankle and a real thirst for more.

This extraordinary young lady began life in Ellenburg and went to the Altona Central School where she graduated with the Teachers’ Award for the best all-round student. At college she earned the Margaret Sibley Award for excellence in Early Childhood Education. Her parents are not living, and her brothers and sisters, married and spread from Massachusetts to Arizona, have never seen her slide. She hopes her brother, who races motorcycles, will come up this winter to watch her. In the summers Lynn climbs mountains, swims, fishes a little, goes blueberrying on the Rock at Altona, and works hard to save up for the winter.

With her new teaching job, Lynn doubts there’ll be much time this winter for sliding at Mt. Van Hoevenburg unless, as she hopes, they open it at night. So she wants to learn to ski. She’ll drive a sled when she can, in the hope that some day things will be different: “I wish,” she says wistfully, “that the AAU rules would be changed so I could race those guys …. They’re great guys, really great. And I love sliding…”

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