Editor's note: This is the second in a four-part series on women's singles luger Summer Britcher, the first York countian to compete in the Winter Olympic Games.
On a dreary, overcast December Sunday evening in Glen Rock, Bill Britcher opens the door to his home on the nearly five-acre property just a stone's throw away from Susquehannock High School.
The house exudes a welcoming warmth. Aged wooden floors add to the home's country decor. Family pictures cover a wall in the living room, where a muted TV is airing an Indianapolis Colts' football game. It's the same franchise Britcher rooted for growing up in Baltimore City.
"My backyard was the size of this room," Britcher says. "And it was concrete with a block wall around it."
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It certainly didn't resemble the large yard his kids grew up with. A yard in which his two sons once decided to build a fire pit without their parents' permission. Those same boys helped mold their youngest sister, Summer Britcher, into the person she is today: a member of the USA Luge team set to compete in the upcoming Winter Olympic Games.
"I was always following them around and climbing trees. I was always getting into all kinds of shenanigans," Summer Britcher says. "We kind of ganged up on (my older sister). I didn't want to be picked on, so I learned to hang out with my brothers and not be the one who is picked on."
Youngest of the bunch: Summer is the youngest of four children born to high school sweethearts, Bill and Carrie Britcher. They met in their senior years at Kennard-Dale High School, graduating in 1982 and later marrying June 11, 1989. Bill Britcher followed in his dad's footsteps as a firefighter for the Baltimore City Fire Department. Carrie Britcher, who grew up in Long Island before her family moved to York County in the early 1980s, works as a pharmacist at the Giant grocery store in Shrewsbury.
Carrie Britcher gave birth to Summer on March 21, 1994, born three weeks earlier than expected because Carrie Britcher was battling a fever.
Her mother makes a tumbling motion with her hands as she describes Summer's entrance into the world.
"All the night I could feel her going like this. It was so hot in there. Then in the morning there was nothing. It was freaking me out. No movement at all. So I went to the doctor, and I was really scared. The heartbeat of a baby is supposed to go up and down. And it wasn't (going up and down), and the doctors said she (Summer) was in danger and they had to induce labor."
Born at 8 pounds, Summer was walking at just 7 months old.
"A lot of kids aren't crawling by then," Carrie Britcher said. "She was really athletic."
'Went skiing': Summer Britcher learned to ski at the age of 4; her parents took the family on several skiing trips to Roundtop Mountain Resort in Lewisberry in addition to nearly every ski resort in the state over the years.
"I don't take the kids skiing on weekends because it's too crowded so I would pull them out of school," Carrie Britcher says. "But I wouldn't teach them to lie. I want to teach them to be honest and truthful so when they were in elementary school I would take them skiing for a day and I would just write on the absent form 'Went skiing.' After so many absences they were gonna fine us for keeping kids out of school."
School: Britcher would later become accustomed to missing class once luge entered her life, often leaving home during the winter months to compete and train in Lake Placid, N.Y., or Park City, Utah, the sites of the only luge tracks in the United States. Her entire freshman year of high school, Britcher actually left Susquehannock to try out cyber school.
"The next year (as a sophomore) I went to the National Sports Academy in Lake Placid, N.Y. (home of the U.S. Luge Association)," Britcher said. "That was really great, going to school with teachers who are there specifically with athletes."
While the Britcher parents missed their daughter, Carrie Britcher feels the time away from home caused Summer to mature a little bit sooner.
"She's been living as an adult since the age of 14," Carrie Britcher said of her daughter. "She's much more mature than people her age."
Summer eventually returned to Susquehannock for schooling in her final two years of high school, partly because she missed playing on the girls' soccer team.
Luge challenge: It was during one of the family ski trips in 2006 when the Britchers heard about the Verizon Luge Challenge, inviting anyone ages 10 and up to compete, at the Liberty Mountain Resort in Carroll Valley, Adams County.
"They built kind of like a snow luge track and we had these practice sleds," Summer Britcher says. "It was actually just sledding but they were calling it the Verizon Luge Challenge. So they had a time system set up. You had to walk your sled up and try to have the fastest time."
Just 12 years old at the time, Britcher immediately caught the eye of Gordy Sheer, a former U.S. Olympian who ended the United States' 34-year drought of not winning a medal in luge when he and a teammate took silver in men's doubles in 1998. Sheer is now the marketing director for the U.S. Luge Association. He was judging the luge challenge event in 2006 when he discovered Britcher.
"You get a chance to look at their parents," Sheer says of the luge challenge events. "If you see parents who are big or tall, both Summer's parents are tall and strong. And I recognized the determination in Summer and all the physical aptitude."
Britcher's sister and one of her two brothers also competed that day and performed well, but neither Summer Britcher nor Sheer can recall why Sheer only recommended Summer to pursue the sport in Lake Placid, N.Y., home of the U.S. Luge Association.
"My brother and sister actually won. They each won an iPod," Summer recalls. "I was really jealous because I had the fastest race but it didn't count because it was during one of my training runs."
Britcher soon took a trip to Lake Placid to give luge a shot and immediately fell in love with the adrenaline rush of speeding down an icy track.
Seven years later, she became the first luge challenge recruit to qualify for the Winter Olympics.
Most recruits are found at wheel challenge events during the spring and summer. In a wheel challenge, a steep public road is closed off and children ages 9 to 13 maneuver a sled on wheels around cones.
"The first year we found Summer was the first time we saw it (the luge challenge) as a potential recruiting tool," Sheer said. "So Summer is our first Olympian from the luge challenge. I take great pride in everything Summer has accomplished. She is my recruit. It's a milestone."
—Reach John Walk at firstname.lastname@example.org.