Baltimore Charm's Ida Bernstein pursuing two Olympic sports, doctorate in physics

Former Dulaney star hoping to make U.S. bobsled team for Sochi in 2014 and rugby team for Rio in 2016

July 02, 2013|By Don Markus, The Baltimore Sun

John Bernstein never had trouble keeping track of what sport his daughter was competing in or the team on which she was playing. Ida Bernstein can't make the same claim for what she jokingly calls her "athletically confused career."

Ever since she graduated from Dulaney High more than a decade ago and was recruited to play soccer and run track at Syracuse, Bernstein's life on and off the field has been something of a blur.

It seems fitting, since one of the objectives for the now 28-year-old Bernstein is moving quite fast in her current passions — bobsled and rugby.

Bernstein is currently trying to earn a spot on the U.S. bobsled team for the 2014 Olympic Games in Sochi, Russia. She is also hoping to return to the U.S. women's rugby team, which will make its Olympic debut in 2016 at Rio de Janeiro.

"I love what's happening in my life right now and I'm trying to find a way to sustain it," Bernstein said before a training session at a downtown Baltimore athletic club where she works out. "I get to pursue my career goals and also get to pursue my passion to make the Olympics."

Bernstein's career goals involve something far afield from either bobsled or rugby. She is pursuing a doctorate at Delaware State's Center for Research Excellence in Optical Sciences and Application.

She chose a field in theoretical research rather than being stuck in a physics lab because it allowed her to continue playing rugby for the U.S. national team before eventually switching to bobsled.

Recalling how she would often use Skype and scanners from far-off places to finish her assignments and talk to her professors, Bernstein said with a smile that "free McDonald's Wi-Fi is my friend."

John Bernstein, who wrestled at Virginia Tech and played recreational rugby for a team in Westminster when his daughter was growing up, said that when the two watch one of their favorite television shows, "Big Bang Theory," whose characters are doctoral students in physics, "She'll go after the remote and freeze the picture and start reading the equations on the white board that they're doing and say, 'Dad, they're real.' I say, 'Thank you for telling me that. It would ruin it for me if I thought they were fake.'"

Finding new sports

Ida Bernstein's athletic career seems to have as many twists, turns and bumps as the bobsled tracks she is now trying to navigate. It took her from being a soccer player and running outdoor track her freshman year at Syracuse to training for triathlons as a sophomore before trying rugby as a junior.

"Rugby," she said, "became a whirlwind. ... It was a fast girls' game."

One problem: Bernstein's first game as a member of the Syracuse women's club team nearly turned out to be her last. Not knowing technique, Bernstein pulled another player on top of her and tore the ACL in her left knee.

When she returned to school that fall to play soccer again, Bernstein had a note from her doctor saying that she had cleared to play "contact sports, excluding rugby." But the Syracuse team doctor said she had to sit out another six months.

"He said, 'You'll thank me later,'" Bernstein recalled. "I was like, 'No, I won't.'"

Encouraged by her roommate, the captain of the rugby team, Bernstein resumed her fledgling career — "I couldn't sit around and do nothing," she said — by using her status as president of the physics club to copy her doctor's note, with one significant editing change.

In place of the word "excluding," Bernstein wrote "including," meaning that she could resume playing rugby.

"It was very believable, my coach bought it and by the end of my college career, I was an All-American," Bernstein said.

She never told her mother she had been sneaking out to play rugby for a couple of local teams when she was home the previous summer. When a story on female rugby players was published in The Baltimore Sun — with pictures — Wendy Bozel noticed a familiar posterior in the background of one of the photos.

"My mom called me to say, 'You're in so much trouble, I'd recognize that butt anywhere,'" Bernstein said with a laugh.

Bernstein bought a bumper sticker that read, "Yes, mom, I still play rugby."

As a senior, Bernstein tried to resurrect her soccer career — briefly. After stiff-arming another player in practice en route to scoring a goal, Bernstein celebrated alone. She went back to rugby, staying an extra year at Syracuse in order to take Quantitative Physics II and become an All-American.

It led to an invitation to try out for the U.S. national team, which Bernstein eventually made. She wound up playing in the 2009 World Cup qualifier, as well as some other international competitions in Dubai and the Bahamas. It was around that time that she began getting recruited by the U.S. Bobsled Association as it geared up for Vancouver in 2012.

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