Multitasker Bernstein focusing on 2016 Olympic rugby team

November 23, 2013|By Don Markus, The Baltimore Sun

Ida Bernstein always has been a multitasker, going back to her childhood in Baltimore County when she juggled several sports and teams while maintaining a rigorous academic load.

Which makes her current situation a challenge in itself: For the first time in several years, Bernstein will be concentrating on just one sport while her academic responsibilities also lessen considerably.

A former soccer and track star at Dulaney who went to Syracuse to play both sports, Bernstein eventually found her way to rugby in college as well as bobsledding after graduating.

Bernstein said this week that she is close to finishing her Ph.D. in physics from Delaware State and will concentrate on making the 2016 Olympic team in rugby after failing to get a spot on the 2014 Olympic bobsled team as a pilot.

"I was trying to commit to one sport [bobsled] and I felt like I was spreading myself too thin [by doing both]," Bernstein said this week."I thought I wasn't going to reach my potential in either sport by trying to dabble in both sports."

Bernstein's decion to play in the Mid-Atlantic Rubgy Championship two weeks before the bobsled trials last summer led to her current situation. She said she sufferered from heat exhaustion while playing rugby and that contributed to a slightly disappointing performance in the bobsled trials.

"We were playing for third place and we needed to score one more time to win," Bernstein said. "After that game, I collapsed. I ended up throwing up most of the night."

As a result, she said, "I didn't have my greatest push [in bobsled]."

Though she still scored high enough to remain on the depth chart for those being considered to go to Sochi, Russia, Bernstein had a chance to improve her position by taking part in a pre-Olympic competition in the same city where the 2014 Games will be held in February.

"If you push really well on the Olympic track, that's going to turn heads," Bernstein said.

There was another issue. After passing on her first chance to take the exam for her Ph.D. last year while training in bobsled, Bernstein was told by those overseeing her doctoral candidacy that she risked losing whatever work she completed if she did not take the exams this year.

"It absolutely broke my heart [not to go to Sochi]," Bernstein said. "My department has been extremely understanding and supportive, but after I missed the exam for the team [bobsled] trials last year, they told me that if I missed this time I was not going to have a fellowship, which is how I can afford to pursue my sports. It was going to be done."

A few wound up jumping past Bernstein based on their performance in Sochi.

Bernstein passed the exam and must only defend her dissertation before completing it. She has continued to train for rugby, both for the 7s team and 15s team. She is currently playing on both a local club team as well as a Mid-Atlantic all-star team.

When her club won a national championship in August, she told one of the national team coaches there scouting that "I have a burning desire to come back to rugby, but I'm scared because I think it's a lot harder path [than bobsled]."

If she winds up on the U.S. national rugby development team that trains in Chula Vista, Calif., Bernstein will likely take a spot working out of a physics lab at Cal Tech, where one of her advisers in the Ph.D. program at Delaware State has lab partners.

"If I have a chance at rugby, I feel like I have to go for it," she said. "The scout I talked to was very positive about me coming back. One of the coaches told me that he had heard positive things about me, and that there was a lot of growth in me as a person, as well as athletically."

National team rugby coach Ric Suggitt, who coaches the 7s, told Bernstein "she was going to get another kick at the cat." Hearing that, Bernstein said that she cried, "but I know that I still have to earn my way back on the squad."

That has yet to happen. Bernstein is waiting to hear about joining the national team and also hopes to play in the World Rugby Championship in Paris next year. If she's invited, it will mark the first cap [national team appearance] for Bernstein in the two years since she tried to become a bobsled brakeman.

The training for rugby "has been harder than I remember," she said.

Not that Bernstein has lost her passion for bobsled completely.

"I feel that I have a strong chance if I commit wholly to bobsled to be a pilot in 2018," she said.

Maybe she's not over multitasking, after all.

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