The Avondale resident is one of the top ranked skeleton racers in the world. A 2006 Olympian, he's hoping to return to the Winter Games in 2010.It all began so innocently for Eric Bernotas.
Six years ago, the Avondale resident was on a road trip to Vermont with one of his friends. They made a wrong turn and ended up getting lost in upstate New York. It was late at night, and upon realizing they were close to Lake Placid, his friend decided she wanted to go and check out the city that played host to the 1980 Winter Olympic Games.
Thanks to that detour, Bernotas eventually got his first taste of the sport of skeleton racing.
Within a year of stumbling upon Lake Placid, home to one of the only courses in the United States, Bernotas was hooked and begin sledding competitively in 2002.
And the rest, as they say, is history.
Bernotas is now one of the top ranked skeleton racers in the world.
He finished sixth overall at the 2006 Winter Olympics in Torino, Italy, and among many of his other accomplishments, he took the silver medal at last year's World Championships in Switzerland and finished second overall in the 2006-07 World Cup standings.
"The fact of the matter is I'm living a dream right now," said the 36-year-old Bernotas.
Born in West Chester, and a 1989 graduate of Malvern Prep, Bernotas has made numerous sacrifices along the way in order to follow his dream.
"We went through a lot with him as far as getting him into the sport," said his father, Al Bernotas, who resides in Avondale. "Eric was a contractor, and he gave up his contracting business to commit to this the way you have to in order to do it right. As a parent, I was never skeptical, because whatever Eric has done he always puts everything into it 100 percent.
"When he made the Olympics in 2006, we were elated for him. Our whole family went to Italy for 10 days, and it was an uplifting experience. I just remember thinking, 'Wow, my son is in the Olympics.' We could not have been any prouder of him. It's an experience I'll never forget and one I hope we all get to go through again as a family in 2010. That's what he's working towards now."
Bernotas is currently gearing up for the 2008 World Championships-held in Altenberg, Germany from Feb. 21 to 23-where he is the defending silver medallist.
"I know I can do well here," said Bernotas last week via cell phone from Germany. "I'm definitely happy with how my career is progressing right now. I was disappointed with finishing sixth in the Olympics, but last year I had a good bounce back year and got a silver medal at the World Championships. Any kind of medal at the World Championships is great, but if I come out and let it fly, hopefully everything will come together."
In the sport of skeleton racing, the sled is made out of fiber glass and steel, and weighs about 90 pounds. Athletes, while laying headfirst and flat on their stomachs, travel through the course at speeds as high as 90 miles per hour sometimes.
"When I first got involved it was a pretty amazing feeling going that fast," said Bernotas. "Honestly, though, that's not even what does it for me anymore. The biggest rush for me right now is taking the ride. It becomes a dance-you, the sled and the ice-and it can be a very artistic thing and I think that's what is so special about the sport."
Bernotas is one of just three members of the United States National Skeleton Team. His goal is to return to the Olympics in 2010 when the Winter Games are held in Vancouver.
"Olympic year there is no guarantees so I don't take anything for granted," said Bernotas. "Each year we need to keep going through the process, and I just have to keep working and keep the passion alive."
Bernotas has sure come a long way in six years: from the wrong turn on the way to Vermont that got him into the sport, to walking away from his contracting business to follow his dream.
"After being involved in the sport for so long now, you kinda forget the innocence in how it all happened," he said. "I was happy to give my business up at the time. It didn't matter how the finances were going to come. I just went with it and was willing to ride the wave.
"Having a supportive family and supportive friends has kept me going. To be able to share all of this with them has been so rewarding."