Hempfield senior Lukas Kissell vaults into new sport: Skeleton

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Sunday, April 26, 2020 | 10:21 PM


Lukas Kissell was helping Hempfield win a WPIAL Class AAA team track title a year ago.

And if things were normal today, the senior would be trying to help the Spartans win another title.

“I was looking forward to the outdoor season,” Kissell said. “I had a good indoor season, and I feel I was going to have a good outdoor season.

“We had a great group (of 23 guys) last year, and it was great beating those bigger squads from other teams. We just talked about it the other day. It’s disappointing we can’t compete.”

Kissell would have been part of one of the best pole vault groups in the WPIAL along with Rylan Kauffman and Tanner Barnhart.

Kissell said when the championship came down to the pole vault last May, he knew the trio could pull it off.

“We were super nervous,” Kissell said. “As long as we didn’t screw up, we would do it.”

And after the trio swept the event, the team celebrated the title.

“Lukas definitely was progressing,” Hempfield pole vault coach Melissa White said. “We were looking forward to the season. He was going to do multiple events.”

Kissell’s indoor season was interrupted because he was training for another sport he loves: the skeleton, a winter sliding sport in which a person rides a small sled, known as a skeleton bobsled, down a frozen track while lying face down and headfirst. The other sliding Olympic sports are the two- and four-man bobsled and the luge, in which the rider lays on a sled on his back feetfirst.

“I first noticed the sport while watching the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver,” Kissell said. “I watched (the late) Steven Holcomb and his team win the gold medal in the four-man bobsled.

“I love the Olympics, and I got really interested in the skeleton in 2014. I knew it was something I wanted to try.”

So Kissell pursued his dream.

Being from Western Pennsylvania and with the closest training run at Lake Placid, N.Y., Kissell continued different workouts to prepare himself for the 2018 Athlete Development for U.S. Bobsled and Skeleton Federation (USBSF) dry-land combine at East Tennessee State.

Running track helped him because the combine focused on sprinting, a standing broad jump and throwing a 16-pound shot put. He was graded on those abilities to see if he qualified for training on a sled.

His effort got him noticed when he placed fifth in 2019.

He scored well enough to advance to the Olympic training sites at Lake Placid and Park City, Utah, and earned a spot on the developmental team.

Michael Dionne, director of USBSF, said he looks for athletes at the senior level to reach 500-plus points when they do that combine.Kissell didn’t quite score 500, but he was close and fared well for his age.

“I know he’s going to develop and get better at that kind of thing,” Dionne told PennTrackXC.com. “He’s really the second one that I’ve recruited at that 16-18 age range that we’ve brought on.”

“Time is on my side,” said Kissell, who plans to attend Penn State and major in material science and engineering. “I also hope to train with the track team and prepare for more training.

“It’s a neat sport. I was nervous the first time I attempted it. I thought I’d be terrified, but I wanted to try it.”

Kissell said his goal is to make the Olympics and grow the sport.

“I wish I could figure out how more people could try it,” Kissell said. “I hope to be an ambassador for the sport.”

And Kissell said track provided him a lot of opportunities.

“Lukas is a driven person,” White said. “I’ll never doubt what he wants to do. When he makes the Olympics, I’ll buy a ticket to watch him.”

Paul Schofield is a Tribune-Review Staff Writer. You can contact Paul by email at pschofield@tribweb.com or via Twitter .

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