Chris Mazdzer Winds Up His Historic Sliding Career, Right Where It Started
by Lynn Rutherford
At age 35, Chris Mazdzer has four Olympics, 24 world cup medals and 22 years of international luge competition under his belt, complete with his share of crashes, injuries and surgeries. His neck and back are no longer 100 percent. He started a demanding new job earlier this year.
But none of that is why this weekend’s world cup in Lake Placid, New York, will be his final competition. It’s the expression on his two-and-a-half-year-old son Nico’s face when the two communicate on FaceTime.
“He’ll fold his arms and look really upset, and I know he is missing his dad,” Mazdzer said. “I didn’t really expect how hard it was going to be at the beginning of the season.”
Time away from his wife, Mara, a special events planner who is expecting their second son in April, also weighs on his mind.
“For the 2022 Olympic season, I left home Sept. 15, and by the time I got back at the end of February, I had only spent eight days at home,” Mazdzer said. “That’s a huge chunk of time that, luckily, my son will not remember, because he was under one year old. My wife will always remember it.”
For Mazdzer, whose Olympic silver medal at the Olympic Winte Games PyeongChang 2018 marked Team USA’s best individual finish in the sport, it adds up to this: It is time to say goodbye, on his own terms. And Lake Placid is the perfect place to do it.
“I started questioning a few weeks ago, ‘What is the best thing for me right now?’ And it’s to be with my family, and to be supportive as we look to welcome child number two into the world,” he said. “Could I go another Olympic cycle? Yes, I believe physically I could. But I don’t think many people will ever have the opportunity to make their last race on their home track, where they can celebrate it with family, friends, teammates, sponsors, coaches — all the people that have supported me my entire career.”
Competing for the final time in Lake Placid will truly bring Mazder’s sliding career full circle.
Born in Pittsfield, Massachusetts, his family moved to Saranac Lake, New York, when he was a child, and he began training at Lake Placid’s Mount Van Hoevenberg facilities when he was 8 years old.
“I thought it was the coolest thing ever,” he said. “And the Olympic Regional Development Authority, ORDA as they are known, they’re the ones who manage the track, and there are people at ORDA who have helped me out over my career.”
In 2015, Mazder won both singles and team relay gold at a world cup in Lake Placid.
“It’s a track I know really well, I feel comfortable there,” he said. “I feel like I’m just going to enjoy it, (having) my last run on this track. … The people that financially were able to get me where I needed to be, they’ll be there. I have a few friends that made it to all the Olympic Games except for Beijing, and they’re going to be able to make it. I’m really excited about it.
“I think I’m over the sadness,” he added. “Obviously, I’m going to get emotional over the weekend, but I don’t think there’s a better place where I can really focus and enjoy at the same time.”
As his career draws to a close, Mazdzer has many memories to savor, including PyeongChang, where four clean, consistent runs on the demanding track and its infamous Curve 9 lifted him to the podium.
“Going into the Olympic season, I sold my car to have money to buy equipment,” he said. “My results that season weren’t very good; I was the last U.S. man to qualify. … I had a bicycle and a little bit of money to my name, but not a whole lot of leg room, to basically survive. My girlfriend (now wife) said, ‘Just go for it. I’m here to catch you if you fall.’ I had all these amazing people who supported me. I believed in myself, because just two years prior, I finished third overall in the world. I was just having some sled issues, and I figured those issues out a week before the Games.”
Mazdzer considers the minute before his fourth run in PyeongChang — when he turned to face the television cameras and smiled — to be the greatest moment of his career.
“I smiled because I knew I had it,” he said. “I had put in 20 years of work for this moment. It was freezing cold. The conditions were really difficult. I was riding a really aggressive and out of control setup. And I felt so good, that I smiled during the Olympics. … Grit, resilience, setting goals and never giving up, and I was able to succeed.”
There were tough moments as well. Mazdzer recalls a time 10 years ago when he was spending more than 40 hours a week waiting tables, bartending and working weddings and events to support his training.
“You constantly question, ‘Why do I do this?’ Because you put in 100 percent and you don’t get any results,” said Mazdzer, who later in his career also began racing doubles with Jayson Terdiman. “I can take physical pain, I’ve had a lot of surgeries, I’ve crashed a lot. It’s the mental pain of, ‘Why am I doing this? And can I continue on?’ that most athletes struggle with. That’s what I struggled with a lot in my career — basing myself as a human being purely off of results, and not the process.”
There comes a time, though, when financial stability takes center stage, and for Mazdzer, that time has come.
“When you’re in your early or mid-20s, you think, ‘This is a great gig, I get to travel the world,’ and essentially it doesn’t matter if your bank account goes to zero,” he said. “But now I am thinking further ahead, and this is a decision for my family.”
Chris, Mara and Nico make their home in Salt Lake City, where Mazdzer works remotely for a leading provider of HR management software.
“I do sales for them — essentially, I’m helping to solve challenges companies have, (by working) on culture and connectivity,” he said. “It’s been rewarding and I’m learning a lot. But again, it’s full time, it’s a 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. animal, so with training, my schedule fills up pretty quickly.”
After his final competitive runs in Lake Placid this weekend, his schedule will be a bit lighter, and the focus will shift to family and his new career. But he will never entirely leave his sport behind.
“I have a huge passion for luge, and I also think luge has been the greatest teacher in my life,” he said. “I’ve learned so much from it — how to deal with fear, managing emotions, problem solving, goal setting. I think it’s an unbelievably amazing sport for kids to be involved with, because they learn about themselves, they build confidence. … I don’t know how I’m going to serve and help the luge community, but I know that it’s a part of me that’s always going to be there.”