Ever since he was a young boy growing up in Northern Kentucky, Adam Clark enjoyed playing in the snow. Whether it was riding a sled downhill or throwing snowballs in a family snowball fight, Adam loved winter sports. So when Adam decided he wanted to be an Olympic bobsledder, it did not surprise his mother, Jane Barber.

In fact, it was on a trip just a few years ago to her childhood home in Wisconsin that she showed her son where she used to toboggan during the winter.

“See? Bobsledding is in your genes,” she told him, laughing.

Adam Clark grew up in Owenton, Ky., a small town about an hour southwest of Cincinnati. He ran track and played football for the Owen County Rebels in high school and the Centre College Colonels after that.

In 2003, he was the Class A Kentucky State Champion in triple jump as a high school senior, and in college he won all-conference honors for the long jump and the 4 x 100 meter relay.

And it was around that time his life would change forever.

“My college roommate, Jeremy Ware, started following the sliding sports—bobsled, skeleton and luge—after the 2006 games,” says Adam, now 29.

Somewhere, in the back of his mind, Adam got curious.

By 2010, Adam had graduated from Centre, and had a degree in mechanical engineering from the University of Kentucky. Despite this, he yearned for athletic competition.

“Around the end of 2010, Jeremy found the USA Bobsled recruitment webpage and urged me to apply,” Adam says. “I applied and was invited to a rookie training camp in March of 2011.

“After the camp, [USA Bobsled] invited me to the official USA Bobsled team trials in the fall of 2011. I made the national team that year and have been on it for the last three seasons.”

Nothing, he says, compared to representing his country in athletics.

“The first time I put on the USA speedsuit, I couldn’t believe it,” he says. “I’ve been on sports teams all my life, but always the Rebels or the Colonels or the Wildcats. When you realize you’re representing your country, it means something totally different, and I knew then that it was what I wanted to devote myself to doing.”

It was the beginning of a four-year journey.

“Seeing Adam’s dedication to the sport and training process [made it] a joy to watch him compete,” says Dr. Brad H. DeWeese, Adam’s sport performance coach and former head of sport physiology for the United States Olympic Committee’s Winter Division in Lake Placid, New York. “When you can witness someone who lays it all on the line each day in practice reap the rewards of their work, it is truly amazing.”

Adam’s mother was still a bit starstruck.

“Both of my sons played sports growing up, so it didn’t really surprise me when Adam told me that he thought he had the required physical size and strength to become a bobsledder,” she says. “What is still very surreal to me is that he wanted to represent the United States in the sport. To me, that seemed like such a big goal!”

In his first year, he became a member of the national team as a push athlete—one of the team members who pushes the sled. But it wasn’t easy.

“When I first made the national team, it was as an alternate, meaning I didn’t get to race but I traveled with the team and participated in training,” Adam says. “I was a decent athlete but didn’t know what it meant to be a top-level bobsledder. Throughout the first season I kept learning and working.”

And sometimes, his practice involved crashing.

“When I watch him race, I hold my breath until he is in the sled and then I cheer like crazy for his pilot to drive well,” Barber says. “I watched him crash this year and that wasn’t fun, but I was able to also watch him climb out and walk around so I knew he was all right. Bobsledding is very exciting.”

Adam improved, and over the next few years, was able to travel the world as a member of the U.S. Bobsled National Team. He earned a spot on the USA 2 sled and finally got to race. Eventually he competed in two World Championships.

“My first year, I didn’t believe I could make the Olympics, but over the past three seasons, I studied the sport and worked hard to improve in every facet of the game,” he says. “I still have things to learn and room to improve, but finally, this season, I got to a point where I believe that I’m good enough to represent the USA in the Olympic Games.”

Unfortunately, in what came down to the last race of the season, the USA team only qualified two four-man teams for the Olympics. Adam was not on one of those teams.

“Of course I’m disappointed,” he says. “I’m crushed. I focused everything I had for three years to achieve this goal only to fall short in the final race of the season. But I’m not blaming anyone. The USA Bobsled program just didn’t meet the test this year and I only hope that it will motivate everyone involved to work that much harder and see that it doesn’t happen again in the future.”

His coach says he is the living spirit of the Olympic games.

“I can firmly attest that in my 15 years of coaching, Adam is one of a handful of athletes that understands the total commitment needed to be one of the world’s best,” Coach DeWeese says. “Adam approached his training with diligence and intelligence, which is partly why we connected so well. Regardless of not making the 2014 Olympic team, Adam is a champion and upholds the Olympic ideal in all aspects of his life.”

Adam’s mother says that in the end, everything comes down to one question: “When you are old and you look back on your life, do you think that you will regret not going after your dream? If the answer to that question is yes, then the excuses like gender, economic status, where you grew up or even how random the idea is that a boy from rural Kentucky could represent his country pushing a bobsled, should not stop anyone from single-mindedly following that dream. Have no regrets.”

Adam doesn’t have any. He is now studying coaching.

“I’m very proud of what I’ve accomplished,” he says. “I’m a better athlete now than I believed I could ever be when I started. I worked as hard as I could and I left no stone unturned.

“I’m sure I’ll continue training,” he says. “It will always be part of my life. And who knows? There’s always 2018 in South Korea!”