Courtesy of Nathan Gilsleider/Molly Choma
Nathan Gilsleider: From Oklahoma State gridiron to bobsled ice
Nathan Gilsleider was a teammate of Dez Bryant and Brandon Weeden at Oklahoma State
Nathan Gilsleider has been training full-time as a bobsledder since 2015. But his most grueling workouts date back to when he played football for Oklahoma State University.
Friday mornings in the offseason meant running the stairs at Boone Pickens Stadium. Gilsleider earned a reputation as a “rabbit guy,” setting the pace by finishing first or second among wide receivers.
When the football players returned to the weight room, they immediately began a lower-body workout. Gilsleider often stayed late to do extra Olympic lifts to improve his explosive power.
“His work ethic was second to none,” said Rob Glass, OSU’s Assistant AD for Athlete Performance. “It doesn’t surprise me what he’s accomplished in bobsledding because he was always very driven and a high achiever.”
Gilsleider took an unconventional route to OSU.
He was all-state in baseball, basketball and soccer at a small high school in Claremore, Okla. His father, Ed, coached basketball and soccer.
“Graduating high school with only 12 kids, not many people give you credit for your successes,” Gilsleider said. “You have to constantly prove yourself.”
Gilsleider decided to attend Hesston (Kan.) Junior College, where he played baseball and basketball, before transferring to Eastern Oklahoma State College to continue his baseball career.
The left-hander threw a pitch that went very high and wide. He later found that he had suffered a torn labrum.
“It felt like someone had stuck a hot knife in my shoulder,” Gilsleider said.
Realizing his baseball career was over, he set his sights on playing football for OSU.
Gilsleider admits the learning curve was steep, having not played football nor lifted weights in high school.
He made the team as a walk-on wide receiver, the same position as Dez Bryant, who now plays for the Dallas Cowboys. He caught passes in practice from Brandon Weeden, who went on to become a first-round draft pick of the Cleveland Browns.
“If we ever needed to count on him to fill a certain role,” OSU head coach Mike Gundy said, “we could count on him understanding the philosophy, being smart and playing hard.”
But Gilsleider’s injury woes continued, with a right knee injury ending his collegiate football career before he could make his first catch in a game.
After graduating, Gilsleider accepted a position as an Assistant Performance Coach at the Michael Johnson Performance Center in McKinney, Texas. He met Johnny Quinn, a 2014 U.S. Olympic bobsledder, who encouraged him to try the sport.
He made the U.S. bobsled national team in 2015. In 2017, he teamed with Nick Cunningham to win the two-man national title.
Gilsleider reminds Glass of 2010 Olympic four-man bobsled gold medalist Steve Mesler. Glass trained Mesler when he was a decathlete at the University of Florida.
“Both Nathan and Steve are guys who understand the Olympic movements and how to generate power and force and speed,” Glass said. “They are cut out of that same mold.”
Gilsleider is currently in the pool of push athletes competing to make the 2018 U.S. Olympic team. He is racing on the North American Cup circuit, and hoping to impress the U.S. bobsled selection committee in order to move up to the top-level World Cup circuit and improve his Olympic outlook.
His son, Joseph Ryder, will turn 1 on Feb. 1, one week before the Olympic competition begins in PyeongChang.
“It is always in the back of my head while I am training that I am not doing this just for myself, but for my family and my son,” Gilsleider said. “To make him proud that one day he can say his dad is an Olympian and never gave up.”
Oklahoma State has been represented at every Summer Games in which the U.S. has competed since 1924, but Gilsleider is hoping to become the first OSU graduate to compete at a Winter Olympics.
Gilsleider proudly displays his support for his alma mater. He drinks from an OSU water bottle, trains in OSU gear and even races with a sticker of OSU’s Pistol Pete mascot on his helmet. He attended OSU’s season-opening victory over Tulsa, and worked out in OSU’s facility during the offseason.
“I’m sure Nathan is giving all the Oklahoma State people a reason to watch the Winter Olympics,” Gundy said.