Todd Hays has had a lot of great moments as an athlete. The 32-year-old played quarterback for Del Rio High School. In 1991, when he was a linebacker for the University of Tulsa, his team upset Texas A&M. Two years later Hays won the national kickboxing championship. But none of that will compare with being the captain of the two-man and four-man U.S. bobsled teams at the Winter Olympics, which begin on February 8 in Salt Lake City. That’s right: The fastest bobsledder in the country—and perhaps the world—is a Texan.

How on earth does a person go from football to kickboxing to bobsledding?
The kickboxing came from Del Rio, but the bobsled team was by chance. My brother was watching the evening news one night in 1994 and saw that the U.S. bobsled team was in San Antonio. He said, “Go to sleep. We’re going to get up early and go to San Antonio, and you’re going to try out.” I thought he was kidding. Then I said, “What would the U.S. bobsled team be doing in San Antonio?” He said, “They’re looking for athletes with speed and strength, and you’re going.” We drove the 140 miles from Del Rio to San Antonio and went to Fiesta Texas, where the team was set up in the parking lot. That’s how it all started.

Did you take to bobsledding right away?
I really started to like it once I began to understand the sport. It’s a little bit of NASCAR, a little bit of football, and a little bit of track.

In a World Cup race in December, you lost by three hundredths of a second. How do you handle that?
When I lose by three hundredths, I look back at that trip curve by curve and try to find the hundredth in each curve. For us to win, we have to be absolutely perfect.

Has it sunk in that you’ll be representing the United States at the Olympics?
As a kid you dream of the Olympics—or as a kid in Texas you dream of the Olympics and the NFL. I just keep thinking how lucky I am, and I realize what a great country I’m representing. My plan is to have a Texas flag with me at the opening ceremony. That way a Texan can look on and say, “We’ve got someone in the Winter Games.”