When Westridge School graduate Lauren Gibbs told her parents in 2010 she was thinking of leaving her sales manager position and six-figure salary to try out for the United States women’s bobsled team, her parents laughed.
“We all did,” her mother, Akila, said by phone from South Korea. “Even she said that it would make a great cocktail story.”
Four years later, Gibbs, 33, has much more than a cocktail story. She has a silver medal.
She teamed up with decorated Olympian Elana Meyers Taylor and took second last week in the women’s bobsled event at the Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang.
The American duo finished .07 seconds behind gold medalists Mariana Jamanka and Lisa Buckwitz of Germany, who won the four-run race with a time of 3 minutes, 22.45 seconds.
“Sharing an Olympic medal with Elana is pretty special,” Gibbs told NBC. “This is her third and my first, so it’s unreal. She’s a legend in this sport, and I’m just honored to be part of her journey.”
Gibbs’ trail to Pyeongchang was one of the most talked about narratives during the competition. She hit a crossroads at 30 years old and was asked by Meyers Taylor to train with her. The bobsled standout reached out to Gibbs after hearing of her weightlifting prowess through a mutual friend.
“I was doing what I thought I was supposed to do,” Gibbs said on “Megyn Kelly Today.” “While I enjoyed my work, it just wasn’t everything that I wanted, and I wasn’t fulfilled. I feel like life is too short to do things you don’t love. How many opportunities do you have to go to the Olympics and win a medal?”
Akila, who is the executive director of Pasadena Senior Center, was supportive of her daughter’s decision but her father, Albert, was more wary. Nonetheless, Gibbs had full support from her parents.
“I always thought it was a good idea,” Akila said. “My husband was always cautious. But it’s now or never. She was 30 years old at the time. I really do think that in life we are meant to take risks and challenges. You don’t want to go through life wishing you could have done this and that.”
Gibbs worked hard to stay in shape even before high school. Westridge’s Athletic Director Melanie Horn began working at the school as a P.E. teacher in 1995, and Gibbs, then a 6th-grader, was one of her most athletic students.
“Even then she was ripped,” Horn said. “I even said to her mother that she was a good athlete and had good muscle definition.
“It’s interesting because there’s so much of the news is focused on how she went from an executive and poof, she’s an Olympian. What people don’t understand is all her life she has been working hard in athletics.”
The young Tiger went on to become one of the school’s best track and field athletes. Gibbs won three consecutive CIF Southern Section Division 4 long jump championships from 1999-2001 and a triple jump crown in 2001.
She played volleyball at Brown University and graduated with business degree. Gibbs then attended Pepperdine to complete her master’s degree in business administration before working as a sales manager.
After accepting Meyers Taylor’s invitation, Gibbs excelled at a skills showcase for prospective Olympians in Colorado, earning an invitation to the Olympic Training Center in Lake Placid.
“To be honest, there were ups and downs [during her training],” Akila said. “She was competing with people who had been doing this for a long time. This was not natural for her, and she had to dig deep. Most people on the bobsled team come from a track background. While she was successful at long jump and triple jump at Westridge, her sport in college was volleyball. We knew she was good, but was she really good enough to be chosen?”
Gibbs quickly began making a case to be one of the four bobsledders selected for the Winter Games. She won gold medals in the 2014-2015 North American Cup, 2015-2016 World Cup and 2017-18 World Cup. Meyers Taylor partnered with Gibbs at a few tournaments and kept her motivated through the entire process.
“Elana does a really good job I think as a leader telling you exactly where you stand, and that’s so important,” Gibbs told NBC. “And it wasn’t what I wanted to hear, but it was what I needed to hear. I’m so grateful to her that she has that quality of leadership, which is really hard. It’s hard to look at someone and say, ‘Hey, as of now you’re not good enough.’ It’s not enough to want to go to the Olympics. Everybody wants to go to the Olympics. You have to go into this wanting to win a gold medal. That’s how you get to the Olympics, and she was right.”
Gibbs was selected as one of two push athletes on the bobsled team in January, making her the fourth Westridge alumnae to compete in the Olympics. Erica Wu was a table tennis Olympian, Inger Miller was a gold medal-winning sprinter in 1996 and Anne Kursinski won two silver medals as an equestrian in 1988 and 1996.
“It’s very inspiring,” Westridge Head of School Elizabeth McGregor said. “We always say we want our girls to lead lives of impact, and there’s no greater way. I know this is an extreme example of that, but I think when Lauren comes back and talks to the girls, they will realize that it just doesn’t happen. It takes determination and effort. You can do a lot of things when you put your mind to it.”
McGregor said Gibbs will return to her alma mater and deliver the commencement speech in June.
The school showed its support for the former Tiger by posting videos on social media of students cheering for Gibbs.
“I was reduced to tears,” Akila said when she saw the support from her daughter’s high school. “Westridge is an amazing school for girls. We chose the perfect school for her. What we wanted for her first was a great education. In our opinion, we felt sports would take care of itself. The thing she learned most from Westridge was to nurture strength and face your fears. I love that school for giving her a great foundation.”
Gibbs also made another commitment, and let her parents know as soon as she left the podium in Pyeongchang.
“She came to us and said, ‘Four more years!’” Akila said. “[My husband and I] thought she’d go back to corporate America, but she isn’t going to go back. She has another plan for her life. I was just crying and congratulating her. Her dad responded with, ‘What?’ He’s a forensic psychologist, so he’s cautious. I’m more of a daredevil.”
Gibbs’ bobsled partner also confirmed her intention to compete for another Olympics, according to the USA Bobsled website.
“I thought maybe a good time to tell my parents I’m not going back to work is right when I won a medal, so you just kind of slip that in there,” Gibbs told USA Bobsled. “It’s all about timing – I have a sales background, so always be closing!”