Race official Peggy Mousaw keeps races fair while helping future Olympians flourish
By Tracy Ormsbee
Peggy Mousaw, a USA Luge race official, is in constant motion between the athletes coming off the track, a scale where they’re weighed, a station to check the temperature of the sled’s runners and the “Yanke gauge”—a machine that measures the sled itself. She wears a fleece, wind pants, Microspikes and a fur hat. No gloves.
Never mind that it’s late February in Lake Placid, 10 degrees and notably windy at Station 3 of the luge track at Mount Van Hoevenberg. And it feels even colder because this sport takes place on a track of solid, refrigerated ice. Spectators, crowded behind it to watch, are bundled in snow pants, puffy jackets, hats, scarves, ski gloves—the works.
Gloves, Mousaw says, get in her way.
“I have to stay with the athlete all through control,” she says. “Control” means random selection of finishers to check and enforce race regulations at the finish line.
This particular Saturday is the Youth National Seeding Races and Championships—a serious race for these athletes, all under 18. Racers get points based on how they finish, and this will be used to help determine which of them make the USA Luge Junior Candidate and Junior Development teams.
As the 10-minute warning to the races is announced, Mousaw changes gears, turns and walks down the side of the track, her face to the crowd, mostly families of racers. She is a presence larger than her 5-foot stature.
“Hi hon, how’s it going?” she shouts to a spectator. She waves, smiles and jokes with others down the line. “I’m in charge of the social committee, too,” she jokes.
The two-minute warning is announced, and when there’s one minute until the first race Mousaw shouts above the clanging cowbells: “We’re getting ready to rock ‘n’ roll.”
She won’t have time to stop now until the first heat of 21 racers is over.
Mousaw is the finish leader today, which means she’s in charge of the control checks. As the racers come down the ramp from the ice, volunteer Linda Gosnell stops them and holds out a bucket of ping-pong balls. If athletes pull a white ball, they are free to go. If they choose one with color, they are checked.
This time, the racer grabs a ball with a stripe.
“Control!” Gosnell shouts and the athlete is pulled aside to be weighed and his sled inspected.
A singles sled for a youth race can’t weigh more than 25 kilograms (55 pounds). Blades can’t be 5 degrees Celsius greater than the control temperature. And every athlete steps on the scale with his sled and is weighed without it inside the shed. When the athlete goes inside to be weighed, the sled is placed on the Yanke gauge and measured.
It’s all over in a few minutes and the next racer draws a ball.
Mousaw says there’s nowhere she’d rather be on these winter weekends. She hasn’t missed a race in three years and says she once turned down a job because they called her work with USA Luge a conflict and wanted her to give it up.
Her license plate says “USLUGE.”
She has been a USA Luge race official since 2009, and International Federation Level (Olympic) since 2012. Four years ago, she trained South Korean officials for the Olympics.
She first learned about luge when she was working as treasurer for the Village of Lake Placid. (She has worked in various roles in municipal finance for the past 20 years). A coworker suggested she give it a try. She was already a rock climber and ice climber. She decided to try it, and describes the experience—traveling at almost 55 mph—as one long scream. Mousaw was hooked.
At 50, she won second place in the women’s division of the 2010 Masters. But two years later, she was hurt when she hit the wall of the track, and hasn’t been on a sled since.
“I stay on this side of the track,” she says.
And her fellow USA Luge colleagues—which Mousaw calls “one big family”—are glad.
“She’s dedicated a lot of time to not only officiating but training (other officials),” says Beverly Detwiler, administrative manager for USA Luge. “She comes a day early and helps get ready for races and helps in the office with some of the paperwork we get behind on.”
She has even written a few small grants for USA Luge. And In 2018 she was awarded USA Luge Team’s John Jenkins Sport Passion Award for her time volunteering as a race official and assisting with office operations.
“Volunteering for Olympic sports is very important,” she says. “Without the volunteers, the training and races would not be able to happen and athletes would not be able to move up and place to compete at the national and international levels.”
Volunteerism was instilled in her by her parents, she says. When she was young, her father was president of the local snowmobile club and the family would clean up roadsides in the town, something she says she still does.
Her other volunteer work includes the I Love NY BBQ Festival to support Thomas Shipman Youth Center in Lake Placid, the Empire State Games, the annual kayak race sponsored by Friends of Higley Flow State Park (Colton), St. Regis Falls Flotilla and planning for the State University of New York Potsdam Local Government Conference.
As this story was going to press, the coronavirus pandemic had caused the cancellation of the last two luge races, para-bobsled/-skeleton races and the open house for the new USA Luge building in Lake Placid. It was weighing heavily on Mousaw, who says she sees parents sacrifice so their kids can compete, paying for equipment and travel, and has watched kids get hurt and get right back on the sled.
“It’s a blow for all those athletes,” she says.
There is another reason she remains so devoted to this sport.
“It’s nice to watch the athletes mature, then get to the Olympic level. You’ve been with them from the start,” she says. Through her officiating, she knows Olympians around the world.
“When you see someone win a race for the first time, who didn’t know they could do it, you’re as proud as they are,” she says.
Favorite Adirondack spot she wants others to know about: Various places around Tupper Lake, including Big Tupper Ski Area, where she learned to ski; Wild Center (“You think you’re going to go for an hour and end up spending the whole day”); and Mount Arab.
“The first mountain I hiked was Mount Arab. This led to a continuing love of the mountains.”