One wouldn't call the past two years of Astoria native Thomas Santagato's life "easy." His daily routine has been to be out of bed by 7:30am, eat a high-protein breakfast, head to the gym to hit the weights, scarf down a high-protein lunch, hit the skeleton track for 70-mile-per-hour practice races, grab a high-protein dinner, hit the sack, and repeat the next day.
But Santagato, who never dreamed his days of sledding down the hills of Astoria Park as a kid would lead to this, wouldn't have it any other way.
The 26-year-old athlete told The Daily News he had tried every other sport growing up - baseball in his days in the Immaculate Conception Youth Program over by the ConEd plant, football as a student at St. Francis Prep, even lacrosse during his time at Springfield College in Massachusetts - but his 5'9" 180-pound frame was never able to compete with the taller or larger guys on the teams. Photo: The Daily News
Then one day in the summer of 2008, Santagato happened to come across an Olympics recruiting website, and browsed the page on the Bobsled and Skeleton team's requirements. The description of the athlete's physical requirements matched his own physique, so he thought he'd give it a try.
To his surprise, they reached out to him that fall and asked him to come to a recruitment camp. He did, and was spotted by a coach, who told him, with a little practice, he could be really good.
So, after mulling it over with his family, Santagato left his Special Ed teaching job in Fresh Meadows that winter, and headed to Lake Placid to train with the other United States Olympic Skeleton team hopefuls vying to compete in the 2014 Olympics in Sochi, Russia.
He's got a good chance, too. In his first international competition last month in Canada, he won a silver medal, and he's currently the 7th ranked athlete on the team. He's competing in the National Championships in the first weekend of March, and has a good chance of taking one of the top spots.
In the meantime, he's trying to raise the money he needs to continue being an elite competitor. When he's not training, Santagato's waiting tables at a lodge in Lake Placid and works as a personal trainer at the Matrix Fitness Club on Ditmars Boulevard to make ends meet.
But, he tells the New York Post, he's pretty confident about his prospects, and thinks that being able to tell people he has a realistic chance at making it to the Olympics is "the most awesome thing in the world."