CLAIM TO FAME: The Rev. Jerel Gade '77 has a great day job: For nearly 30 years, he's been a pastor to multi-denominational Christian congregations around Allentown, Pennsylvania — but during his off hours, he's a highly trained official in the high-speed world of international luge racing.
TOO LATE FOR LUGE? While studying at Philadelphia Lutheran Seminary in 1980, the Saugerties, New York, native volunteered at the XIII Olympic Winter Games in Lake Placid. Luge sledding caught his attention, but it wasn't until he attended a winter sports camp in 1993 that he rode one himself. Sliding down an icy, mile-long track at speeds averaging 65 miles per hour hooked his imagination, he says — but not his body. “I loved the sport, but I realized that the time when I could take up something like luge had passed me by.”
FINDING HIS NICHE: A few years later, Gade took his son Joshua to Philadelphia for a U.S. luge team “slider search” clinic. Soon, father and son were taking every opportunity to visit Lake Placid, where Joshua could train and compete at the Olympic facility. “I was up here so often,” Gade said during an October interview in Lake Placid, “that it seemed silly to be just standing around.” That's when he started learning how to be a luge judge, keeping competition fair by enforcing equipment and timing rules.
WORLD CLASS: Jerel Gade is now in his sixth year as a luge official. He has judged at three World Cup competitions and one World Championship. His most exciting meet, he says, was the 2009 World Championship, held right before the 2010 Winter Olympics. While Gade was officiating, Erin Hamlin became the first American woman to win a world luge title. “My congregation knows that, come vacation time, I'm going either south or north,” he says — south to visit Joshua, now a senior at the University of Central Florida, or north to judge yet another world-class sledding competition.