Once Upon a Time

Once upon a time I was a freshman at CMU in Pittsburgh. The first day I stepped onto campus I was greeted quite warmly, approached by upperclassmen, and stared at openly while waiting for my student ID photo at the campus center.

I was a bit concerned-I had heard the ratio of men to women was a bit off balance here, but was it really that bad? Men, wearing greek letters, watched me almost greedily. Unbeknownst to me, my tiny frame and low weight were considered very desireable at this campus. In fact, the first week of orientation is a wild hunt for the leaders of every organization, in order to seek and recruit the smallest incoming students.

Carnegie Mellon is host to a long-standing tradition called Sweepstakes (informally known as buggy). Every Spring, the city of Pittsburgh allows CMU to block off the roads of Schenley Park to use in this amazing raze of manpower and IQ. Veiled in secrecy, every organization on campus gathers their geek know-how to design and build the most streamlined man-powered vehicles for this 2-3 minute race. And yes, there is a person (just like me) inside there.

It turns out I was a precious commodity in college: I was driver material.
Within hours of my arrival, I was recuited to drive for Spirit, the minority organization on campus. That night, meeting new friends over beer and visiting the fraternity quad, I was constantly asked if I was driving for anyone yet. Every time, my answer was met with groans of disappointment.

So, beginning that fall, every morning at about 4:30 AM I would crawl out of bed and head over to our designated room in a hall close to the start line. Behind closed doors, I would strip down to a skintight bodysuit and don my helment and gloves and slide feetfirst into my buggy, with the help of my own assistant. At the crack of dawn four large men would carry me in my rocket-like buggy to the safety checkpoint. After a safety inspection I was off. Pushed up Hill 1 and 2 by the strongest athletes on campus, I was launched down the road around flagstaff hill with a mighty shove, and would practice my navigation and turns in order to accelerate to speeds of 25-30MPH.

Behold my baby: VICIOUS FLOW

The tradition of buggy is one veiled in complete secrecy. The windows of every buggy are tinted to hide the steering and braking system from competing teams. The organizations do not reveal the materials or designs to anyone, as the lightest and fastest engineering is also judged in this competition. Even my weight was a matter of secrecy. Looking back, I find the whole experience a bit surreal. But at least we know now, if you asked me if I would be interested in climbing into a lycra bodysuit and be propelled down a steep road headfirst in a small rocket my answer would be "Where do I sign up?"


Julie said...

That sounds like so much fun!

Carole said...

Wow. That sounds terrifying to me. I'll bet you wouldn't qualify for that event these days, though. ;-)

omly said...

That is so cool. It is experiences like this that make me really wish that I had gone to an undergraduate university with engineering programs. You just don't do such things at liberal arts women's colleges.

blogless sharon said...

wicked cool

maryse said...

haha that is hilarious!

Chris said...

What a hoot! I don't think I could do that. But then, my event in college wasn't for everyone either: bareback jumping (no, the horse was bareback - I was fully clothed).