After a week of rest, we are back in the beautiful town of Whistler for some more action packed bobsleigh runs. The scenery however is quite different up at the Whistler Sliding Center. Our season began in early October with the Canadian sliding sports taking up as much track time as possible to try and master our very difficult venue. We spent two weeks out here, sliding and training. There were not even 20 bobsleds racing down the track on any given day. The sessions were fast, and quiet, the start house at the top, virtually empty.
This week is a very different story. This is one of two international training weeks being offered to the sliding community in preparation for a fair and competitive Olympic race. It is strange coming back to find our nice quiet start house overrun by Russians, Germans, Swiss, Americans – and those are just the big teams. We even have representation from Jamaica, Australia, Belgium and Monaco to name a few.
This is one of my favorite moments on tour. Being reunited with all of your friends and competitors from around the world. Seven years ago when I first starting competing in bobsleigh I remember thinking it would be impossible to be-friend “the enemy.” How could anyone let friendship interfere with them suiting up for battle and trying to win at all costs? After all, I am a very competitive person. It turns out, I was wrong.
Over the last seven years of competing in bobsleigh, I have unintentionally acquired friends from around the globe. I guess it is inevitable considering we spend four months travelling around the world, spending the majority of our days in very small mountain villages with little going on.
There are so many wonderful memories I have thanks to all of these international bobsledders. One of my favorites came last December in Cesana, Italy. We were snowed in for three days due to a massive blizzard. Even the roads up and down the mountains were closed because of avalanches. So on the 3rd day when we finally heard the news that the race was cancelled, in order to get out of the hotel for a few hours, we organized “International Snow Battle 2008.” It was epic. The rules were that there were no rules. Nation against nation, team jackets mandatory, if only to ensure we were lobbing snowballs at the Russians or British and not one of our own!
Another one of my favorite memories was a few years ago, before our 2007 World Championships in St. Moritz. Our women’s team remained in Austria with the American women for some physical training. We decided one evening to all go for pizza together in Innsbruck. We sat in the pizza parlor for a few hours, eating good food and sharing good stories. The problem was that in those few hours, inches of snow had fallen and the mountain pass back up to our hotel had become almost impossible to negotiate. We made it roughly 1/3rd of the way up the mountain before realizing that our non-winter tires were just not going to cut it. Also, after realizing that our coaches had neglected to leave us winter chains for our tires, there was only one choice left. Everyone get out and push! There were eight girls (Canadians and Americans) and our coach Quin. I was driving, or to be more accurate, I was trying to stop the van from sliding off the cliff. In the meantime, all of my teammates, the American girls and Quin pushed for a few meters, jumped into the moving van while it had some momentum and then jumped out to push again before we slid to a stop. More than 30 minutes later, when we finally reached the hotel, the girls collapsed in the lobby, sore, tired and soaking wet whilst our coach Quin threw up in some Austrian guys front yard. We still tease him to this day.
These friends have not only been a part of the good times, they have also been there through the bad times. Last year when I detached my ribs, I can remember being pulled from my sled at the bottom of the track after a run while a German brakeman and one of my rival American pilots moved my sled off the ice and loaded it onto a truck for me. Two years ago in Germany when my friend Shauna on the US team crashed and badly injured herself and her brakeman at World Championships (she was sitting fourth, I was fifth), I took her my trophy filled with chocolate and left it in her hotel room so they had something to cheer them up when they returned from the hospital. That same weekend in 2008, I was moping around after another fourth place finish and the Americans were healing their wounds. To cheer us up, the German team that won spent two days taking us sightseeing and out for delicious local food around Dresden. There is a mutual respect for the amount of work it takes to survive in our sport and a mutual sympathy for the pain that all of us have suffered because of the dangers of bobsledding.
Now, two of my closest friends are also my archrivals. During the winter we fight head-to-head every single race. At the Olympics in Torino they stood on the podium and received silver medals while I stood and watched. And yet somehow, come springtime, we can put all results and competitions aside and spend eight days together on a sailboat in Antigua. After all, I guess it is not their fault they are not Canadian.
Being a part of this sport has taught me the meaning of the phrase “may the best man win.” It has taught me to be graceful in both victory and defeat. It has taught me that there is so much more to sport than winning and losing. “The Enemy” has given me something to fight for, made me a better bobsledder, kept me motivated, and pushed me harder than I thought I could go. The truth is, we have all had a turn standing on the podium with the bright colours of our nations flag waving in the background. Some will smile proudly, some will wipe tears from their eyes but everyone offers congratulations and condolences. Maybe it is because we respect one another’s courage and sacrifices or maybe it is simply because we have so much in common that every weekend when I suit up for battle I can sincerely wish “the Enemy” well, knowing that in the end the best team will win. When the competition is over and the dust has settled, we put down our sleds, or skis or skates. We look back and smile at all of the wonderful memories and the stories that we will be telling for the rest of our lives.