How did you get involved in the Youth Olympic Games?
I received a message via my website before the Sochi Olympics. Obviously, I was thrilled to be asked. It was a no-brainer. I’ve been nominated to be an IOC Athlete Role Model at the YOG by the International Rugby Board and I’m going to be out to Nanjing for almost a week. I arrive on 15th and will be there until 21st so my slot coincides with the rugby tournament. I guess my main focus will be doing mentorship sessions and Q&As with the rugby players, but I’ll be there for other athletes too. They are going into the YOG at a transition age, a point where they are still figuring out what they want to do. It will be an honour to help mentor them.
What would you tell a young athlete going to the YOG?
That depends what they need. Some are concerned about the pressures on them be the best. Others might run into pressures with doping. I will be trying to deliver the message that it’s not about being the best, but being the best that you can be. Some athletes might struggle with that concept, others might have questions about training, or about external pressures from coaches or organisations.
At the YOG age you have to love what you’re doing. Sport is my job and I take my training very seriously. But for the youngsters in Nanjing, it should be about taking in the environment and enjoying it. I went to the Olympic Games to compete – that was my sole focus. But at their age, it’s not about winning gold medals – it’s about learning what a multi-sports games is about, about learning from other people and about other cultures, and about learning how to be the best you can be – it’s a wonderful learning experience for them.
Who were your own role models?
I didn’t start training seriously as an athlete until I was 27. Most of my own guidance came from my family, who have always helped me keep perspective. I grew up in a very academic family, in Prince Edward Island. I always thought sports would be an extra-curricular thing for me, alongside an academic career, though I always played various sports.
I worked several years in development overseas. I spent three years working in Trinidad & Tobago. When I came back I started playing rugby, and that led to me being asked to play for the national team. When I came back, I went to play for a rugby club my sister was at, and by the end of the next week I was training with the Ontario team and by the end of that November I was with the national team. You don’t have to jump through all the hoops, you have to do what you love.
How easy was it to make the transition from rugby to bobsled? What changes did you need to make to your training regime etc?
As a rugby player you need a lot of speed. I was a winger/full back which requires explosive power in your legs. These are qualities you also need for bobsleigh. In fact when you are hitting a sled you need the same power as hitting a scrum machine. The only difference is that the bobsleigh is extremely technical. The hundredths of a second that make a difference can be about details, the training, the timing. I’ve been blessed with a heightened awareness of what my body does, though that can be a curse as well as blessing!
What is the recipe for becoming an outstanding athlete?
It takes a lot of hard work and dedication. And discipline. A lot is based on genetics. That plays a huge role. There are a lot of hardworking people who can make it very far without a genetic gift; and then there are a lot of people who have the genetic gift but who don’t make full use of it. Those who have the gift, and who can put the work in have the ability to become outstanding athletes.
What about training and preparation?
Preparation is a very individual matter. For example, I made both the rugby and the bobsled teams without lifting weights. I have a very highly tuned nervous system which means that overtraining my muscles can flatten my nervous system. I know that my bobsled partner Kaillie Humphries, for example requires more volume in lifting than I do. If I did the same I wouldn’t know the same.
I think some young athletes are overworked without having a sense of their own bodies. I feel sad when kids have to specialise in a sport at an early age. How are you supposed to know at the age of 10 what you are going to enjoy or what you are going to thrive in? Too much specialisation doesn’t allow kids time to do other things. That often comes from the parents.
Cross-training gives you a longevity that specialising does not. When I was young I danced and did other sports. Even things like climbing trees and riding your bike help your overall development in a balanced way.
I’m a firm believer in individualised programmes – you can’t have one flat programme for all athletes. Young athletes need to be empowered to see that you don’t have to follow a standard routine to excel at your sport. It’s not about location, or technology or fancy equipment, it’s about you knowing you have a goal and about doing what you have to do to ensure that you can achieve it. It’s important to be honest with yourself and to make sure you follow a path that doesn’t leave you with regrets.