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2018 Getty Images
Date
17 Aug 2018
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Olympism in Action Forum
Olympism in Action Forum

#UnitedBy Diversity - Carrie Russell

Carrie Russell is a member of Jamaica’s first-ever female bobsleigh team. Originally a track and field athlete, Russell competed in bobsleigh at the Olympic Winter Games PyeongChang 2018 and is now committed to bringing diversity to the sport. 

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In the run-up to the Olympism in Action Forum in Buenos Aires (5-6 October 2018), we shine a spotlight on groups and individuals who, inspired by the power of sport to contribute to a better world, have used their initiative to organise projects and programmes to effect change at all levels.

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Shifting Gears

Carrie Russell was 26 years old the first time she ever saw snow. Two years later, she competed on Jamaica’s first female Olympic bobsleigh team.

“It was in 2016, in Whistler, Canada,” she says. “I’m from a tropical island, so I had literally never seen snow before. At first I thought, ‘Mm, nope, this place is too cold for me.’ If I spent more than 10 seconds outside, that was a lot.”

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While bobsleigh is a new sport for Russell, she has always been an athlete. For most of her life, Russell ran track and field as a sprinter. She was experiencing a plateau in her track training and was already debating trying something new when she got an unusual invitation: the Jamaican Bobsleigh Federation was developing a female bobsleigh programme; would she be interested in giving the sport a try? Russell’s sprinting coach thought that, if anything, the training for bobsleigh might improve her explosiveness off the starting blocks.

“I did a little research on my pilot, Jazmine, and saw that she was a good driver. I said why not try it? I figured I could always go back to track and field. But the more time I spend doing bobsleigh, the more I understand the sport and the more I love it.”  

Mind Over Matter

It may seem like a strange career shift, but sprinting and bobsleigh actually have a number of things in common. Both sports involve running short sprints, demand power and require an explosive start. These similarities made it possible for Russell to continue to train for both sports at first, just in case her new career in bobsleigh didn’t work out. After a bit of a rough start, Russell decided to fully commit to bobsleigh.

“In my first race, I crashed,” she says. “I got a big ice burn on my right shoulder, and that’s when I started saying to myself, ‘You can’t do this sport.’ I needed to force myself beyond that mindset. It took me going all the way to the Olympics in bobsleigh for me to be committed to it, for me to decide to no longer do track and field. Now I’m starting to train to be a pilot, and there’s no way I could keep doing both sports, so my Olympic dream is now with bobsleigh.”

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When Russell and her crew qualified for the Olympic Winter Games PyeongChang 2018, they were the first female bobsleigh team to qualify in Jamaica’s history. Russell believes that people look up to her team not only because of their place in history, but also because they bring diversity to the sport. In that way, bobsleigh allows Russell to compete at the high level she loves, but it also makes her feel like she is making a difference.  

“I really idolise Merlene Ottey and the path she paved for female track athletes in Jamaica. She created that lane, and now everybody is following her lead. I want to write my own script for others to follow. In the next 50 years or so, people will say, ‘Remember Merlene Ottey, Usain Bolt, Arthur Wint, what they did for track?’ That’s what I want to do with bobsleigh. We remember Dudley Stokes, everybody knows ‘Cool Runnings,’ but for females in bobsleigh, I want them to say, ‘Carrie Russell, Jazmine Fenlator-Victorian.’ I want to be part of the history of winter sport athletes.”

Embracing the Crash

While she hopes that the story of the women’s Jamaican bobsleigh team will encourage the expansion of bobsleigh and other winter sports throughout the Caribbean, taking up a new sport has also helped Russell grow personally.

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“Bobsleigh has taught me so much when it comes to patience and understanding. I’m in a totally new environment, so I had to be patient with myself and learn to adapt to the weather. Second, I had to come to terms with the whole idea of crashing. Finally, there’s never a perfect run in bobsleigh. It’s the person who makes the least mistakes who gets a better time. So all combined, I’ve learned patience and that I have to accept certain things. It’s really helped me understand different aspects of life.”

“You have to accept the basics. The bobsleigh basics are that you have to slide, you have to get out in the cold and understand that there are times when you will crash. Crashing is a normal part of the sport. It’s just like doing track and field, when you get a cramp in your hamstring or something, but in bobsleigh, it’s a crash. Things go wrong, you go back up to the top and get down that hill again.”
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