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Heather Moyse Attempting Bobsleigh Comeback for 2018 Pyeongchang Olympics

Heather Moyse Attempting Bobsleigh Comeback for 2018 Pyeongchang Olympics

For years, Heather Moyse pushed.

Well past the expectations of others and her own limits. To World Cup podiums. To a pair of Olympic gold medals. To the pinnacle, again and again.

And then, one of Canada’s most decorated bobsledders walked, gold medals a-jangling. There were possibilities to realize, people to empower. She became a sought-after motivational speaker, embraced the roles of mentor, ambassador and humanitarian. She’ll add published author to the resume, with Redefining Realistic out in November.

And now, more than three years removed from her last race in Sochi, and in the wake of all those new and diverse actions, there has been an equal, opposite and wholly unexpected reaction.

The push has pulled her back.

Though she hasn’t sprinted since 2014, has in fact rarely ventured inside a gym, recently turned 39, and has been dealing with a cranky back since June, Moyse has been lured to Calgary, to the national bobsleigh team.

“I’m excited. I love the challenge of seeing if I can physically do it again,” she said.

The surroundings will be familiar, but the job much different. She said she won’t be returning to her customary spot in Kaillie Humphries’ sled, despite an invitation last year to reunite with Humphries.

“I’m pretty sure she understands I’m just not motivated to do the same thing again,” Moyse said Saturday.

The comeback attempt was triggered instead by an early August email from second-year pilot Alysia Rissling, who wanted help navigating the mental and physical minefield of an Olympic season. The query provided an intriguing link between Moyse’s old passion for bobsleigh and her new commitment to empowering others.

“At first I was just like, ‘well, I’m kind of done. I love what I do now.’ My business is all around empowering other people and helping other people achieve their goals. But when I started saying it out loud, I was like ‘coming back and helping (Rissling) or other development drivers or whomever on the team, that is empowering other people, that is coming back and investing in the next generation, and pushing future athletes.’

“I’m not motivated to go back and just try and win another Olympic medal but I am motivated by the idea of helping someone else win their first.”

The two met Saturday night in Calgary for the first time, though their relationship has been building over the phone. The mentorship begins in earnest Tuesday morning, when Moyse embarks upon the delicate task of rejoining a national team full of athletes who have been grinding it out for a quadrennial. She is fully aware of the sensitivities, and is hoping for the best.

“It’s not easy, but I need to focus on the positives and the fact that I am truly here to help,” said Moyse.

Canada is all but guaranteed two women’s sleds in Pyeongchang, but the goal is three. There will be jockeying for position and pressure to perform, and the brakemen are largely neophytes. Moyse can provide leadership.

“Right now, besides Kaillie who has to focus on her own competition, there are no other women who have been to an Olympic Games before,” said Moyse. “The whole Olympic season is just such a different season — the pressures, unfortunately the dramas — it’s just an intense season. Having someone who has kind of successfully managed that a number of times is something that (Rissling) and the coaches think is a valuable asset.”

Rissling, 28, has no doubt Moyse can help the team.

“For my role as a leader and pilot, that’s where I’m lacking, the experience. I am unable to anticipate what the level of pressure is going to feel like when we get to the Games. That’s where Heather can probably step in, be the assertive body and the calming factor and guide us through.”

Provided she earns a place in a sled, of course. Nothing is guaranteed, particularly with just five months to go from essentially zero training to an icy hill in Pyeongchang.

“It’s a very daunting idea,” said Moyse.

A normal human might not even bother lacing up the shoes, but Moyse isn’t normal. They called her Freak, an endearing term indicative of uncanny athletic ability.

But her back has been out of alignment since June. What about that, she asked team therapists.

“They just said ‘when you are in alignment, the explosiveness in your muscles is undeniable. And regardless of you not training, your muscle tissue is different than any other athlete I have ever come across.’ … It’s hard for me to wrap my brain around that, and around how he has no doubt that I could come back and do this.”

About two weeks ago she stopped resisting and let the pull bring her all the way back. Now she’ll do what she did for all those years. Push.

Dan Barnes/National Post/September, 2017