After a heartbreaking collapse at the 2010 Vancouver Winter Games which saw a dejected Melissa Hollingsworth in tears, an opportunity for golden redemption is one that is four years in the making. Having qualified for the 2014 Sochi Winter Games, the 33 year-old from Eckville, Alberta cites rowing legend Marnie McBean as her influence.
With three rookies on the Canadian skeleton team for Sochi, Hollingsworth may be the one who finds herself in the role of influence. Calgary’s Sarah Reid, a former ballet dancer and World Championship bronze medalist during the 2012-13 season is 26 years old and will certainly look up to Hollingsworth. Her wisdom and experience will provide a sisterly influence to help Reid adjust to this new experience. On the men’s side, John Fairbairn and Eric Neilson comprise the remaining rookies.
Boasting a bronze medal from the 2006 Torino Winter Games, Hollingsworth is accustomed to competing on the world’s biggest stage. Her skeleton resume is one that would be the envy of any racer. Competing in the FIBT circuit, she has claimed a silver medal in 2000 and 2012, along with a bronze in 2011. During the 2005-06 and 2009-10 seasons, she would finish both as World Cup champion.
Of note, it has not been an easy road to redemption for Hollingsworth. Suffering from fatigue and sickness during a difficult 2012-13 season, she would only manage one finish on the podium. Refusing to give up, her sojourn to Sochi makes her a role model for young women looking to pursue their dreams.
Considering she began skeleton at age 15, through the encouragement of cousin and skeleton racer Ryan Davenport, she has devoted more than half her life to the sport. Considering she nearly left the sport after failing to qualify for the 2002 Salt Lake Winter Games, fans would have been cheated from seeing one of the most accomplished Canadian female athletes of the last decade.
When not training for skeleton, Hollingsworth can be found on the rodeo circuit. Having established herself as a two-sport star with her endeavors in barrel racing, she devoted part of her 2013 to working on the ranch of accomplished barrel racer Tammy Fishcer. As the proud owner of two of her own horses, the Prairie pride that comes from looking after horses runs in her blood.
Raised on a ranch in Eckville, she made her professional rodeo debut at the Grande Prairie Stampede during the summer of 2011. Similar to the speed of racing down an icy track, she can reach speeds of 100 km/h as she tries to navigate the horse around three barrels in a cloverleaf pattern. To the casual sports fan, it would be easy to label her as an adrenaline junkie.
While the Canadian Olympic Committee was cautious about the risk of her engaging in such a sport, it has proven to be a labor of love. With the support of Dee Butterfield and Brook Robertson, rodeo has served as a form of occupational therapy which helped Hollingsworth cope with the heartbreak of Vancouver while providing her with some well-earned leisure.
Another aspect of Hollingsworth’s life that provides her with great happiness is her role with the Passion for Excellence (P4E) program. As an ambassador for P4E, she is part of a group of athletes that visits classrooms and graduating classes in Alberta, sponsored by the Dilawri Automotive Group, sharing their stories of inspiration and character. The chance to listen to her story is one in which any individual can obtain the belief that they can accomplish their dreams. While Hollingsworth’s career is testament to the fact that one must remain dedicated and have the ability to weather the storms that may cross one’s path, the reward at the end is well worth it.
For Hollingsworth’s fans and Canadian sports aficionados, the effort she has displayed in qualifying for her third Winter Games is one of the true feel good stories of the year. While unfinished business may be the theme of her ambitions at Sochi, another may be closure. Regardless of her finish, the ability to pick herself up after a heartbreaking loss in Vancouver and strive for Sochi proves that one can never truly give up. One may get knocked down or encounter obstacles, but eventually one arrives. While a podium finish, especially golden would bring her full circle, one could not dispute that her career is a backdrop to the meaning of the word resiliency, making her a champion for so many.