Sarah Reid set for rookie debut at 2014 Sochi Winter Games

Having danced in ballet for 11 years, it would seem unlikely to find Sarah Reid soaring at 100 km/h on a frozen surface in the skeleton competition. Considering she carries a card given to her by her father that states, Dare Greatly, her enthusiasm knows no boundaries.

While the film Cool Runnings, based on the 1988 Jamaican Bobsled Team, captivated her interest for winter sports, skeleton rather than bobsled would become her sport of choice. After a 2003 Bobsleigh Canada talent camp forced her to accept that her size and strength were not apropos for the sport, her grace as a ballerina quickly translated to skeleton, where body awareness is crucial.

November 2010: Competing at the Viessmann FIBT World Cup in Whistler. Photo credit: Dan Carr

After graduating from Calgary’s National Sport School in 2005, the confidence needed to participate in the Winter Games was stimulated due to Canada’s strong showing in the event at the 2006 Torino Winter Games. Of note, Melissa Hollingsworth would capture the bronze medal in the women’s event, providing her with a role model. Ironically, she will now have the opportunity to call Hollingsworth a teammate as the two have qualified for the 2014 Sochi Winter Games.

Although Sochi represents her first appearance at the Games, she does not come without experience. In 2008, she was honored as World Junior Champion while a silver medal would follow in 2010. Despite not qualifying for the Vancouver Winter Games, she served as a forerunner, providing her with the ability to appreciate the meaning of competition on the world’s biggest stage.

Reid is all smiles after capturing a bronze medal at Park City, Utah on Decemeber 6, 2013. Photo credit: Jeff McIntosh, Canadian Press

Reid is all smiles after capturing a bronze medal at Park City, Utah on Decemeber 6, 2013. Photo credit: Jeff McIntosh, Canadian Press

Racing on the World Cup circuit for 2012-13, her season finished with a bronze medal. Of note, her success was attributed to employing a new approach. Like a baseball player that employs a change in their batting stance or a golfer that slightly adjusts their swing, Reid found a new sled. The change paid dividends as the ability to maneuver came with greater ease. It also increased her confidence as the first World Cup race of the season resulted in more than just a podium finish, but her first victory.

Heading into a new challenge at Sochi, the thought of Hollingsworth and Reid both earning a podium finish would result in a historic first for Canadian women in the skeleton event. During the nascent history of the event in the Winter Games, there have never been two women from Canada to earn a podium finish. Although this is not the case in the men’s competition, it would signify a unique passing of the torch. As Hollingsworth is in the twilight of her career, the opportunity to see Reid reach the same pinnacle would provide a glorious Canadian future for the sport.

Mellisa Hollingsworth looking for golden redemption at Sochi

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.

Mellisa Hollingsworth at the Vancouver 2010 Winter Games

Mellisa Hollingsworth at the Vancouver 2010 Winter Games

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.

Appearing in Sportsnet Magazine's 2013 edition of The Beauty of Sport. Photography by Matt Barnes. Image obtained from: http://www.sportsnet.ca/the-beauty-of-sport/#section=21

Appearing in Sportsnet Magazine’s 2013 edition of The Beauty of Sport. Photography by Matt Barnes. Image obtained from: http://www.sportsnet.ca/the-beauty-of-sport/#section=21

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.

Melissa Hollingsworth made her pro rodeo debut in 2011 (Image obtained from: http://everything-cowboy.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/12/m_hollingsworth_gp.jpg)

Melissa Hollingsworth made her pro rodeo debut in 2011 (Image obtained from: http://everything-cowboy.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/12/m_hollingsworth_gp.jpg)

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.

Photography by Matt Barnes. Image obtained from: http://www.sportsnet.ca/the-beauty-of-sport/#section=21

Photography by Matt Barnes. Image obtained from: http://www.sportsnet.ca/the-beauty-of-sport/#section=21

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.

Hollingsworth recognized as one of Canada’s finest women by Flare Magazine (Image obtained from: http://www.flare.com/celebrity/canadas-finest/)

Hollingsworth recognized as one of Canada’s finest women by Flare Magazine (Image obtained from: http://www.flare.com/celebrity/canadas-finest/)

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.