By RON FANFAIR
Pickering resident Shelley-Ann Brown inched a step closer towards becoming an Olympian when she was included in the national bobsled squad that will compete in the World Cup circuit in North America and Europe in the next few weeks.
Based on performance and other criteria, including cohesiveness between the driver and the brakeman in the rear of the sled, the Canadian team will be selected on January 1 for the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver next February. The World Cup season, comprising an eight-race series in Canada, the USA, Latvia, Norway, Italy, Germany and Switzerland, starts on November 9 in Park City, Utah.
The 29-year-old Brown, the brakeman in the Canada 1 sled, will be competing with four other bobsledders for at least two Olympic places in the two-man event.
“It’s going to be a challenge, but I am very confident,” Brown told Share last week after completing a two-week training camp in Whistler, British Columbia.
She will compete in four World Cup races, including the first event in Utah.
Competing for a Winter Olympic spot was certainly not on Brown’s radar when she accepted a scholarship to attend the University of Nebraska a decade ago. At least 10 American universities heavily recruited the sprinter even though she did not compete in track during her final year of high school at Dunbarton because of a teachers’ strike.
She visited five of them, including the Cornhuskers, which is the alma mater of Canadian 110-metre hurdler Priscilla Lopes-Schliep, who won silver and bronze medals in this year’s world championships and last year’s Olympic Games respectively, and Jamaican Merlene Ottey, the world’s most decorated female athlete with 32 international medals.
“They appealed to me the most because educational excellence was a priority for me and them,” said Brown who graduated with a Bachelor of Science degree in English and a Masters in Educational Psychology. “I went there on a track scholarship but I also wanted to achieve tools that I could use when my track career was over. That was my main interest.”
Nebraska’s 2001 Most Improved Female Athlete and the Big 12 60-metre hurdles champion a year later was preparing for her Masters when she received an unexpected phone call from Canadian bobsleigh pilot Suzanne Gavine-Hlady.
“In my last year of competition in high school, I broke my arm just before the OFSAA (Ontario Federation of School Athletic Associations) championships, but I still ran and anchored my team to victory in the 4 x 100-metre race,” Brown recalled. “There was a guy in Grade 5 who saw me run and was obviously impressed with the strength and courage I displayed in the face of adversity.
“That stuck with him and when his sister (Gavine-Hlady) was looking for a partner, he suggested I might be a candidate. They Googled my name and she was able to contact me, but I could not do it at the time because I was starting my Master’s.”
Three years later, in 2006, Brown was at home preparing her next move after a teaching job in Florida fell through when Gavine-Hlady called again, asking if she would consider giving the sport a try.
“The timing then was perfect, I guess, because I did not have any commitments,” she said.
Brown (no relation to Jamaican-born Canadian bobsledder Lascelles Brown) said the transition from track to bobsledding was not difficult.
“The training is similar in that you do a lot of sprinting, lifting, strength activities and plyometrics to bridge the gap between speed and strength,” said the former Nebraska Student Athletic Advisory Board team representative who was born in the Greater Toronto Area to Jamaican parents. “Also, my body was a fit for the sport since you cannot be too light.”
She’s 174 cm (5′ 9″) and weights 76.5 kg (168 lbs).
Brown captured one gold and two silver medals in the 2009 season and served as the primary brakeman for Kaillie Humphries. The pair finished in the Top 10 in all six races they competed in two seasons ago.
She says that being an Olympian will be the culmination of a childhood dream.
“Of course, track was my number one sport and that was where I thought I had the best chance of representing this country in the Olympics,” she said. “To have the opportunity come up in another sport is indescribable and overwhelming.”
Brown plans to quit the sport after the Olympics and return to the GTA to pursue a career as an educator.
“I taught English as a Second Language a few years ago, but now I want to get into the field of curriculum development,” said Brown who a few years ago developed an eight-week summer camp (Education and Direction for Intelligent and Fit Youth) for young people between the ages of 4 and 13 in Scarborough.
“Sport has been good to me and I want to move on to the next phase of my life as a civilian.”
Preparing for an Olympics that includes proper nutrition and vital supplements, access to top-class training facilities and equipment, therapy and coaching fees, can be quite costly as Brown is finding out.
To help fulfill her Olympic dream, she’s accepting donations that can be made to 282 Hoover Dr., Pickering Ontario, L1V 5R8 or 2211 9th Ave., Calgary, Alberta, T2N 1E8.
Donors will receive a signed Shelley-Ann Brown poster.