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20 to ’20: Calgary's sporting icons of the 2000s so far — Kaillie Humphries

Bobsleigh athlete Kaillie Humphries poses for a photo after the naming of the Olympic team in Calgary on Jan. 24, 2018. PHOTO BY LEAH HENNEL /Postmedia Network

As 2020 winds to a close, Postmedia’s Wes Gilbertson profiles Calgary’s sporting icons of the 2000s……..

Long before she stood at the top of a bobsled track or stepped — twice — to the top of an Olympic podium, Kaillie Humphries climbed up on a chair at her childhood home in Calgary’s Signature Park subdivision and made a declaration.

With an audience, too.

Swimming star Mark Tewksbury, just months after his golden moment in the backstroke in Barcelona, was a special guest on this evening. Kaillie was seven.

“Mark was a client of mine and after the Olympics, we invited him over for the dinner, just to celebrate,” said Humphries’ father, Ray Simundson. “He brought his medal, and the two younger sisters kind looked at it and said, ‘Yeah, whatever.’ But Kaillie grabbed it and when we sat down for dinner, she stood up on the chair and said that she was going to win a gold medal at an Olympic Games.

“We just told her, ‘Yeah, OK dear. Sit down, we’re having dinner. Give Mark his medal back.’ But that was the start of it.”

It was the start of something special.

Humphries would make good on that goal, winning gold at Vancouver 2010 and defending her crown in Sochi — the first in women’s bobsled history to go back-to-back at the Olympic Games, with Heather Moyse as her teammate for both triumphs. Humphries claimed bronze as she bid for a three-peat with then-brakewoman Phylicia George in Pyeongchang.

Her relationship with Bobsled Canada ended last year in a public feud — she accused a former coach of harassment, but an independent investigation did not support her claim — and ultimately a legal faceoff. Humphries, who is married to an American, was eventually granted her release and is now competing for Team USA.

That split with the national program that she’d represented for 15 years certainly does not change the fact that Humphries was one of Calgary’s standout athletes of the 2000s, both a medal machine and champion for equality in her sport. She was the first woman to pilot an all-female team against the guys in a World Cup four-man race.

Sometime between standing on that chair and standing on those podiums, she also stood at a career crossroads.

After competing in alpine skiing as a kid, she started — as many do in the bobsled ranks — on brakes, where speed and strength is a necessity to provide a powerful push at the top of the icy track.

Humphries recovered from an ankle injury in time to earn a spot on Canada’s squad for the 2006 Winter Olympics in Torino. Except that, when the drivers selected their sidekicks just a few days before the competition, she was left out.

“I walked into opening ceremonies thinking I was going to be one of the two (brakewomen) that got an opportunity to race, and that wasn’t the case,” Humphries said. “That made the Olympic experience in 2006 very heartbreaking for me. My goal since I was seven was to go to an Olympic Games and try to win an Olympic medal. And I was there, but I was named the alternate.

“It was hard. I thought I was letting myself down. I thought I was letting my country down. My goal, since I was a kid, was there — it was so close — and I thought I had achieved it and overcome adversity to do so, and that was simply not the case. After 2006, I thought about quitting the sport. I didn’t want to do it. I was heartbroken. And that’s when I decided that I didn’t want that to be the end of my story. I didn’t think I was done in the sport. I thought I had more to give, but I didn’t want to put myself in that same position again.”

And so Humphries signed up for a bobsled driving school in Lake Placid, N.Y., the unofficial start-line on her track from alternate to all-timer.

“There was a different focus that we saw within her after that,” said her mother, Cheryl Simundson. “She was more determined, but it was also that she was the one … If it didn’t happen, she only had herself to blame. She knew then that she needed to put the work in, and she was going to do it no matter what.”

Added Ray: “After that driving school, every coach, whether it would be German or Latvian or U.S., said that there was something special. We kind of think it was because of her ability to look ahead with ski-racing, to be looking a couple or three gates down the course. That’s kind of what you need to do in driving bobsled. You can’t be looking at the corner in front of you, you have to be looking down the track. She was just a star right from the git-go.”

Humphries was not considered among the medal favourites at the 2010 Winter Olympics, but she and Moyse delighted the home crowd by recording the fastest time in three of four runs en route to a surprise story at Whistler Sliding Centre.

By the time that she arrived in Sochi four years later, the Calgary-raised bobsled ace — a former student at Glenmore Elementary, A.E. Cross and National Sport School — was a two-time world champion and World Cup history-maker and wasn’t oblivious to the glare of the spotlight.

“Now, everybody is watching and nobody had defended an Olympic medal in our sport before, so everybody is going, ‘Is Kaillie going to be the one who can do that?’ ” Humphries recalled. “I looked to (rower) Marnie McBean a lot when it came to competing into 2014, because she was one of the females who I knew that had defended an Olympic title before. So how did she do it? Who is another female I can look to, who I can ask questions to? This is how I feel — is this normal? I’m still super nervous, what if I don’t do it? All those scenarios …

“It wasn’t the sport performance that I was worried about. I had enough skill. I had enough knowledge. I knew what I was doing. But I didn’t know if I could do it, because it had never been done before.”

It has now.

After their repeat, she and Moyse were selected to carry the Canadian flag into the closing ceremonies. The perks didn’t end there. The next summer, Humphries was on horseback as the Calgary Stampede parade marshal.

She is among the most-decorated drivers in the history of Canada’s bobsled program. Now 35, she is continuing to add to her haul on behalf of Team USA. Along the way, she has used her star-power to speak out against bullying and to support other causes.

And to think she considered quitting the sport after that disappointment in Torino. Driving school turned out to be a darn good decision.

“I am most proud that I didn’t give up,” Humphries said. “Throughout my career, I think every athlete hits a point when things get hard and tough and that’s part of sport, but I didn’t stop. I didn’t quit. I didn’t let the doubters or the haters win. I didn’t stop believing in myself. I knew there was something more, and I didn’t stop pushing my limits. I didn’t quit reaching for the highest levels, and not just the highest levels of what had been achieved but the highest levels of what I could imagine to be possible. I never stopped trying to push my limits and push the limits of the sport, the sporting world, as well as pushing the limits of female empowerment. I think that’s a huge part to my story, and what I believe in is that I can achieve anything.

“That doesn’t mean I don’t fail. I fail a bunch. It doesn’t mean I don’t stumble. I do. It doesn’t mean I’m perfect, by any means. But I don’t stop. I continue to try to push myself and I try to raise the bar and I think I’m the most proud that I don’t quit and that I work as hard as I do to be able to get to the levels that I’m at.”


Remember me for …

Humphries is a two-time Olympic champ on the bobsled track, striking gold on home-ice at Vancouver 2010 and again in Sochi four years later. She won the Lou Marsh Trophy in 2014 as Canada’s athlete of the year.

Oh and another thing …

This born-and-raised Calgarian was among the first women to pilot a mixed-gender team in a World Cup four-man race and continued to shatter barriers by later competing with an all-female sled on that same circuit.

Staggering stat …

10-for-10 — Humphries collected a medal at each of her 10 international races in the 2012-13 season, a remarkable show of consistency. Her haul included seven gold, one silver and two bronze.

These days …

The 35-year-old is living in California and now sliding for Team USA and hinted she could compete into her early-40s.

She said it …

“I’ve had a good long career so far but I’m excited to see it come full circle. I do believe if I can start in 2006 in Italy and end in 2026 in Italy, I feel like that would be a good ending, a good full-circle moment.”

Source: Wes Gilbertson Calgary Sun



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