Track star turns to bobsleigh

ALISON KORN -- For Sun Media

, Last Updated: 11:34 AM ET

Pickering's Shelley-Ann Brown can't stand the cold, but bobsleigh has toughened up the former track star, making her a good bet as a brakeman for the 2010 Vancouver Olympics.

Just 15 months ago, Brown had never slid down a bobsleigh track, though she'd impressed national coaches with the speed of her push starts. Now she has got a World Cup bronze medal, won in Lake Placid in December with teammate Kaillie Humphries in the Canada 2 sled.

She's also among the privileged few athletes to have already inspected Canada's brand new Olympic sliding track built in Whistler.

"It's pretty exciting to think of maybe being in the Olympic Games in your home country, it just gives you goose bumps," Brown said. "I try not to think about it because it's too far off."

Brown, 27, was an all-American University of Nebraska sprinter and hurdler, and used to compete on the track against another Pickering athlete -- world silver medallist Perdita Felicien. At Nebraska, she earned a Bachelor of Science degree in English and Biological Sciences and a Master's Degree in Educational Psychology while on a track and field scholarship.

After university Brown took up weightlifting, and considered bobsleigh only after being recruited by 2006 Olympic bobsleigh pilot Suzanne Gavine-Hlady. The experienced Gavine-Hlady observed Brown's speed and strength and convinced her to head out to Calgary and test herself.

"I actually didn't really like it the first time I went down the track, I have to say," Brown recalled this week after a training session in Turin, Italy. "I'm a little bit claustrophobic, and I've got my head between my knees, and I'm in this little egg-shaped thing in a tunnel and I didn't know where we were on the track."

She admitted with a giggle, "It's pretty dark. Well, I kept my eyes closed."

Since then, Brown has made it her business to learn the twists and turns of the world's tracks, so she doesn't throw off her sled's balance by leaning the wrong way. And despite sitting out her first national trials with a torn hamstring, Brown's push start times earned her a spot on last season's World Cup team. She finished her rookie campaign ranked seventh in the world, with pilot Amanda Stepenko. They placed 13th at the 2007 world championship.

This season, so far, she and Humphries are ranked fourth in the world after placing second at nationals. At Lake Placid last month they were thrilled to set a start record for the facility along with winning the bronze.

"That was pretty awesome," Brown said. "That was my first podium medal on the World Cup and we were also able to break the start record so we're pretty happy about that as well."

Bobsleigh has toughened her up. In track, Brown would compete only if she was feeling 100%, whereas in bobsleigh, she said, it's usual to feel cold, tired and sore most of the time -- and still perform.

"Track is a lot more fine-tuned," she said. "Bobsleigh is not as much, but it's your will, and you have that thing to push on and you have someone to push with. So unless you've ripped something off the bone you're going to go. It's kind of taxing and I don't like the cold, and you're outside in it for hours at a time. It's just funny I chose this sport."

So far, Brown's pursuit of the Olympic dream is purely amateur -- as in, not at all a money-making venture. In fact, she started receiving Sport Canada funding only a few months ago, at the rate of $900 a month. So last summer she returned home to live with her family in Pickering and taught English as a Second Language in downtown Toronto. The commute and having to train on her own late at night were a challenge, so Brown plans to stay in Calgary after this season.

"Hopefully I'll be able to find a teaching position in Calgary," she said, adding hopefully, "If anyone's looking to sponsor anybody, I'm open."


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