As the Winter Olympics reaches its closing stages in South Korea we have again been woo’ed by sport. From the alpine speeds, big air on the half pipe, ridiculous G-forces on the ice and how fast those curler sweepers can sweep when told, PyeongChang has been a total treat to watch. In our house, we are certainly not afraid of Olympic and sporting action. The Winter Olympics is special as my husband Angus competed in three winter Olympics.
Whilst I love all the competition coverage its the stories behind the athletes that really interest me. On screen, we see the immediate ecstasy and agony of competitive sport. What we do not see though is the blood, sweat and tears over many years to get to that level. Every athlete and their team has a different journey. Some undoubtedly more struggle, others more success and many just grateful to make to the start line.
One athlete who has had quite a remarkable journey is Canadian Bob Sleigh Athlete, Heather Moyse. Unlike a lot of Olympians, I know, Moyse did not grow up dreaming of being an Olympian. A multi-talented athlete throughout her younger years Moyse was told she had ‘athletic potential’ but never chased a career in sport.
Her first success in sport came on the rugby field. Moyse has 22 caps for Canada and played in the 2006 and 2010 Rugby World Cups. She has since been inducted into the World Rugby Hall of Fame and clearly when you watch the clip below she was a powerful force in rugby.
Having just read Moyse book (check out this link) I came away with the following Moyse lessons….
Be true to your values and what’s important to you
As mentioned Moyse’s big goal was not sporting. She was determined at a young age to work in a developing country. So, determined in fact that when a recruiter called her on the back of her devastating form on the rugby field to trial for the 2002 Salt Lake City Olympics in bobsleigh, Moyse turned him down. Moyse wanted to fulfil her dream and she headed off to Trinidad and Tobago to work as a Disability Sports Program Officer. She stayed there for three years giving back to a nation and community who she felt needed her help.
Certainly, Moyse’s upbringing provided her with a strong value set going forward. Moyse comments that whilst her parents are extremely proud of her achievements to date, they are far prouder with the person Moyse has grown into. Family values were central to Moyse’s childhood creating a tight and supportive environment for Moyse and her siblings to flourish.
For the Moyse family Sundays were a family day to spend together. That meant at times growing up Moyse’s parents outlining to sports coaches that their daughter would not be able to attend any sporting practice if it fell on a Sunday. They viewed the importance of the family day over all else. Whilst some parents would have thought this would be harmful to a sporty kid’s pathway Moyse recognises her parent’s determination and commitment to uphold their values and what they believed was important for their family unit..
Committed to courage
Another example of Moyse’s relentless commitment to what is important to her involved her staying in her home province to train rather than shift to the Canada Olympic Training Centre once she made the national team. Most bobsleigh athletes relocate to Calgary which was on the other side of the country for Moyse. In Calgary the centralised athletes have access to the ‘ice house’, support staff and train with other high-performance athletes.
However, Moyse saw a potential shift to Calgary as a shift away from her values. She refused to move full time and continued to train at home. Not with fancy equipment or the luxury of support staff around her but in her own way in which made her soul happy being surrounded by family. I can’t imagine it would have been easy to stand up to your national sporting body and funding decision makers but to me it says a lot about the strength of conviction Moyse operates with.
Age is just a number
At 27 when most athletes are at the pinnacle of their careers Moyse finally succumbed to curiosity. She took a sidestep from rugby and took up bobsleigh as the brakeman for Canada. It was the same recruiter who tried in 2001 who contacted Moyse again but this time she was open to the bobsleigh possibility. Her talent took her to her first Olympics almost instantly (in elite sporting terms). With her teammate Helen Upperton, the pair finished an outstanding 4th in 2006. The following 2 Winter Games however were to belong to Moyse and driver Kaillie Humphries as they returned with the gold medal on both occasions to cement themselves in the history books.
The role of the brakeman in bobsleigh is essentially the ‘engine’ in the explosive 50m sprint. It is the brakeman that generates sled speed in and dictates much of the final performance. So, at 35yrs old in Sochi 2014 conventional wisdom would suggest Moyse was perhaps already past her ‘use by’ date. Yet still she managed to beat the world’s best, though subsequently retired from the sport and had hip surgery.
Over the hill????
So, what happens when you hit 39? Within months of returning to the sport in 2017 (see below) the formerly retired Moyse was within 0.01s of her faster ever push performance. Maybe this whole age thing is overrated?! Having always believed that social constraints dictate much of age related declines in performance I find it extremely empowering to see others breaking boundaries. In turn inherently giving the rest of us permission to do the same! Age does slowly change bodies and response times to training. However, age gives us back wisdom and perhaps performance if we listen to what our body is telling us. Who says it can’t be done?!
“I have realised I am motivated by challenges and have come to realise that the bigger the challenge, the more unachievable the desired outcome likely is, the more motivated I am. Perhaps to see how good I can be – to fulfil my potential and discover what I am truly capable of.” Heather Moyse.
Believe in possibilities and giving back
After three years out of a bobsleigh Moyse was contacted by her former teammate Kaillie Humphries in March 2017 asking if she would consider a return to the sled. The answer was no. Moyse admits that she was not motivated to do the same thing again. Game over.
In a turn of events in August 2017, Moyse was contacted (via an Instagram message) from an up and coming bobsleigh pilot, Alysia Rissling, asking for leadership advice heading into the Olympic season. Knowing Moyse had successfully managed 3 Olympic campaigns and 2 Rugby World Cups, Rissling wanted to tap into Moyse’s experience. Little did she know the effect that from reaching out to Moyse she would effectively convince the two-time Olympic champion to come out of retirement and join her as a teammate.
For Moyse it was not the possibility of another gold medal that was the motivating factor to get back to bobsleigh. It was the possibility of helping someone else to learn, grow and just maybe win their first medal. Moyse reflects “sometimes your definitions of success need to be redefined and they’re not necessarily what other people deem as being successful but what you yourself are happy doing”. It is refreshing for normally selfish athletes to be so selfless. Moyse has returned to the Olympic arena in career best shape ready to believe in the possibility of her partnership with Rissling.
“Wanting and wishing is very different from planning and pursuing. One requires only thought, while the other requires action” Heather Moyse
Thank you Heather
Heather Moyse’s journey to date has been extraordinary. She has defied the expected and traditional route to the top of the podium. In doing so, both in her rugby and bobsleigh careers she has held true to the values which are so important to her. And as she lines up for the final two runs with her much younger and inexperienced pilot in PyeongChang overnight, she continues to empower not only bobsleigh athletes but sport fans like myself. In an era of medal hunting Moyse’s motivation to get back to bobsleigh is both refreshingly honest and an inspiring bit of wisdom for us all.