There was a time when athletes weren't governed by one specific job description. You know, the way penalty killers, tough guys, place kickers or even designated hitters are.
Sport has become so specialized these days. The end result is that in most pursuits you have finely trained specimens who perform a single function with incredible precision and technical success. Those who heave the shot put, track's classic sprinters, butterfly-only swimmers and javelin throwers all fall into this category.
In years gone by, athletes were more apt to be generalists. There were sportsmen and sportswomen who excelled not at a single discipline but on many fields of play. Examples are Fanny "Bobbie" Rosenfeld, who was a Canadian track star and Olympic gold medallist in the 1920s. Rosenfeld also pioneered women's hockey in this country and was a standout at basketball and softball. Each year Canada's Female Athlete of the Year wins the "Bobbie" Rosenfeld award.
On the men's side Lionel "Big Train" Conacher dominated football and hockey for years and starred with both Grey Cup and Stanley Cup winners. Canada's premier male athlete in any given calendar year captures an award inspired by Conacher's greatness.
In recent years one thinks of Clara Hughes, who has won a bevy of international medals in both cycling and speed skating, or Hayley Wickenheiser, arguably the best women's hockey player ever, who has also suited up for the Canadian softball team at the Olympics.
Then there's Heather Moyse of Summerside, P.E.I.
To many Canadians, Moyse is anything but a household name. Maybe she should be.
She was in the bobsleigh with pilot Kaillie Humphries that captured a gold medal at the 2010 Vancouver Olympics. Later that year Moyse led Canada and scored the most tries at the Women's Rugby World Cup in England. Previously, in Edmonton, she was the leading try-scorer and Canada's only tournament all-star at the 2006 World Cup.
As a collegiate athlete at the University of Waterloo, Moyse won OUA and CIS medals on the track. She still holds P.E.I. senior women's records in the 200m and triple jump.
Long story short, Heather Moyse can do it all.The next challenge
Not complacent, she is now forgoing the next World Cup sledding season in order to make the national cycling team and hopes to race on the velodrome at the 2012 London Olympics. She's literally learning to ride a bike again and in the space of a few short months will either click into a higher gear in her athletic career or blow a tire completely.
Don't count on the latter happening.
"It's really motivating to try something completely new," Moyse says. "There are no guarantees in sport. None. And that's what makes it so exciting and a little scary at the same time to put my goals out here on the line again for the world to see whether I succeed or whether I don't."
Watching her work out in the gymnasium at St. Michael's College in Toronto is an impressive experience. At 33, Moyse is apparently at or near the peak of her physical powers. She exhibits tremendous strength and agility in her session with trainer Matt Nichol, who spent seven years as the strength and conditioning coach of the Toronto Maple Leafs.
Nichol knows an athlete when he sees one and realizes both the mental and physical potential that Moyse demonstrates.
"It's a throwback to the idea of someone who is a true athlete, a well-rounded athlete," Nichol says. "She has power, she has endurance, she has great work ethic, a great attitude and now it's just a matter of applying that to a different sport."
But Moyse knows there are nuances to track cycling, which she'll have to master in a hurry. And with only a few turns of the training track in Los Angeles under her belt, she'll have to do it under the watchful eye of one of the national team coaches, Tanya Dubnicoff, who starred for Canada at the Olympic, Commonwealth and Pan American Games.
For all her prowess in previous athletic incarnations, Heather Moyse is navigating a tricky course with her latest challenge and few would give her much chance of success. Still, she remains convinced that in saddling up, she's doing the right thing.
"You don't think about failure because right now failure isn't an option," she says. "I just think that opportunities are everywhere. So many people go through life with blinders on and it's actually about opening your eyes and discovering that something else is just around the corner."
In her approach to sport in the modern age, there's no question that Heather Moyse is a throwback to another time.
But now, as always, her choice is clear. She hasn't yet reached the finish line, so she'll put the pedal to the metal and keep moving forward.
Scott Russell is the host of CBC Sports Weekend. Connect with him on Twitter @SportsWkndScott
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