CBC Sports

Amateur sportsGridiron guys turn bobsleigh beasts

Posted: Saturday, February 11, 2012 | 07:00 PM

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Brakeman Jess Lumsden, left, and pilot Lyndon Rush, right, have made the transition from football to bobsleigh. (Matthias Schrader/Associated Press) Brakeman Jess Lumsden, left, and pilot Lyndon Rush, right, have made the transition from football to bobsleigh. (Matthias Schrader/Associated Press)

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They walk into the upstairs office at the Bob Niven Training Centre in Calgary and they literally fill the room.

Lyndon Rush and Jesse Lumsden are the emerging stars of Canadian sliding sport. Together they are a dynamic and overwhelming physical presence aboard the premier sled in the country.

But the pilot and the pusher of Canada 1 weren't always icebound.
They walk into the upstairs office at the Bob Niven Training Centre in Calgary and they literally fill the room.

Lyndon Rush and Jesse Lumsden are the emerging stars of Canadian sliding sport. Together they are a dynamic and overwhelming physical presence aboard the premier sled in the country.

But the pilot and the pusher of Canada 1 weren't always icebound.

Both are football players of renown. Rush played five years at the University of Saskatchewan with the Huskies. He was an all-conference defensive end and appeared at the Vanier Cup in 2002. Lumsden won the Hec Crighton trophy as the best collegiate player in the country, was signed by the NFL's Seattle Seahawks and spent time with Hamilton, Edmonton and Calgary of the CFL before injuries prematurely ended his professional gridiron career.

In the sled it seems the two have found familiar ground. Both agree that the team concept of football can translate to a sport where the only opponent is the clock.

"It's very much the thought process of football," says Lumsden.  "If he doesn't do his job then we won't be victorious. If I don't do my job we won't be victorious. We both need to contribute... nobody can take a play off."

While Rush has been at the helm of two-man and four-man sleds through an Olympic cycle - he won a bronze medal in the four-man event at the 2010 Vancouver Games - he is starting to come into his own with Lumsden as his brakeman. Together they won gold in the two-man event at this year's World Cup at the same Whistler Sliding Centre that hosted the Olympic competition, then followed up with their first podium of the season in four-man.

"He's a great guy and he's a good fit on our team," says Rush. "I think he's going to get even better. He's only, what, 13 months post-surgery? He won't like me saying this, but he's kind of skinny and kind of weak right now."

Although that was said with a heaping measure of friendly jocularity, it's plain to see that Lumsden is still getting his feet wet and that his potential will take some time to be fully realized.

Pierre Lueders, the five-time Olympian and the winner of gold and silver medals, is now the development coach for Bobsleigh Canada and recognizes that the two football players might be ideally matched in the same sled.

"It takes time to develop the skills and I think because he was parachuted pretty much in an Olympic year there was a bit of a learning curve that was missed," says Lueders of Lumsden's 2010 adventure. "Now that Jesse is teaming up with Lyndon he can be a strong leader. He's someone who can take control of the team and they are starting to gel together as a team as we envisioned they would."

Rush thought it was a joke when Bobsleigh Canada first called at the tail end of his university football days and invited him to a testing camp in Calgary.

"I liked sport and I didn't know where I was. I did know I wasn't going to make it in the CFL," he admits. "So I thought I'd give bobsleigh a try. When I tried it I loved it, and I thought this is so fun that I might get good at it."

Lumsden had a very promising football career ahead of him that was never fully realized. Bobsleigh has more than filled the void. The dollars aren't the same. There's no big contact to push out of the start gate and hop on board for the ride. But there are other rewards.

"There is no better feeling than representing your country," Lumsden says. "I made sure to let the team know I was going to step into this role and work my ass off to help the team."

It's sometimes strange how vastly different sports can share common territory. Whether it's on the turf or on the ice, in the game of football or in a sled, the goal remains the same. You have to cover plenty of ground and you have to work as a team in order to get there first.

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