Road To The Olympic Games

Moyse pushes to her potential on Olympic stage

Heather Moyse, who didn't get into a bobsleigh until four months before nearly winning bronze at the 2006 Olympics, is vying for a medal at the 2010 Games — finally using her potential.

Track star with natural speed almost took gift for granted

Heather Moyse represents Canada in both rugby and bobsleigh. (Courtesy Paul Seaborn)

On Oct. 11, 2005, at the age of 27, Heather Moyse got into a bobsleigh for the first time.

Four months later, at the 2006 Torino Games, the P.E.I. native broke the Olympic push-start record with driver Helen Upperton, missing a bronze medal by only 5-100ths of a second.

How does one go from novice to near Olympic medallist in less than a season? With Moyse, it's simple: she's a freak of nature.

"It's a miracle," said her former Three Oaks Senior High School coach, Garth Turtle, who coached her in rugby, basketball and track and field in Summerside, P.E.I.

"She just has a talent to run fast, she didn't have to work at anything," he said. "I've never had such a God-given, natural athlete."

Called a freak

"I get called a freak all the time," Moyse said, adding that when she calls one of her teammates, "freak" is programmed to appear on the phone instead of her name.

Maybe it's because she's broken more track and field records than anyone can count, that at 5-10, 166 pounds, she has the strength of someone twice her size, or because without ever dieting, she's as lean as a fitness cover model.

There's that Olympic bobsled thing too, which she's continued with since that first slide in 2005.

Between then and now, she's done a lot, especially considering she took the 2007-08 season off for school, and was recovering from a serious shoulder injury in 2008.

Brake Heather Moyse (left) and pilot Kaillie Humphries blast out of the start at the Whistler Bobsled World Cup on Feb. 6, 2009. ((Frank Gunn/Canadian Press))

She's collected two gold, four silver and three bronze World Cup medals, mostly with Upperton and also Kaillie Humphries. She placed fifth at the 2009 world championships with Humphries.

Then, in January 2010, she was named to the Canadian Olympic bobsleigh team — confirming her dream of competing in Vancouver had come true.

Fast forward to the Games.

On Feb. 23, she and Humphries broke the Whistler track record and finished the first two heats in the lead.

They'll race the final two heats Wednesday beginning at 5 p.m. PT.

'Just another activity'

What makes Moyse's Olympic journey even more extraordinary is that it almost didn't happen. The 30-year-old's talent almost went to waste.

"She's a multi-talented individual. In high school, athletics was just another activity her parents put her in, she didn't take it seriously," Turtle said.

Yet, she excelled.

"In junior high and high school, she was setting records in sprinting events and winning by 10, 15 metres in just a 100-metre race," said her brother, Walter.

Turtle recalled when Moyse tried triple jump for the first time. She practised for a few days and shortly after found herself at the provincial championships.

With such innate ability, Moyse's carefree attitude was frustrating for the competitive coach. "It drove me nuts. I always thought, if I could just get her to focus."

Moyse passed up a chance to try out for the 2002 Olympic team to work with disabled youth in a developing country. ((Frank Gunn/Canadian Press))

'Accomplished nothing'

After her Grade 12 athletic banquet, where she collected her second athlete of the year award, Turtle praised Moyse's accomplishments, but added that despite her potential, she had "accomplished nothing."

It took some time for the message to sink in.

In 2001, shortly after she graduated from the University of Waterloo, bobsleigh recruiters came calling, practically guaranteeing she'd make the 2002 Olympic team.

Having just accepted an internship in Trinidad helping disabled youth, she turned them down.

"It was more of a dream for me to work in a developing country than to go to the Olympics for a sport that I didn't really know anything about," she said. "At that point, sports was still something I considered extra-curricular."

When she returned from Trinidad three years later, bobsleigh recruiters came calling again, urging her to try for the 2006 Olympic team.

"I started thinking, 'I wonder if I could actually do well at this?,'" she said, noting she'd never even been in a bobsled.

Driving force

Finally, her high school coach's message took hold.

"I didn't want to think, 'If only I could have done more.' I just realized I needed to see how much talent I could have. So [Turtle's point] was a huge driving force," she said.

Since then, she hasn't looked back, and has been working harder than ever to reach her potential.

Referring back to Torino, she said her goal in 2010 is to "resolve this unfinished business, this feeling of coming fourth."

"My personal goal will be to have best push of my life….and ideally, that it will lead to a podium finish," she said.

As she fights to reach the podium in Whistler — with her mom Sharon, dad Cyril, brother Walter and sister Heidi watching — another familiar face has appeared.

For Christmas, Turtle's daughters surprised him with tickets to the women's Olympic bobsleigh event.

"They called me last night and they're sending me," he said in November 2009. "I cried last night I was so excited…. It's pretty neat."

And fitting.

Said Moyse, "[Going to the Games] will be for all of these people that got me to where I am."