Road To The Olympic Games

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Cassie Hawrysh a profile in perseverance

Cassie Campbell-Pascall profiles Cassie Hawrysh, who hasn't qualified for the Olympics yet, but the Canadian skeleton athlete is in the mix for the three women's spots in Sochi.

Manitoba native takes unique path to skeleton track

Cassie Hawrysh, right, stands with Canadian skeleton team members Mellisa Hollingsworth and Sarah Reid. Hawrysh is hoping to lock up an Olympic berth for Sochi. (File/Canadian Press)

"Is that the sport where you go down the track head first?"

It's a common question skeleton athletes hear.

And the answer is: "Yes and we experience forces up to 5Gs as in G-force."

So explain this to me, how does a volleyball player get into skeleton? You have to ask Cassie Hawrysh.

Hawrysh played volleyball all through high school and into university where she competed in first year with the Windsor Lancers. Her skeleton career, in a roundabout way, got started after her dad Ray suffered a heart attack.

Wanting to be closer to home after the incident, Hawrysh moved from Windsor to Regina so she could be closer to her parents in Brandon, Man., where she grew up. However, the Regina Cougars cut Hawrysh from the volleyball team after the move.

The determined athlete could not imagine university without sports in her life.

Enter Carla Nicholls.

Now with Athletics Canada, Nicholls was coaching at the University of Regina when she gave Hawrysh some life-changing advice.

Though Hawrysh hadn’t competed in track and field since middle school, Nicholls told her not to worry because she could become a heptathlete, like Nicholls herself had been. It was a humbling experience for Hawrysh, training and competing alongside some amazing athletes like heptathlete and hurdler Jessica Zelinka. By her fifth year in the sport, however, Hawrysh, was the captain of the team, illustrating her drive to succeed.

After deciding that the life she had wasn’t where she wanted it to be, and with the help of her parents, Hawrysh and her family picked up and moved to Calgary in 2009.

Through a variety of track and field connections she soon found herself training alongside skeleton athletes Jeff Pain and Amy Gough. After a three-day "Discover Skeleton" training camp in October of the same year, she was hooked on skeleton. Confirmation that she was doing the right thing came from her mom, who said: "I've never felt this way about any sport you have done before, this is perfect for you."

Hawrysh hasn't qualified for the Olympic Games in Sochi yet, but hopes to soon.

She's ranked 10th in the world and is finally a carded athlete, which earns her $900/month. This is the first summer she won’t have to work full time in addition to training for skeleton. On top of this she does have one main sponsor: a health and pension benefit company based out of Ontario, which is very visible on her training gear.

Her parents formerly owned and operated a commercial sign company, and with their artistic skills they have made "Team Cassie" T-shirts that are sold to help with funds.

But with or without some additional help, Hawrysh will never use finances or lack thereof as an excuse for hoping to bring home a medal in Sochi. Her journey has gone too far to turn back now and, without question, has been a life-changing experience.

Just 3 Sochi spots available

Hawrysh and good friend and training partner Mellisa Hollingsworth have become quite the pair. Training alongside Sarah Reid and developmental skeleton athletes, they push themselves to be better despite many fighting for just three women’s spots for Sochi.

Both Hawrysh and Hollingsworth have had their share of disappointments in life, but both now know that through those tough times they can deal with anything. Hollingsworth, who is going into her 19th season, has been crucial to Hawrysh’s success as she learns the technical, physical and mental side of an Olympic sport in such a short period of time.

Team will be named in December

Hawrysh admits she has a perfectionist personality. It’s helped her to go from a team sport to an individual sport and push for higher personal expectations at a quicker rate.

She has quickly gotten to know her equipment and feels she has that ability to push through technical problems while wanting them solved as quickly as possible. However, that same personality trait can hinder her as an athlete.

She hopes to learn to give herself a break sometimes and to not put too much pressure on herself to be better. Having more patience will be the key as she looks to qualify for the World Cup circuit in Bobsleigh Canada Skeleton’s October team selections – and subsequently, the Canadian Olympic Team, which will be officially named in December.

Join Cassie on her journey through her blog (cassiehawrysh.blogspot.ca), as she pursues her goal of representing Canada at the 2014 Games, and bringing home personal best finish as well as a medal that all Canadians can share.

You can also follow this promising athlete in the run-up to the Sochi Games through: @CassieHawrysh, @BobsleighCanSkeleton

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