Priscilla Lopes-Schliep joining Kaillie Humphries in bobsled
Olympic hurdles bronze medallist shifts to winter sport
Priscilla Lopes-Schliep bundled her daughters into her running stroller one morning this week at a track near her home in Nebraska.
Gripping the handles, she leaned into the stroller, and drove, head down, knees up, hamstrings straining, until the threesome was sailing down the track at high speed.
Canada's Olympic hurdles medallist was getting her muscles accustomed to her new sport — as the bobsled brakewoman for two-time Olympic champion Kaillie Humphries.
"They're yelling 'WEEEEE! Faster mommy, faster!" Lopes-Schliep said, then laughed at how they must have looked to curious onlookers.
Hmmm bobsled sure is a lot of fun... <a href="https://twitter.com/LaurynCwilliams">@LaurynCwilliams</a> <a href="https://twitter.com/lolojones">@lolojones</a> <a href="https://twitter.com/BobsledKaillie">@BobsledKaillie</a> <a href="http://t.co/psRvi433ft">pic.twitter.com/psRvi433ft</a>—@GoPriscilla
If all goes well, the Whitby, Ont., native will make her international bobsled debut at a World Cup in Park City Utah, shortly after Christmas. It will be the realization of a partnership Humphries envisioned back in 2008 when she spotted Lopes-Schliep training in Arizona.
"What I would absolutely love is for her to be in my sled the Olympic year ," said Humphries. "And I'm going to set her up the very best that I can in order to do that."
The 33-year-old Lopes-Schliep, who won Olympic bronze in 2008 in Beijing, has been to Calgary twice to train with Humphries at Canada Olympic Park. She hasn't competed in track since she uncharacteristically hit a hurdle at the 2012 London Olympic trials and didn't make the team. She then took time off to have her second daughter Jaslene, who's now two, in the summer of 2013. Lopes-Schliep is also mom of four-year-old Nataliya.
But she's remained fit and strong.
"I've been running, lifting. Everything I was doing before, the 100s, 200s, circuits," she said. "I do everything still, I'm just that kind of person. I can't not do something. I feel like a lump on a log if I'm not doing anything."
Still, she thought long and hard before committing to the pursuit of another Olympic medal, in an entirely different sport.
"I went back and forth a lot, because there's track and [Rio] Olympics next year, and there's bobsled and that's cool too," she said, in an interview from Nebraska, where she lives with her kids and her husband Bronsen. "And I have kids. The bobsled people though have been really supportive, and it's really exciting to see how understanding they are.
The five-foot-four, 148-pound Lopes-Schliep received queries from Bobsleigh Canada as early as 2004, but it wasn't until Humphries spotted her in 2008, and the two became friends, that she seriously considered the winter sport.
"What intrigued me about her was how she starts. How low she gets, and how intense she is, and how she drives. She's extremely, extremely powerful," Humphries said. "The speed aspect, yes, but to see the power output and the explosivity, that's the part where I was 'Oooh, OK.' And she looks jacked, so I was like 'Oh, yes!'
"Supreme athlete from a bobsled perspective."
Bobsled has seen numerous athletes make the transition from power sports, including American NFL star Herschel Walker, Canadian sprinter Glenroy Gilbert and former CFL running back Jesse Lumsden.
Most interesting to Humphries were American track stars Lauryn Williams and Lolo Jones. They both competed at the Sochi Olympics, where Williams won silver with Elana Meyers and Humphries and Heather Moyse won gold.
"They came out and within a year made the Olympic team in bobsleigh," Humphries said. "Priscilla's no different. If anything in my opinion she's better than either one of those two.
"To see Lauryn excel as fast as she did and know we have somebody in Canada that has the exact same qualities, and the same body features — just as fast, just as strong, just as explosive — is extremely exciting."
Lopes-Schliep's best season was 2010, where she was ranked No. 1 in the world and went undefeated through 12 races, capping the season with the prestigious Diamond League crown. She's what Humphries calls a "blue-chip athlete," desirable not only because of her physical attributes, but by her proven ability to step up to the Olympic start line and perform under pressure.
"She's somebody that we know understands high performance, how to get the best out of herself in training and racing. . .and she deals with pressure extremely well," said the 30-year-old Humphries. "The only way to win an Olympic medal in any discipline is to have all of those qualities."
Those qualities have been clear in Lopes-Schliep's two trips to Calgary. Her push times have been as fast as any Canada has seen from a rookie brakeman. She continually asked Humphries and her coaches: what more can I do? How can I be better?
"They said I nailed it once or twice, including the first time I went [to Calgary], and they told me 'Not many people can do that,"' Lopes-Schliep said. "I'm like 'Sweet!'
"I'm all or nothing. I'm all about: let's do this, let's go hard, or just go do something else. That's always been me."
Lopes-Schliep will travel to Calgary periodically to train with Humphries, and will be there for a selection push camp early next month. She'll make her first run down the full track — thus far, she's only been on the push track — in Whistler in early November.
"I haven't felt the g-forces and the thing really going. So far it's just been: push, run, jump in. Then pull the brake," she said. "But I'm getting a taste for it. And I love roller-coasters, even that part when the roller-coaster gets to the top, and then there's the big drop, I always laugh. People scream. I laugh."
The two women say they already have a great working relationship. They like to tell people that personality-wise, Lopes-Schliep is the summer version of Humphries, and vice versa.
"We'll just talk and I'll say 'I feel like I've known you forever,"' Lopes-Schliep said. "It's been really nice. We've had so many similar things we've gone through, that shaped us in the strong female athletes that we are."