Skeleton's alphabet-soup man once lived off peanut butter

His name is tough to spell, but Dave Greszczyszyn has never shied away from a challenge. Like the time he quit his comfy teaching job to chase his Olympic dream.

Dave Greszczyszyn quit his comfy teaching job to chase his Olympic dream

Dave Greszczyszyn hopes his all-in bet on his skeleton career pays off with an Olympic appearance this winter. (Adam Pretty/Bongarts/Getty Images)

At age 27, Dave Greszczyszyn appeared to be living the Canadian dream as a full-time teacher.

He made decent money. He started paying off his student loans. He taught subjects he liked (physical education and science) in a school he loved.

But the one-time competitive rugby and hockey player wondered if he just might have fast-forwarded into responsible adulthood.

So one Friday, Greszczyszyn — better known by his friends as Grizz —called in sick for work and flew out to Calgary to try skeleton at Winsport's Canada Olympic Park. He quietly borrowed a speed suit  — one that just happened to resemble a cow in honour of Halloween — from a student.

"I didn't realize that it would be that hard going down the track ," he says, laughing at the memory of his maiden voyage. "And after hitting a couple of walls, I pretty much had no arms left. I had to duct-tape the arms and buy the guy a new speed suit when I got back."

Upon returning to the classroom, a battered and bruised Greszczyszyn couldn't shake the thought of skeleton.

A year later, the Brock University product moved to Calgary in hopes of one day representing Canada at the Winter Olympics in a sport that requires athletes to slide down an icy track on a small sled that resembles a cafeteria tray.

"My gut told me that was the choice to make," says Greszczyszyn, now 38 and in the hunt to qualify for the 2018 Winter Games in Pyeongchang, South Korea. "I told myself that there would be other teaching jobs and that I could make this work.

"I realized I was getting a bit older and that there was no time like the present. I didn't want to be sitting on the couch down the road regretting not giving it a try."

Tight times

In truth, there were days in the beginning when he might have regretted giving up his teaching paycheque.

"I went from having a full-time teaching job to scraping by as an athlete," he says. "But so far, it's been worth the journey."

The early stages of the journey featured tight budgets and times when he resorted to eating a lot of bread and peanut butter packets to keep his food costs down.

With his teaching credentials initially not valid in Alberta, he took a job driving a school bus and trained between the morning and afternoon runs. Then he graduated to driving buses on-call for Greyhound.

"The Greyhound is a nice office," says Greszczyszyn, who will compete for Canada this Saturday in World Cup skeleton action at the Whistler Sliding Centre (watch live on at 1 p.m. ET).

"I prefer my skeleton office shooting down the track all over the world at average speeds of 120 to 140 km/hr. But Canada is a beautiful country. Driving around the prairies and through the mountains out to B.C. — in summer and winter — is beautiful.

"Sometimes, it was a bit stressful in crazy snowstorms. But skeleton racing and driving passenger vehicles can go hand-in-hand. The skeleton experience helps with the nerves when you're on the highways."

When it comes to skeleton, Greszczyszyn has navigated his share of ups and downs on and off the track. An overnight success story, he is not.

"There have been a lot of disappointments along the way," says Kirk Robertson, who coached Greszczyszyn as a teenager in rugby. "But Grizz is a risk taker, and I respect him for it. 

"Teachers in general are a pretty conservative bunch. So when it comes to leaving a full-time contract, many teachers would have said he was crazy. But it made sense if you knew Grizz. And look at where he is now."

Greszczyszyn's helmet design is a nod to his nickname: Grizz. (Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)

'Don't look back'

Determined and driven, Greszczyszyn finally cracked the World Cup skeleton team in 2013, only to tear his hamstring and narrowly miss out on qualifying for the 2014 Sochi Games.

"I knew I didn't want to give up," Greszczyszyn says. "I didn't want to go back to Brampton [his hometown in Ontario] and be like, `I couldn't do it.' 

"I know it's OK to fail. As a teacher, sometimes we fail. But this was just something I wasn't going to let happen."

At 38, Greszczyszyn is a two-time Canadian skeleton champ coming off a 10th-place finish at the 2017 world championships in Koenigssee, Germany.

Dave Greszczyszyn rounds out top-10 at skeleton Worlds

6 years ago
Duration 2:11
The Canadian finished +3.70 seconds back of winner Martins Dukurs on Sunday at the IBSF World Championships in Königssee, Germany.

Now a substitute teacher in Calgary, he hopes to nag one of the two or three available Canadian spots at the Pyeongchang Games.

Fellow Canadian Duff Gibson won skeleton gold at age 39 at the 2006 Turin Olympics, so Greszczyszyn doesn't see age as a barrier to success.

"Some days I feel old," Greszczyszyn says. "But most of the time I feel really young, and I know I can compete with these guys.

"I'm pretty bullheaded. I believe it's always best to look forward. Don't look back, otherwise you'll miss what's ahead."


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