We tend to think it's going to be just one moment that grows us up, that changes us; that guides us to becoming that ‘better’ version of ourselves. Instead, it ends up being more like a thousand of them – and when each one happens, there's no going back.
Since the fateful day I hit the publish button that linked my very first blog to the world - more than 2 years ago – this is the longest I have gone without writing… but honestly, the words upon words upon words that I typically am so very well known for churning out – had stopped.
The cursor on my computer screen blinked at me for what felt like an eternity, and as I sorted through my thoughts – like a million file folders thrown into the air – their crash landing meant I had some serious organizing to do.
So, despite the fact that finding the right words to say while continually searching for perspective is tough - I’m ready to go ahead and say them anyway.
To see me at first glance, some people think I'm merely the sum of my most obvious parts: a 20-something, female athlete with huge dreams, a sarcastic sense of humour, and a great big smile. And while these things are all entirely accurate I am, in fact, the sum of ALL my parts. Too often we are all guilty of forgetting to take that into consideration especially when we form opinions and re-tell stories that involve a myriad of main characters.
My point here - is that it is important to note that this account of my 2013/14 season is, as are all my blog entries, entirely built upon my own opinions and my own point of view – and therefore, I do not claim to speak for or about anyone but myself.
Instead of flying to Europe to continue with the World Cup circuit, as the High Performance Committee had decided – I re-joined the Intercontinental Cup squad.
We arrived in Whistler, BC the first week of January and began preparations for Race #5 and #6. My mind and heart had been through the ringer – but I was ready to play the hand dealt and do-so with as much skill as possible.
I don’t need to reiterate the fact that I love sliding in Whistler – I have said it countless times – and this opportunity to perform there once again did not go unrecognized. I trained well and stepped to the line for Race #5 with all the confidence (and perhaps even more) that I have trained myself to hone on race days. But – like any race situation – there are unforeseen events that affect the outcome – that day, in heat #1, it was ice speed.
To be clear, I am not making an excuse – ice speed is a variable that I deal with every time Phrixus and I hit the track - but unfortunately, in this case, we lost control as soon as we entered corner 4. I felt (and very likely looked on the tower-cam) like an absolute ragdoll for the next 12 corners. It was one of the craziest rips down the 2010 Olympic track I’ve ever had – and somehow I crossed the line with what would have otherwise been considered a fairly quick downtime – but my run had been a mess and despite making the correct adjustments for heat #2 – I would only achieve a 6th place finish.
This was not going to bode well for my Olympic battle, and I knew it.
Like anything, when I first started Skeleton 5 short years ago, I didn't know just how many things I was doing wrong. Shin angle, arm speed, body position, head tilt, steer strength – never mind the equipment, weather, and psychological variables… the list is practically endless. So, in moments such as this, a slider is aware of so many things that are in need of fixing that it can become extremely challenging to see anything except ALL the imperfections at once.
Thankfully, with the help of my Sports Psychologist and another hard dose of reality – I came back to the line the very next day and attacked Race #6 with a vengeance – finishing in the silver medal position.
A couple of hours later – my cell phone rang.
Head Coach, Duff Gibson was on the other line, expressing his pride in my day 2 performance and presenting the opportunity to re-join the World Cup team. The criteria, as I understood it, was: if I could achieve my two best possible results in Park City, Utah the following weekend – I could be flying to Igls, Austria to fight my battle at the 7th World Cup race before the final FIBT points (that determine which 2 nations would earn the right to send 3 female sliders to the Olympics) were tallied.
I was elated and flew to Utah.
The next week was a blur. The ICC team and I worked hard to nail our steer timing plans and watched sleds as much as we could to bring our A-games to these final two races on this circuit. My daily routines were great and I was right on pace.
I drew bib #1 for Race #7 and woke up the morning of the competition with the awareness that no one holds your hand walking into a fight. I committed to marching forward with my head held high, my mind steady and my will strong.
Again, as I’ve said in the past, I love sliding in Park City. The track and I, for the most part, get along very well – and my game plan reflected this accordingly. After 3 forerunners had completed their runs – I paused in the start position and then exploded forward – hammering my spikes off the block and into the ice – guiding Phrixus gently forward. Our lines were beautiful. The smallest mistakes were forgivable and I knew we were gaining speed in all the right areas. Crossing the finish line and climbing the outrun - I focused hard. Straining to catch the time on the clock. Suddenly, I thought I was seeing things – the seconds were still climbing – the clock hadn’t stopped!
If any of the officials had ever wondered what I might look like in a moment of sheer terror – they saw their answer on my face as I ripped my helmet off my head.
I followed race protocol: weighing in with Phrixus and then checking his weight alone, but no one could tell me if an actual downtime had been recorded.
I was livid.
Never having experienced such an event, I was frantically trying to hear my options – and then almost instantly I was back in the sled truck being rushed to the top --- if no time had been recorded, I would be required to take my first run – again.
The ride to the top of Utah Olympic Park had never seemed so long.
Luckily, sliding tracks have a secondary timing system – which I knew, but again, had no clue if it had even worked. So when I reached the top and there was no mad rush to meet me, I felt some relief. ICC Head Coach, Keith Loach walked slowly towards me. He looked pleased, and laughed as he asked me if the time that was captured - which was faster than we’d slid all week – was acceptable?
We high fived and I exhaled.
I was the last sled off in heat 2 and honestly, the run felt like a carbon copy of run 1. It was a fantastic feeling. I got off my sled and walked towards the officials awaiting me at sled-control – behind me, a clock that flashed my final combined time – followed by that beautiful number 1. Race#7 = Gold medal.
My spirits were, as you would expect, lifted. I was proud of what I had accomplished, but stayed on track mentally – as tomorrow would come with the personal goal to do it all over again.
After a solid second evening of race prep and a good night’s sleep, my body sprung itself out of bed when my alarm sounded. I ripped open the curtains only to gaze upon one of my least favorite race-day sights: a heavy overnight snowfall that was nowhere near finished….
Our team arrived at the track. I watched as the UOP track workers did their best to shovel and shovel but they simply could not get ahead of Mother Nature.
Warming up outside in the sleet was short lived so I, like many others, adjusted my plans and did my drills and stretches inside. Once we were cleared to start, after a couple of expected delays, it wasn’t long before the time discrepancies from racer to racer were laughable. Three-tenths from one slider, and then two seconds separated the next, and so on. Zero consistency, large in-track snow drifts and the push times were nowhere near our achievements from the day before; this type of snow in the push groove may as well be contact cement.
Only 9 of us made it to the finish house before the Race Jury cancelled the women’s first heat.
No countries protested.
An additional weather delay preceded the men’s first heat – which did eventually go ahead as planned - before we were called, in the same order as our original heat 1 draw, to the line for our final ICC competition - now structured as a “one-and-done” race.
Despite the jury’s race protocol adjustment that had the crew sweep the start grooves before every slider, pushes were still suffering. That being said, I could tell the ice was holding up. I listened with half interest to a couple of competitor’s times, but cleared my mind and took one final shot of courage as I pushed open the start house doors.
Thinking back to this moment, one thing stands out. Despite the whipping winds, the relentless snowfall and standing face to face with a seemingly impossible task - I was smiling.
The light turned green and I didn’t hesitate for a millisecond. The push felt laboured through the “glue” but we powered on. I navigated Phrixus with a mixture of control and release as I felt our speed increasing. Head down. Heart light. Crossing the finish line I was in 1st place, but because of the one-heat format I knew I had more than 10 girls coming down behind me that could just as easily take the top spot.
I can’t remember the last time I watched a trackside race clock so closely.
Each and every slider that followed gave me mini heart attacks. A great push or a great split time threatened my plans – even with my fingers-crossed – but when the final timesheet was printed “Cassie Hawrysh – Canada” was at the top.
That’s right. Goal achieved. Double Gold.
Overall points were tallied for the 2013/14 ICC circuit and we clapped our way through 2 hours of awards. When I was presented my gold medals I sang ‘O! Canada’ whole heartedly but definitely looked forward to the moment I could hear my cell phone ring – I wanted to know what my next step would be?!
The hours passed; my phone never rang.
Finally, ICC Head Coach, Keith Loach pulled me aside and explained that the decision was made – based on a number of factors – that I would not be sent to Igls, Austria. Instead, while I was very much still being considered as a candidate for the 3rd Olympic sled - I would return to Calgary, and wait to see what happens.
I blinked hard. Thanked him for relaying the information, and gently closed the bedroom door behind him.
Returning home to Calgary - the days that followed were uneventful.
While I did not receive any further communication from our Head Coach, I did speak briefly with Bobsleigh Canada Skeleton’s High Performance Director, Nathan Cicoria. I worked hard to keep my thoughts stable and continued to train through the passing hours - preparing for the best possible outcome.
The remaining days dragged on, as time tends to whenever we watch it intently. I had been actively rationalizing a great deal of events up to that point. And may the record show that I am more than aware that my best-chances to secure my WC spot (and likely my Olympic spot) had been during Race #1 and Race #2 at which time I did not perform to the very best of my abilities.
All the same, as making the Olympic Team remained a reality, I never once let up. I never once stomped my feet in protest, looked to try and place blame, declared unfairness or even whispered the word favoritism. I didn’t call in a lawyer or look for a loophole. Each week, I put my sled on the ice and I raced.
I had been somewhat prepared for the ups and downs of this season (read any one of my past blogs and see that the rollercoaster is an integral part of this world) – but nothing could prepare me for the moment the final glimmer of hope in making my first Olympic team – vanished.
The afternoon (Calgary)/ night (Austria) before WC Race #7 was set to start I was called to Canada Olympic Park for a meeting. "Due to concussion issues, all three Canadian women have been removed from the World Cup race tomorrow," High Performance Director, Nathan Cicoria said, as he sat motionless across from me at his desk, “This means, we will receive zero additional FIBT points, and Canada will be unable to achieve a high enough ranking in the allocation of a 3rd women’s sled for these Olympics.”
The silence that followed those words was deafening.
My eyes welled up. My heart launched itself into my throat and I lost control of my conscious thoughts. The only thing I could muster was, "F@&%."
It's difficult for me to even imagine fully verbalizing the type of feelings and thoughts that came with the disappointment of not achieving such a massive goal. But I can say, it felt like swallowing sand.
Over the course of the Olympics and Paralympics I read countless articles and posts from incredibly decorated athletes who continuously reminded spectators that our athletic careers come with an endless supply of expectations. Those expectations aren’t even first and foremost from our country – but most heavily weighted from the minds of the athletes themselves.
"Are you over it yet?" I was bluntly asked just 15 days after the hard news was delivered to my ears.
I don't even know if I blinked as I stared at the family friend who had posed the question. My protective laugh surfaced and I shrugged it off with all the graciousness I could produce - but the truth was and will always be - you don't get over something like this – you get through it.
So while my heart ached with a desire to be apart of the hundreds of daily photos plastered across social media emblazoned with that beautiful 6-letter word: "CANADA" it is my opinion that this type of event can ultimately go two ways. It either crushes you - defeating you and sending you into a state of anger and regret OR you cut it into as many tiny pieces and you can - throw them all into a blazing fire and keep that fuel burning brighter and stronger than you or anyone else for that matter, could have ever once imagined.
There was a time where I used to be on the very outside looking in. Now, in spite of and thanks to everything – I am on the very edge of the frame, with a much clearer understanding and plan for what it is my perfectly imperfect picture should look like. Truthfully, it’s not always just about chasing your dreams – it’s about standing up for them.
*To everyone at my side who has travelled this far, as well as those of you who plan to continue, or want to join the journey down this winding road – thank you all.
You may never truly know the extent of my gratitude. xx