From Barrhead to bobsled: Melissa Lotholz’s journey to the ice track

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From Barrhead to bobsled: Melissa Lotholz’s journey to the ice track
WATCH ABOVE: Former track and field star Melissa Lotholz had a successful career as a brakewoman for one of the bobsled's best. As Quinn Phillips explains, she's now taking on a different role as a pilot in the two-person event – Jan 19, 2021

Melissa Lotholz is like so many bobsled athletes: a track and field star that makes the transition to the ice.

It was in 2013 when the Barrhead, Alta. athlete participated in the bobsled testing camp. A year later after the 2014 Olympics, she took the plunge and moved to Calgary to try out for the Canadian team.

She was successful right from the beginning, starting as a brakewoman, mostly pushing for Kaillie Humphries: the two-time Canadian Olympic champion and one of the best pilots in the history of the sport, who is now a member of USA Bobsled’s national team after a nearly two-year saga to leave Team Canada.

Lotholz and Humphries raced to numerous world cup and world championship medals.

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“It was actually unique how often I slid with Kaillie,” said Lotholz, who is a two-time world championship medalist.

Canadian bobsleigh athletes Kaillie Humphries (L) and Melissa Lotholz (R) are visibly disappointed over their fourth place after the women’s two person bob event at the BMW IBSF World Cup in Winterberg, Germany on December 9, 2017. Caroline Seidel/picture alliance via Getty Images

Brakeman is a cut-throat job. Teams of two don’t stick together to build chemistry — instead, it’s ongoing competition to be in the top sled.

“There’s a team within teams,” Lotholz said. “Similar to other sports, you’re obviously competing against people in a similar position for the spots.

“I got told the night before the opening ceremonies at the Olympics, who I was racing with at the Games. It was a little crazy.”

Bobsleigh Canada‘s coaches and decision makers try to use metrics to make those decisions.

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“Your job is essentially how fast can you get a heavy object, the sled, moving,” Lotholz said. “That’s one of the easier metrics to measure because there’s a start time to match that.

“But there’s also a start velocity — so when you guys jump in the sled, how many kilometres per hour is it moving?”

“There’s also stuff like aerodynamics that is very hard to calculate, you can just say for whatever reason, whenever me and Kaillie raced together we were on the podium over 80 per cent of the time.”

Kaille Humphries and Melissa Lotholz of Canada compete in the 2-woman Bobsleigh during the BMW IBSF Bobsleigh and Skeleton World Cup on November 17, 2017 in Park City, Utah. Alex Goodlett/Getty Images

The ups and downs of being moved from to sled to sled can be hard.

“Pushing a sled has pushed me as a person so much,” Lotholz said.

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“I’ve learned so much as a person, and grown and developed character and leadership skills and those kinds of things. Those are the wins that wherever you end up in a race or on a sled, or whatever, that’s the stuff that is the true gold.”

Canadian bobsleigh athlete Melissa Lotholz training for the sport.
Canadian bobsleigh athlete Melissa Lotholz training for the sport. Melissa Lotholz/Instagram

The good news is, Lotholz doesn’t have to worry about that anymore, as she has moved in to the pilot seat in the two-man event.

After a few races on the developmental tour, which included a gold medal in women’s monobob, Lotholz will make her season debut at the BMW IBSF World Cup this weekend in Königssee, Germany.

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