BARRHEAD - Melissa Lotholz has returned to her rightful place at the front of a bobsleigh after taking a year's sabbatical away from the sport.
The 30-year-old Barrhead native and two-time Olympian informed Canada Bobsleigh Skeleton that she would return in the spring, resuming training in May in Edmonton before going to Calgary for meetings and upcoming planning sessions with team officials.
After the Beijing Winter Olympics 2022, where she finished 12th with brakeman Sara Villani, “I needed that time to reset and refresh to come back healthy again," she said in a Sept. 13 interview from Calgary before starting a training session at Canada Olympic Park's famed icehouse.
The icehouse is a state-of-the-art facility that allows bobsledders to practice their push starts in real-world conditions despite the lack of snow or ice.
But her sabbatical wasn't a vacation. Lotholz used the time to complete her Bachelor of Science in Nutrition and Food Sciences degree with a minor in physical activity from the University of Alberta. She wrote her last final in August and will convocate in October.
It also allowed her to work with Athletes in Action, a Christian sport-related organization dedicated to developing the complete athlete.
"This organization changed my life by how supportive it is. My faith is central to who I am, and to have Athletes in Action, I could connect with a faith community, even when I was on the road," she told the Leader in a December interview.
Lotholz noted in her year away, there have been a lot of changes to Canada's bobsleigh program, particularly on the women's side.
Due to funding issues, retirements and other factors, the Canadian women's bobsleigh lost its third World Cup spot.
So, the coaches decided that the two pilots who competed on the World Cup circuit last season, Cynthia Appiah and Bianca Ribi, would do so again. Lotholz will compete on the North America Cup circuit as part of Canada's development team, where she will pilot a sled in both the monobob and two-women events.
"It is a great opportunity to not only get more runs in a sled but to gain experience on the track for next year's world championships in Lake Placid, New York," she said.
After Christmas, Lotholz hopes to go to Europe and join the senior team with hopes of competing in the World Championships in Winterberg, Germany, in late February.
Another reason why will be competing on the North America Cup circuit is funding.
She noted that during her absence, Bobsleigh Canada Skelton's budget had been severely impacted because of federal government cutbacks.
"That is also playing into the plans for the upcoming season. I've never had to raise this amount of support [i.e., self-funding] to represent Canada and our community," she said.
Her eventual plan is to return to the senior team full-time to make the 2026 Milano-Cortina Olympic team.
After the bobsleigh team finishes their training/testing sessions at the icehouse, they will move to Whistler, B.C., for three weeks.
"I haven't been in a bobsled since the Olympics, and I am really looking forward to it," she said. "But the Whistler is the fastest track on [both the North America Cup and World Cup circuit], so it is a little bit like someone who hasn't swam for a while and then being thrown in the deep end of the pool."
Transition from track athlete to the front seat of a bobsled
Lotholz's bobsleigh journey started in January 2014 when she attended a dryland identification camp.
During the camp, the University of Alberta track and field athlete (in 60 metres and the 4x100-metre relay team) put up some impressive times that got the attention of the national team coaching staff.
Lotholz then decided to make a concerted run at making the Canadian National Bobsleigh Team. She did, and for the better part of four seasons, she would compete as a brakeman, primarily for Canadian pilot Kaillie Humphries. She accumulated 17 World Cup medals, including two World Championship silver medals.
She was paired with pilot Christine de Bruin at the 2018 Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea, and the duo slid to a seventh-place finish.
For more information about Lotholz's continuing bobsleigh journey and how to become a sponsor, go to www.mellotholz.com.