Jesse Lumsden has been given the keys to the car -- the chance to drive Canadian bobsleigh hopes at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia.
The 28-year old from Calgary will retire from the Calgary Stampeders to concentrate on becoming an elite bobsleigh pilot, he said yesterday. On the same day, Britt Janyk, a nine year veteran of the alpine ski team, also announced her retirement as a racer from that sport. Janyk, 30, had won a World Cup race and been on the podium at Lake Louise, Alta.
The explosive and fast Lumsden was born with the tools to be one of the great running backs in Canadian Football League history. The son of college and CFL star Neil Lumsden collected yardage -- but also collected injuries to his shoulders and knees. It made driving a rocket sled down an icy chute at more than 120 km a hour a preferable option.
"There were a number of things that led me to retire from football," Lumsden said. "The main reason is I want to win a gol,d medal for the country, and that's going to take a 100 per cent effort." Lumsden said at the top of Calgary's Olympic track, where he was preparing for his first workout as a one-sport specialist.
"I gathered my friends and family around me who had supported me to tell them. It was going to be my last year of football. It was a chance to do something more."
Lumsden was recruited to bobsleigh in 2009 while rehabbing a shoulder injury. He joined forces with Olympic gold medal sled driver Pierre Lueders of Edmonton to finish fifth in both the two- and four-man events at the 2010 Olympic Winter Games.
The location of his news conference was symbolic, representing the beginning of a new career. The bridging of football and sledding careers was reflected in the guest list. Stampeders' quarterback Henry Burris was on the list, as was gold-medal pilot Lueders -- the most decorated Canadian bobsleigh athlete -- who will now mentor Lumsden as a driving coach.
"The first iime I went down the track with him, I thought it was great. The second time, it was 'I got to learn how to drive this thing.' Anyone knows me. I don't want to be in the back seat too long."
Lumsden was selected sixth overall by the Hamilton Tiger Cats in the 2005 CFL Canadian draft after a standout career at McMaster University where he won the Hec Crighton Trophy in 2004. He accumulated 1,797 yards on 285 carries and nine touchdowns, along with 49 receptions and 630 yards for two touchdowns over four years as a Tiger Cat.
He signed with the Edmonton Eskimos in 2009 but dislocated his shoulder in the first game, requiring season-ending surgery.
He rehabbed, became a brakeman for Lueders at the 2010 Olympic Winter Games, on steep and treacherous home ice in Vancouver-Whistler.
Lumsden signed with the Calgary Stampeders in September 2010 and was the leading rusher in his second game where he scored a touchdown. In his third game, Lumsden suffered a career-ending knee injury.
"I'm grateful... I got to be in the same locker room as my dad in Edmonton, and end my career playing well with an incredible group of guys in Calgary," he said.
Lueders is officially his mentor for 2014 and an assistant coach of the Canadian team.
While competing for Canada at the 2010 Games, Lumsden battled through a cancer scare when lesions were discovered on his throat. Lumsden will be on a public speaking tour to share his story of battling adversity with all Canadians.
"What got me through all the hard times and my scare with cancer was the people I had around me. My support group was critical," said Lumsden.
Janyk said she excelled with teammates Emily Brydon and Kelly VanderBeek. "We had a good group and fed off each other," she said. But injuries and retirements left her on her own a lot of last season in downhill and super-G.
"We do well with numbers and depth," said Janyk who won 15 national titles. She said her first wins in the Nor-Am circuit, Europa Cup and World Cup all were special memories. "Skiing's in my blood. I won't be far from it. I'll give something back."
Ken Read, in charge of Winter Sport for the Own the Podium progam and a former president of Alpine Canada, said he had no special knowledge of Britt leaving the team this year. "If I played and part in Britt's career, it was that I was part of keeping her involved," he said. "You recall her 'pay to play' which was proposed by the team coaches, as they still felt she had potential - and the proviso that if she met criteria she would receive most of the team fee back - which she did," Read said.
"Britt was 100 per cent in support, and we worked with her to help her find sponsors."
She said almost losing out on staying with the team was a turning point for her. "I knew I still had something left, and when I was third at Lake Louise in 2007 and got to run the Olympics on hills that were home for me, in front of my home crowd, that was special."