The first thing to know about Kaillie Humphries is the Canadian women's bobsleigh team veteran is an inveterate chatterbox.
She is the antithesis of the modern-day athlete, blurting from the heart about all manner of things. Her body is covered with tattoos, commemorating everything from her family to all the successful moments in her sledding career, including the Olympic gold medal she won in 2010. And ultimately, she hopes to break new ground by convincing bobsleigh's governing body (FIBT) to allow women to compete in the four-man category (they currently only race two-man sleds).
"Whether it's in a full women's field or just me with three other dudes in a four-man race, it's got to start somewhere," Humphries said Tuesday, before the Canadian men's and women's teams had their first crack at the Sochi Games bobsleigh track.
Humphries is here, trying to defend the title she won at the Vancouver Olympics with Heather Moyse as her brakeman. Their partnership has been on hold the past two seasons, as Moyse took time off from the sport and Humphries pressed on. (Moyse turned her attention to rugby and won a spot on the Canadian national team that competed in in the women's World Cup.)
It has been a long, circuitous road back to their starting place, particularly for Moyse, who also took time off in the fall of 2012 to allow a persistent ankle injury to heal. Soon after, she received more bad news: Three separate surgical consultations revealed the pain in her right hip would require surgery.
"For me, I've had a bit of self-discovery over the past two or three years – realizing that I thrive better and am more motivated when the challenges seem bigger or almost insurmountable," Moyse said. "Knowing I had these goals, both to come back to rugby and to bobsledding in an Olympic season, was really motivating for me. That's what carried me through all the rehab."
Two years ago, Jenny Ciochetti put her driving career on hold to act as brakeman for Humphries during Moyse's absence, but she is now piloting her own sled in Sochi, with medal aspirations as well.
"It's always good having the best in the world ahead of you because, even if you're trying to reach her and you don't, you're at least getting up there," Ciochetti said. "Kaillie's a super hard worker. She's always setting big goals and going after them and achieving them. It's quite an inspiration to follow that and to chase her down."
Even though she has been at it for a while now, Humphries insists she is still learning her craft every time she takes on a new course.
"Driving-wise, they say it takes eight to 10 years to build a really good bobsled pilot," Humphries said. "I'm at year 8 right now, so I feel like I'm finally understanding what that means.
"There's just not a lot of time on the track to develop your skills. You have six runs on the track before your two race runs, so eight in total [per event]. I may do a couple of hundred runs total per season, and probably take seven months off where it is physically impossible to do the sport.
"They say it takes 10,000 hours to perfect your sport. In 10 years, I may have 19 hours of actually doing bobsleigh driving."
While Humphries has honed her driving skills over the years, Moyse believes what she learned on the rugby pitch contributed to her development as a brakeman.
"To be a really good brakeman requires an ideal combination of strength and speed," Moyse said. "Some people … are extremely fast but won't get the sled moving because it's so heavy. Some people who are really strong can get the sled moving really quickly at the beginning, but then aren't fast enough to keep up. I wouldn't call myself the fastest girl in Canada, but put me behind the sled and it's different."
Despite being apart for two years, Humphries says it was a fairly simple task to re-establish chemistry with Moyse.
"It's comfortable coming back together with the base that we have," she said. "Being in a position where everybody is coming for you and really the only way to go is down is a challenging position to be in, so really we just keep things as simple as possible and push as hard as we can and go from there."
Working in conjunction with students at the Alberta College of Art and Design, the Canadian team decorated its sleds this year for the Olympics, and also named them. Humphries's sled is called Thorfin, named after her great-grandfather, a Second World War veteran. It was also the name her grandmother bestowed on the family sailboat, which Humphries sails in the summer.
Then there is Humphries's body art, the multiple tattoos that cover her body – although on Tuesday, wearing the Canadian colours, only one is visible; on the front of her right hand, where you can read the word "believe."
Belief is a big part of Humphries's philosophy and her tattoos "are all my hopes, my goals, my dreams, my family. This is my life. Good or bad, I'm going to get a few more. I'm not going to go completely nutso here, but I learn something from each one," she said.
"What it is, or how big it is, maybe will depend upon how these Games go, but for sure, I'm going to get something to commemorate this one here."
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