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Mellisa's Diary

Devastation…Perspective brought in Altenberg

Altenberg Germany… A stop on tour that I dread every year because I’m waiting to see what bad incident is going to take place. Every year we have something drastic happen, whether I get too sick to race or have been sick early in the week so I don’t perform to my potential. Then there are the traumatic crashes that most sliders can say they have experienced on this track and had the ability to be able to walk away from it. This year the unimaginable happened where 3 of my bobsleigh teammates were rushed to hospital, 1 of them by an air ambulance…


Early in the week tensions were high as we were sliding on track record setting ice so making a mistake wasn’t an option. My teammate Sarah had a pretty bad crash in the punishing corner 4 on day 2. Even if its not you that crashes it can still have an effect on your confidence and I was traveling a fine line where I was scorpion style on the exit of that corner so the stress level was intense every run. I had a different game plan for our last day of training but when we woke up that morning a snowstorm had rolled in and tampered with the ice conditions so bad that training was canceled and we would go straight into the race 3 days later… Not ideal on a track that is extremely challenging with severe consequences, but that was the way the cookie crumbled.


That night as I walked into the dining room at our hotel I saw a Swiss bobsleigh coach that had a look on her face that I will never forget. I asked her “how did the snow affect your training?” “There’s been an accident… with team Canada” she stated. I immediately felt sick… those words aren’t just thrown around and with this Altenberg track its almost expected. “Some of your teammates have been air lifted to the hospital… it was Team Spring” she added.


I have been around this sport for more than half of my life and have seen many different kinds of athletes and personalities come and go… but Canada’s “Team Spring” has had the biggest impact on me. They literally are like the “Rudy” of Bobsleigh and this year they had a major break through on the World cup scene by out pushing some of the best teams in the world and breaking into the top 10 in the world. And whatever… those are just results. Chris Spring, Tim Randall, Bill Thomas, Graeme Rinholm & Derek Plug are some of the most unique, genuine fun-loving guys I have ever met. They define what a true TEAM means. On each of their Facebook pages you will find numerous pictures of the 5 of them together living the dream toward their Olympic journey. The 5 of them exude an overwhelming positive aura… HONESTLY! You can’t help but to smile or giggle when you see one of them because of their interesting choice in style (mullets & moustaches) or because they take the time to say hi and ask about your day.


As the night went on we were getting sporadic updates and some misinformation was getting cleared up on exactly what happened. The news that was relayed wasn’t good. Injuries sustained from a bobsled going through a roof at over 125km/hr and the result being that the sled wasn’t recognizable afterwards with shards of the wooden roof impaled in the fiberglass body, which inevitably made its way into the bodies of our Canadian athletes… Gruesome and an absolutely horrifying accident that I can’t even begin to imagine the pain and fear these athletes experienced. “Chris Spring, 27, was airlifted to Dresden University Hospital where he is in stable condition with a broken nose, lacerations and bruising sustained in the crash. Bill Thomas, 26, was ground transported via ambulance to Dresden University Hospital, and has been cleared of major back injury which was originally suspected.  Thomas is also recovering from various bruised lungs and minor trauma. Graeme Rinholm, 26, was ground transported to the local Pirna Hospital with a broken fibula, lacerations to his upper legs, buttocks and underlying musculature.” I’m sorry but I have to say what I think here… I read this excerpt from the press release and I feel we are desensitized from the reality of the situation. It makes me emotional that this traumatic incident has been summed up with words such as “stable” “minor trauma”. These lives will forever be changed… it is very possible an Olympic dream came to a crashing halt this day in Altenberg, Germany…


You might be reading this thinking “why are you being so negative? They are alive…” Of course I’m thankful they are alive! I feel I’m being more honest than negative. These hard working, talented athletes just experienced life changing and dream destroying trauma. Being active and competitive innately exists in these guys. It’s not your typical crash where you give a chummy punch to the chops saying you will be back in the saddle soon.


As you can tell I have been hugely affected by this incident so when I stood on the start line for my world cup race I had tears well up in my eyes. I felt guilty that I had the opportunity to do something we take for granted everyday as healthy, competitive athletes. I felt uneasy that I would be sliding down a track where my teammates blood lay. I was extremely emotional… Amy, Sarah & I decided to put the 5 Guys names on our sled to have them along with us as we represented Canada. When I put my sled down in the groove I read the 5 names and I remember while I was pushing thinking this is part they loved. The fast, explosive aggression we create off the block propelling our sleds to top speed. It pulled something out of me because despite the snow storm I still pushed a personal best, bettering my last fastest push set in Jan 2006 just before I won an Olympic medal. But when I loaded on my sled there was an eeriness that I just couldn’t shake. I had a pretty shaky run that was still good enough to put me in 5th spot. Of course I was disappointed, I wanted to lay my fear of this track to rest this season… but it wasn’t meant to be this time. 5th was good enough to reclaim the World Cup Leader yellow bib as we head to Konigssee, Germany racing this Friday.


The last update I had on the guys is Chris Spring & Graeme Rinholm will be kept in the hospital until their wounds are closed up enough that infection isn’t a risk. Bill Thomas will be released soon. As I head to Konigssee I have a great appreciation for life and the people who come into mine. We sometimes get so caught up in our lives and setting our goals and focusing on being FOCUSED… Its people like “Team Spring” who remind us we can be great at what we do, have fun while we do it & make those around us smile…

Here’s a video they made at the last world cup in Winterberg, Germany just before Christmas… ENJOY!!! Hearts on Fire http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xe-xFJ8EMa0&sns=fb

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  1. Ted Stovin
    Posted January 11, 2012 at 7:11 pm | Permalink

    Mellisa, Great story. I really didn’t realize how similar to rodeo that sliding is. I hope they guys heal up well and some day possibly get their chance. I look forward to hearing more from your blog in the future! Best of luck to you as well. Ted

  2. Randy Metchewais
    Posted January 12, 2012 at 12:22 am | Permalink

    Good day and we in Canada heard of the incident. Glad your doing fine and stay as strong as possible. Tripping and falling happens Mellisa. Its the champs who get off the canvas and continue. As we say in C.L.F.N., ” GIV ER”!!!!!

  3. Dad
    Posted January 12, 2012 at 12:38 pm | Permalink

    Thank You

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