An Olympic medalist made a visit to Ecole Lacombe Upper Elementary School last week.
Last week, Lacombe-born Olympic skeleton athlete Mellisa Hollingsworth visited the school to share her story and talk to students about the importance of overcoming adversity, never giving up and always trying your hardest to reach your goals.
Throughout her presentation, Hollingsworth detailed the roller coaster journey that was her career in skeleton.
She told the students in attendance all about the many successes and failures that were part of that journey.
Hollingsworth said it was her cousin, skeleton champion Ryan Davenport, who got her into the sport when she was 15. Three months after earning her skeleton license, Hollingsworth won the Canadian Championships.
She said her early success in the sport was likely a large contributing factor to her becoming so dedicated to it and forming the goal of sliding at the Olympics.
When women’s skeleton was making its debut at the 2002 Olympic Games in Salt Lake City, Hollingsworth thought she might get to realize her dream at the very first Games featuring her sport. However, during a race-off to a teammate only three weeks before the Games, Hollingsworth lost her spot.
Instead, Hollingsworth would make her Olympic debut at the 2006 Olympic Games in Torino as the top-ranked slider in the world heavily favoured to win gold. During her first run at those Games, Hollingsworth nearly crashed going through one of the corners.
Knowing she would have to correct that mistake to still finish in the bronze medal position, Hollingsworth was very focused on that particular turn going into her second and final run.
But due to her fixation on the turn, Hollingsworth over-corrected and went completely sideways into the corner. Still, Hollingsworth managed to finish in third place and brought home a bronze medal from Torino.
At the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver, when Hollingsworth had the opportunity to win an Olympic gold medal on home soil, things did not go so well.
After a grueling training camp that left Hollingsworth with multiple stitches to her face, a concussion and a broken sled shook her confidence, Hollingsworth eventually found the determination to once again enter the Olympic Games heavily favoured to win gold.
But, things continued to work against Hollingsworth even after she made it into the Games. In silver medal position going into her final run, Hollingsworth crashed and as a result finished fifth instead of first.
She would finish her Canadian Olympic experience without a medal.
“I was devastated.”
Despite her feelings of disappointment, Hollingsworth grabbed the Canadian flag, held it high, congratulated the medal winners and retired silently to the finish house. Hollingsworth said sitting in the finish house, her recent run felt like it was a bad dream.
She took small solace in the fact that on her last run she broke a record with her start time, but still felt upset because that was not what she told Canada she was going to do at the Vancouver Olympics.
Readers may remember the ‘I believe’ campaign leading up to the Vancouver Olympics. Hollingsworth was one of the athletes profiled as part of it.
“I asked everybody if they believed in me, if I was able to win gold.”
Even though it was only one small mistake that had led her to miss a medal by 24 hundredths of a second, she still felt like she had let the country down to some degree.
Hollingsworth decided to face the media. While it was difficult to deal with the media attention after such an emotional loss, Hollingsworth apologized to the country and thanked Canada for supporting her on her Olympic journey.
“It took a lot of guts for me to go out there and to answer those tough questions,” she said, telling the students about the hundreds of reporters covering the event.
After her performance at the Games, Hollingsworth feared people would think she choked, instead Canadians supported her and showed everyone in the country that Canadians support their athletes, win or lose.
It was that support that led Hollingsworth to try one more time at the 2014 Olympics in Sochi.
Hollingsworth finished 11th at Sochi, but was still happy with her performance.
Hollingsworth then announced her retirement, having decided this would be her last Olympic Games before competing.
Injuries, as well as her desire to stay home rather than live out of a suitcase, were factors in Hollingsworth’s decision to retire. She said she plans to work on obtaining her realtor’s license in the future but for now is indulging in another athletic hobby of hers – horseback riding and barrel racing.