Canada’s Moyse is the ‘best of all time’

Humphries and Moyse celebrate their second consecutive Olympic gold in women's bobsleigh. (Photo: Mathew McCarthy/CP)

Sports came so easily to Heather Moyse that it became a problem: How to celebrate success when hugely difficult athletic feats were routine?

Moyse is in Sochi to defend the bobsleigh gold medal she won as the brakeman for pilot Kaillie Humphries in 2010, but win or lose her status is secure:

When it comes to pushing a 170-kilogram sled for 40 metres down an icy ramp–the purest form of raw athletic power the Winter Olympics has to offer–she is second to none. “She’s head and shoulders No. 1,” says Canadian head coach Tom De La Hunty. “She’s the best of all time.”

This is usually where we’d talk about the blood, sweat and tears shed in a lifelong pursuit of Olympic glory. Except in Moyse’s case, it’s not true.

“Training is for people who are trying to reach another level,” says Moyse, who says she never lifted weights or did any work outside practice until she was 27. “I just did sports because I enjoyed them.”

If there is such a thing as a sports gene, the 35-year-old from Summerside, P.E.I., has it. Athletic success came so effortlessly that at one point she considered walking away from sports altogether. “It was kind of upsetting to me because [success] happened so frequently it became kind of a given,” she says. “And I was brought up not to boast, and so there was never really a moment of going, ‘Whooo.'”

Twice she’s led the Rugby World Cup in tries while playing for Canada. She made the Olympic bobsleigh team five months after being introduced to the sport and competed internationally in track cycling after one winter of training. She played three sports at university and was All-Canadian in two of them.

It doesn’t compute. We’re in the 10,000-hour era of athletics: Greatness is in our grasp only if we work both hard and long enough. It’s an appealing idea because it suggests we all have an equal chance to transcend our own ordinariness. Moyse’s story punctures the theory easily.

Even when she got serious about her athletic pursuits, her trainer, Matt Nichol, found he had to pull back: So finely tuned was her nervous system and so adaptive were her muscle fibres that heavy training interfered with a machine that was already optimal. “Normal rules apply to normal people,” says Nichol. “Heather’s not normal.” His goal became merely to keep her healthy and feeling good, and allow her ability to shine.

Moyse admits the whole thing is a bit awkward because she wants to use her Olympic success to inspire others, and “It all came easily” doesn’t always translate. But dig a little deeper and Moyse’s message is far more meaningful. Because sports were part of her life, not her whole life, Moyse has lived a life: She has a master’s degree in occupational therapy; after graduating from school she spent three years in Trinidad and Tobago working with children with disabilities and coaching rugby; she does charity work, and she’ll take time away from training to visit her nephews, thrilling them when she push-starts their minivan as an impromptu workout.

Moyse got her first real taste of athletic adversity in November 2012, when she had major hip surgery to repair a torn labrum and shave off bone spurs.

She was on crutches for weeks, hobbled. Olympic qualifying was a year away and for the first time in her career the odds were against her. But then she discovered that the deliberate, monotonous work of rehabbing was–in its own way–fun. “I heard people doubting me and I found that inspiring and motivating,” she says. “Can I do it? Who knows? I don’t know. But I’m sure as hell going to try.”

Nearly a year to the day after her surgery, she set a push record in Olympic qualifying; she was stronger and faster than ever, and her trip to Sochi was secured. For once, Heather Moyse had to do it the hard way, and she couldn’t be happier.

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