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Meet the new kid on the bobsleigh block

Published 19 May 2017 (AEDT)

BOBSLEIGH: Not many people can say they fell into their Olympic career “totally by accident” but that’s exactly what happened to PyeongChang 2018 hopeful, Ashleigh Werner.

“A friend of mine said the Aussie Bobsleigh Team were looking for strong, fast athletes to help test their data sets, as they wanted to update their standards and said I should come along,” Werner said.

“I went along and it turns out they were National trials.

“3 weeks later, I was on a plane to Canada!”

The 24-year-old, who had never watched a live bobsleigh race before in her life, was training with the NSW Rugby Sevens squad at the time but her sporting career was quickly flipped upside down when she found herself on the other side of the world watching the Canadian Bobsleigh National Trials.

“I don't think I had considered how fast they went until we saw Nick Poloniato (Canadian Bobsledder) break the speed record and then it hit me... this was actually a pretty terrifying sport.”

Werner said the first time she got into a sled, she turned to ask the guy pushing her off “Hey, how do I steer?”

“He laughed and said, ‘don't worry, you'll figure it out... the first run is pretty much a blur anyway’, then I asked ‘how fast will I go?’ and he replied, ‘only 100km/hr... good luck!’ and pushed me.”
Werner laughed the whole way down.

“Both with a mixture of terror and at how funny the situation was – a week before I was in Byron Bay playing a rugby sevens tournament.

“But I remember saying to Adrian (the head of Sliding Sports Australia) ‘I want to go again.’”

The Sydney-sider quickly learnt that the sport of bobsleigh is not about having no fear.

“It’s about being able to acknowledge it, control it, and perform despite it - an incredibly valuable life lesson,” said Werner, who knows the road to PyeongChang 2018 will not be an easy one.

“The road to the Winter Olympics will definitely be the hardest 9 months of my life.”

Werner, alongside Australia teammates Breanna Walker and Mikayla Dunn, will head back to North America in October for testing camps and after selecting a pilot, will start racing in November to try and qualify before February.

“We need to finish top 20 in 5 races on 3 tracks,” said Werner.

Therefore, the Australian pair selected to compete at the next Winter Olympic Games won’t know if they have qualified until mid-late January.

“The Opening Ceremony is Feb 9th, so it’s going to be a pretty tense and hectic time in between.

“In the meantime, I'm just working as hard as I can to make sure I am giving my best to the team!”

In her short bobsleigh career, Werner cites coming back from a massive crash in Whistler where she dislocated her shoulder as one of her highlights, as well as getting to film an ad for ‘GoPro’ with Nick ‘Honey Badger’ Cummins.

Werner knows that given she is so new to the sport, the main goal for 2018 will be Olympic qualification.

“We are taking in everything we can at every training camp and race, so every year we can focus on learning new tracks and helping our rankings.

“There are probably two things I love most about bobsleigh - the physicality of it, and the camaraderie and teamwork.

“The pilot has to be four athletes in one – a power lifter at the start to get the sled moving at the hit, a sprinter to run the 30m before having to convert into a gymnast to jump into the sled whilst running (not an easy feat in itself) and then a ballerina with the steering.”

Werner said she is just focusing on qualification at the moment and the rest will come later.

“I’m just trying to focus on the work I have to do to qualify then once we know, then that will be a discussion we have as a team to set some realistic goals for ourselves.”

Ashleigh Knight

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