THUNDER BAY – Self-described adrenaline junkie Stephanie Drost has never been afraid of a challenge.
Four years ago she made local history, becoming the first female firefighter hired by Thunder Bay Fire Rescue.
These days she’s got the Olympics in her crosshairs.
Bobsleigh Canada Skeleton earlier this month named Drost one of seven athletes in the hunt to push three former brake women, who have jumped into the pilot seat, as they push toward a spot at the Beijing Olympic Games in 2022.
Drost said she’s wanted to try out the sport for about a year, inspired by a suggestion from her mother, who realized her daughter was missing out on the competitive side of sports, cross-country skiing in particular.
“So I trained hard and basically came out to Calgary and did a tryout. Things kind of led to the next, and here we are,” said the 27-year-old, reached online in Alberta.
She said she was surprised to learn at the time that tryouts were open to the general public, where they put participants through a series of physical tests, measuring the results.
A neophyte in a sport that has delivered nine Canadian medals since 1964, Drost admitted the butterflies were fluttering during her earliest days of training, especially when she finally got to the bobsleigh track.
“Definitely the first time in a sled was a little nerve-wracking. It’s like nothing I’ve every ever experienced before. But I love it. Every time you get to the bottom you just want to go back up and do it all over again,” she said.
“There’s definitely some fear going through my head when you’re standing at the top because crashes do happen. But I think having all of my teammates around me who had done this for longer than me and having their experience telling me it’s not as bad as it looks when you crash. But when you’re going down you reach speeds of up to 145 kilometres-per-hour. So you’re going pretty fast and there’s a lot of gravitational force that you feel. That’s probably the most exhilarating, but also the most frightening part. “
Also competing for one of the three spots is Calgary’s Eden Wilson, Toronto’s Erica Voss, Madeira Park, B.C.’ s Mackenzie Stewart, Mascouche, Que.’s Catherine Medeiros, Scarborough, Ont.’s Niamh Haughey and Setfanie Schoenberger of Abbotsford, B.C.
Drost has taken a leave from Thunder Bay Fire Rescue. When she left she figured it might be for a few days, possible a couple of weeks. Instead she’s been gone for several months, with Bobsleigh Canada Skeleton preferring to keep athletes in a bubble of sorts, with COVID-19 cases surging across the country.
For now, Drost said she’ll be training for the next year, which involves doing about three runs a day, going every other day.
The pinnacle would be securing an Olympic berth.
“That’s definitely a goal of mine, and if not 2022, then 2026,” she said.
Drost said she has taken part in selection races, but has yet to take part in any international-level competition. The team was set to travel to Latvia to start the World Cup circuit, but has pushed back travel into the new year, because of the virus.
“We’ll see what happens. We’ll either compete on the North American circuit or we can go overseas and go to Germany and compete in the World Cup,” Drost said.