Mike Evelyn almost couldn’t make it to a high-performance recruitment and testing event in March 2018. It’s a good thing he did: his attendance resulted in a spot on the Canadian Men’s National Bobsled Team.
“I had a hockey game that day,” said Evelyn, who spoke to the Gazette by phone while gazing across the Whistler Sliding Centre’s slopes in British Columbia. “But I was able to go to the testing.”
Did Evelyn see himself becoming an elite-level bobsledder on the other side of the event?
“Nope. Not what I saw myself doing,” he said with a laugh.
Evelyn was wrapping up his fourth year with the Dalhousie University Tigers men’s hockey team when he attended RBC Training Ground. This event is held throughout Canada to expose the strengths and abilities of athletes, aged 15-24, to talent evaluators from several sports.
When Evelyn performed strongly at the Halifax event two years ago, he caught the eye of Esther Dalle, Bobsleigh Canada Skeleton’s national recruitment coordinator. Evelyn credits Dalle with introducing him to bobsleigh, as Dalle later took him to slide in a bobsled for the first time.
Evelyn put bobsleigh aside for about a year to finish his degree at Dalhousie in mechanical engineering. Following graduation in May 2019, Evelyn was invited to national tryouts. He was chosen for the team last October.
“He was super interested,” Dalle said via phone from Ottawa. “It was a longer process because bobsleigh runs through the school year, but he still came out when he could to get a feel for the sport.”
Dalle says she’s glad that Evelyn chose to pursue bobsleigh, especially while taking time off from his job at an Ottawa engineering firm to compete.
“Our target market tends to be athletes transitioning from another sport. Not all hockey players can run straight because they’re used to pushing off sideways [as they skate], but Mike was able to transfer these skills well,” Dalle said.
High performance specialization
Evelyn, from Ottawa, considered a second sport while at Dalhousie. He said he had an interest in joining track, but his hockey coach asked him not to join to decrease the risk of getting injured.
His activities extend beyond sports too. According to his online Bobsleigh Canada Skeleton profile, he enjoys hiking and travelling, owns over 100 board games and can solve a Rubik’s cube in two minutes.
Jamie Ferguson, the CEO of Sport Nova Scotia, praised Evelyn’s drive to try new things. He said that development in many sports is positive, especially for high-performance athletes.
“Skills gained from participation in different sports enhance skills in the particular sport an athlete is more interested in,” Ferguson said. He gave the example of how footwork learned in soccer can be used in tennis. “Most high-performance athletes have multi-sport experience of some sort. It’s the most beneficial way to experience sports.”
Now, bobsleigh is Evelyn’s main focus. He described training as “more of a full-time job.”
“You’re grinding all day,” said Evelyn, “but you’re grinding away with your buddies. I worked a desk job after hockey finished and it was hard not being on a team. There’s nothing like being part of a team.”
Evelyn admitted that he was “pretty spoiled” in hockey in comparison to bobsleigh teams. Unlike hockey, which has equipment managers and a variety of coaches, now he only has a few advisors, at most, at any given time. The team’s head coach, Todd Hays, can’t always make it to the team’s training while attending other bobsleigh competitions around the world.
“You’re your own pit crew, your own mechanics, your own advisors, it’s very do-it-yourself,” Evelyn said. Sled maintenance is an essential part of an athlete’s job too, as they are responsible for its cleaning, adjustments and repairs.
The next Winter Olympics will be held in Beijing in 2022. Evelyn certainly has a shot at competing, but in the meantime, his work both sliding and maintaining sleds will keep him extremely busy for the next two years.
The competition for spots on the Olympic team is intense. Evelyn said he has yet to watch many athletes who have raced in major events in the past, plus other recruits who could compete for spots.
“It’s a situation where you don’t really know your competition,” Evelyn added about the path ahead for his Olympic goal. “You have to be prepared to try and beat everybody. There’s a long way to go.”