Shelley-Ann Brown shows her Olympic silver medal to children at an Active for Life event

Olympic champion Shelley-Ann Brown’s winding path to bobsleigh success

Olympic bobsleigh silver medalist Shelley-Ann Brown loves reading, writing, singing, and playing guitar. She is so warm and friendly, so wonderful with kids, that it’s easy to understand why she’s decided on teaching as the next step in her post-Olympics career.

At an Active for Life physical literacy media event last spring she was a pied piper to the children, leading them through the obstacle course and activities, encouraging them, dancing with them, and inspiring them by letting them hold her silver medal and bobsleigh helmet.

From active little sister to star athlete

Shelley-Ann ended up an Olympic champion, but she started out life as a little girl following around her active older brother. “I didn’t do any organized sport when I was young, I wasn’t in peewee soccer or t-ball or anything like that, but I just liked to run around and stay active….” said Shelley-Ann in a recent interview with Active for Life.

The first inkling of her interest in the Olympic Games came was when she was just 4 years old and tried to pick up the television while watching Olympic weight lifting with her family and although she dropped and broke the TV she remained a life-long fan of the Games.

From Grades 1 through 5, Shelley-Ann attended an alternative learning school where they had a non-competition philosophy so it really wasn’t until Grades 6, 7, and 8 that she started playing sports. That’s when she started playing basketball, volleyball, and track and field, her “all-time love”.

Following again in her older brother’s footsteps, Shelley-Ann continued with track and field throughout high school, which led to a scholarship to University of Nebraska. The journey from track and field to bobsleigh took some serendipitous twists and turns. The strength, speed, and courage that she showed as a high school athlete made lasting impressions on the people in her community and she was twice recommended for the Canadian bobsleigh team.

The first time she was approached she declined but when she had finished her Masters degree in 2006 and returned to Canada, Shelley-Ann, looking for a new adventure, decided to give bobsleigh a try. She ended up on the World Cup team.

A rocky start with bobsleigh ends in a “two-week utopia”

But it wasn’t love right away. She was expecting bobsleigh to be like riding a roller coaster at Canada’s Wonderland but it turned out to be nothing like that. She was terrified and claustrophobic and after her first day she called her mom and said “I don’t know if I can do this mom!” She laughed while telling the story. Her mom told her to “stick it out and see, you might like it a little bit later on.” So Shelley-Ann persevered and eventually came to love the sport.

And after 4 years of hard work she competed for Canada at the 2010 Vancouver Olympic Games, fulfilling the dreams of her younger, TV-lifting self. Even now she finds it hard to express the experience in words. “It’s like having a dream. You know how sometimes you have an amazing dream and as soon as you wake up you can’t remember it? But you just remember that it was amazing? It was kind of like that,” she said, recalling what she remembers as a “two-week utopia”.

“Helen [Upperton] teases me because she says I started crying when we crossed the finish line and I didn’t stop for like two weeks!”

Early struggles with size, strength, and power

And although Shelley-Ann now embraces the size, strength and power that helped her achieve this momentous accomplishment, growing up it wasn’t always easy to be so much bigger than the other kids.

She had reached her full height and size by age 11 and sometimes she felt that she didn’t quite fit in. “I’ve never felt dainty in my whole life,” she admits. “I struggled with that.”

In high school Shelley-Ann worried that doing her coach’s weight workouts would add more muscle to her already very muscular frame and she was afraid to look “manly”.

“Being true to who I am”

And then in university, something shifted. She decided to be the best sprinter and hurdler that she could be, which meant hitting the weight room without reservation. Describing how she felt during this time she said, “My strength lies in me being strong and powerful. And I didn’t feel any less of a woman. I actually felt even more of one, because I am being true to who I am. And then I found bobsleigh where everybody looks like me … when you find out that how you’re designed helps what you are meant to do then … the importance of all the other things just starts to really wane and fade to the background.”

Along with all her other attributes, this acceptance, appreciation, and confidence in who she is and what she can do makes her a role model to both girls and boys. In 2005, she founded and directed Camp E.D.I.F.Y. – it stands for Education and Direction for Intelligent and Fit Youth – in Scarborough, Ontario. The camp focuses on the whole child and is specifically designed to be affordable and flexible so as many families as possible can access it for their kids.

We can’t think of a better person to help guide this generation of kids. To learn more about how Shelley-Ann helps encourage the kids at her camp, click here.

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