Kristen Bujnowski of Mount Brydges, Ont., has realized a dream.
Not only has she been named a member of Canada’s Olympic bobsleigh team, but she is also not an alternate as she was in Pyeongchang, South Korea in 2018. Bujnowski is set to race at the Beijing Games.
In any normal, pre-pandemic Olympic year, her feet would hardly be touching the ground as she walked around. Her head would be as close to the clouds as a human can get without a jetpack.
Bujnowski should be feeling as if she were on top of the world.
However, this isn’t any old year. And this isn’t any old Olympic competition.
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“It’s been incredibly stressful,” admits Bujnowski. “Making the Olympics is hard enough and then you have this virus, especially with Omicron, that is extremely contagious and that you are being constantly vigilant about. Sanitizing. Wearing a mask. Not leaving your room.”
Those are elements faced by more than just Olympic athletes but as the start of the Games in China draws closer, a certain level of concern is rising.
“Every time you turn around you’re worried you are going to get (COVID-19) and then you wonder, ‘Am I not going to China? Am I going to miss out on the Olympics that I have worked so hard for over something that literally everybody is catching right now?’” says Bujnowski.
She has been able to see COVID-19 concerns come close.
Her team had an outbreak just after Christmas where 14 staff members and athletes tested positive. A few others tested positive after that. Bujnowski has been able to avoid it but as the music of Tom Petty always tells us, “the waiting is the hardest part.”
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“I feel like once I get to the village and get some negative tests I’ll feel really good about it,” Bujnowski says, managing a hopeful smile.
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The 29-year-old sees her return to the Olympics as the result of sheer determination sparked by what she saw and learned in South Korea. As an alternate, you get some of the pomp in attending the opening ceremonies but you are also hit with some real circumstance. You are not viewed as an Olympic athlete. You do not stay in the Olympic Village. And you do not compete.
“All of that fuelled me to not be on the sidelines the next time,” Bujnowski says. “The last four years I’ve worked really hard to be in a top position on the team so I will be racing at these games.”
Right now that is the plan.
Bujnowski can go back beyond the past four years to examine what it has taken to get to this point in her athletic career.
Competing in bobsleigh is not something you typically begin to prepare for as a six-year-old or even as a teenager. Athletes find the sport later in life and often the marriage occurs the other way around — the sport finds them.
“Bobsleigh is usually a second or third sport for most athletes,” chuckles Bujnowski. “It’s full of ex-track athletes and former Canadian Football League players.”
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It wound up being the thing that rejuvenated an athletic career that Bujnowski was pretty sure had reached its completion.
“I had done track and field through university and because of injuries I stopped pursuing that. About two years later I felt like I had given up on myself and I had this deep desire to prove that I could still make it. I knew in my bones that I needed to give myself another shot in sport.”
That led Bujnowski to a bobsleigh testing camp in Toronto and she impressed.
She was invited to more and more camps and eventually was named as an alternate for the 2018 Olympic team.
Now Bujnowski is about to compete at a Games.
All she has to do is hang on through a little more isolation and avoid the virus that everyone else in the world has been trying to avoid for almost two years now.
Do that and Bujnowski will be able to walk with her feet off the ground and her head in the clouds as a bona fide Canadian Olympian.
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