Kaillie Humphries and Lauren Gibbs celebrate winning the gold medal after the Women's Bobsleigh during day 2 of the BMW IBSF World Championships Altenberg 2020 on Feb. 22, 2020 in Altenberg, Germany.
One year from today, the Olympic Winter Games Beijing 2022 open.
I’m excited especially for monobob, a new event at the Olympics for women, doubling our chances for medals. But I know realistically this Olympic Games is going to be very different than most. The world right now is in a very different place with the pandemic, and it will continue to change making it a different place a year from now.
To look ahead, I think it’s important to look back.
A year ago, I was heading to the 2020 world championships with my eye on reclaiming the women’s two-man title, an honor that I had previously earned in 2012 and 2013. With four world cup wins last season, I was feeling good heading into the big finale in Altenberg, Germany.
After four runs with my brakewoman Lauren Gibbs, I won my third world championship title and my first for my new country. It was one of the best days of my career. It felt amazing to stand on top of the podium, hand on heart, knowing I was on top of my game after such a big transition in my life.
So 2020 didn't totally suck! It started out very strong but ended with so much uncertainty, doubt, fear and loss of control.
I was home in California with my husband Travis when the COVID-19 lockdown happened in March. It hit the world one week after I got back from world championships.
The pandemic kept me from seeing my parents. I couldn’t travel to Canada, nor could they cross the border to visit me. It’s been two years since I last saw my immediate family, but that’s part of the commitment I made marrying an American and joining Team USA. Thank goodness for FaceTime and close family friends who were willing to fill that role.
Like almost all of us, I stayed home through the spring, summer and fall. Normally I would have trained at my gym daily with my teammates, attended training camps, and had access to some of the top therapists consistently. Instead we built a gym in our garage—which became a challenge as weight equipment was hard to find and was really expensive! A shift had to happen if I was to compete this year, trying to maintain my world champion title.
Travis became my physical therapist, training partner, coach, teammate, cheerleader, husband and entire family. It changed the dynamic of our relationship. He’s always been very supportive, but it took some balancing to adjust to our new roles in each other's lives.
Travis and I are fortunate to become very close with certain individuals who have truly made a difference in our lives. Without them, I wouldn't have succeeded last year and certainly wouldn't have made it through the pandemic. Friends who become just as close as family — they are the ones who calmed my fears and helped provide much needed relief throughout these uncertain times. When I didn't believe sport was possible or I got frustrated with the confinement, this family unit helped keep me on track.
Right now, I am in Europe racing the second half of the IBSF World Cup tour. I am preparing for the world championships that will again be hosted in Altenberg starting this weekend.
It was different jumping into the season halfway through when my competitors had already established their race routines. I've never done that before. I felt like I was a step behind.
And everything is a little different this year. Our team is different. Our schedule is different. We have to cram in training runs on specific days, and we are COVID tested twice a week. I’m grateful to be competing, but it’s a lot.
My main goal for the season was to meet the IBSF’s Olympic qualification criteria. This was a shift from defending my world championship title, which was my original plan before COVID.
In order to qualify for the Olympic Games next year, I have to finish eight races on three different tracks between October 15, 2020 and January 16, 2022. Some of those races have to be done this season, as there are not enough race opportunities before the cutoff next year. After finishing the first three world cup races in January this year, I met the initial standards and now just have to meet the U.S. Olympic qualification criteria to make my fifth Olympic team.
Now I’m focused on defending my world title this weekend.
I won on this same track last year; I’m a technical driver, and it’s a technical track. But I am also a little disappointed. I had been preparing to race the 2021 IBSF World Championships in Lake Placid, New York, in front of friends and family. It was going to be a home world championship on a track I know extremely well, which is a rare opportunity.
The international federation changed plans last minute before the season started. It was a change due to the pandemic, but it was sudden and hard to wrap my head around. When you plan for years to be in a specific place, at a specific time, feeling a specific way, and then all of a sudden it changes and there is nothing you can do about it, that is when we are truly tested as athletes. It's no longer about who prepared the best, but more about who can pivot the quickest and survive.
Rather than focus on disappointment, I see this season as a test to prove that sports can happen and that the Winter Olympics can happen next February. It’s been good to get a feel for racing in this new normalcy. Next year will be different again, so I am preparing myself for continual change.
It's about ticking boxes this year. Doing what has to be done so I can put myself in a good position for the Olympics. I don't know what the future will look like or how the Olympics will function, but I know I have to be willing to plan ahead and roll with the punches. Control what I can control and accept reality.
Competing now is a hard balance between preparation, knowledge, experience and uncertainty. There are moments when complacency feels like the only option. Doing just the minimum to survive and tick a box. The competitor side of me always seems to kick in on the start line though, and I can't help but expect to win.
My emotions are torn. I haven't become the best in the world by being complacent. I get nervous, stressed out and panicked at the thought of not being prepared or just accepting average. Doing just the minimum isn't how I became the world's best, and it's not going to yield the results I want consistently. At the same time, I can't give more than my best effort, and realistically right now I know last summer’s training wasn’t fair or easy for any athlete. Each country had different rules and regulations. In the United States with most things shut down for the majority of the summer, it wasn't the ideal way to prepare.
Being the best in the world and preparing to face the best in the world takes a specific mindset. The ultimate goal is being fully prepared for the 2022 Olympics. I want to stand on the start line knowing there is nothing I could have done differently to reach a better outcome. No regrets. I want a free mind and the confidence to know I have all the skills required to go out there and win.
This summer stripped us all of the ability to think big. It was about survival and a shift in focus. Health and safety became the biggest goal, and the Olympic Games were a selfish dream that took second place.
While some days I struggle to keep the dream alive, I have other days when I am just grateful for my health and the opportunity to represent the USA at the top level of sport.
There was a day not too long ago that I thought my dreams were over. Competing now has given me a new focus, and while the pandemic has surely put a wrench in the plans, I do not intend to give up anytime soon.
I know as I stand on the start line this year, it's filled with many other thoughts, and not just driving perfect lines on the bobsled track or pushing fast. What my brain tells me and what my heart knows are two very different things. It's a constant battle, and some days are easier than others.
It parallels how my last four years have felt. I’m in a different place, competing for a different country. It’s exciting, like getting a new job or going to a new school. I'm grateful to be amongst others who respect and appreciate my talents. But I chose a harder team to make—one of the best women’s bobsled teams in the world! I’m a bit intimidated even though I know I have a part to play in the future of this team. It’s humbling but also motivating to know we are a force to be reckoned with.
Having fought for equality within women's bobsled for many years and now being a part of it coming to fruition—not in the way I thought it was going to happen; I thought we would get women’s four-man—is gratifying. I am proud and excited to have two opportunities now to compete each week at the highest level, including the Olympics. That is huge!
It’s incredibly inspiring to know that the future is yet to be written.
One year out from the Winter Olympics and I am happy with where I am at, but I want more. Don't get me wrong — there is still a lot to sort out and many new scenarios to learn. I am not naive to think this pandemic hasn't changed the game, because it has. I am also smart enough to know I have a big toolbelt full of skills that sport has taught me, and I plan to use every last one of them to get on top of that podium in 2022.
My most recent podium performances from this year in monobob have given me the confidence that I'm on the right track. I am excited about the future in this discipline, as well as working towards getting back my two-man Olympic champion status.
Someone will be crowned a new Olympic champion in the monobob event. I have an opportunity to earn that title too, and I am doing everything I can now to make that happen. I know others are also working for the same thing. I am no stranger to pressure or having a target on my back.
I choose to take each day at a time and surround myself with people who believe in my abilities and the shared dream—the dream that I can compete and win two Olympic medals for Team USA in 2022. This coming Winter Olympics will have many firsts for me—a new country, and a new event. But it's not my first rodeo. There is so much more left in my tank, and I will continue to do my best work, live in the moment and take it one day at a time.