Long-time bobsleigh pilot Francis Chiasson realized a dream on Feb. 1.
He finally got the chance to compete at Canadian Championships.
"It's pretty cool. It was a bucket list item for me, man," said Chiasson, who turns 64 this year. "All the training that we do here, sliding down the track, led to the opportunity to slide with the national team in their competition.
"I was firing on all cylinders, just so excited by being there."
Though Chiasson and brakeman Mitch Hulse ended up in last place among finishers, they still posted a solid time, finishing 7.89 seconds back of defending Olympic two-man champion Justin Kripps and his brakeman Cameron Stones. Chris Spring and Neville Wright were second and Nick Poloniato and Benjamin Coakwell placed third.
Chiasson explained that, generally, the schedule would be prohibitive to his participation in the national event, so he was glad to get the opportunity this season.
"Typically, I wouldn't be sliding at the beginning of the season. The Canadian team comes here and does some early-season training from early October through mid-October and then they get out on the World Cup circuit," he said. "If we had a World Cup or events in the early season, I'd be operating as an official on the dock, usually the finish dock.
"Come December, I'd probably start sliding ... It would take a few sessions to get back in shape and form up to speed."
As a nine-year veteran, Chiasson is capable, though he'll never challenge the top times put down by the champions. He noted that the starts he and Hulse put down were among their best ever—and were still over a full second back of Kripps and Stones.
Though he often gets his practice in alongside the national-team athletes when they're in Whistler, Chiasson said it still is a different feeling rubbing shoulders with them in competition. He added that he received a similar chance in a recent season when he served as a World Cup forerunner.
"Whenever you drive, there's always a bit of anxiety involved. It's a competition and you want to do your best," he said. "You don't want to crash. You don't want to have trouble. You'd like to be able to perform half-decent.
"And yet, it was pretty comfortable to be in the start house after having experienced the World Cup as a forerunner."
Hulse had slid with a different pilot toward the end of last season, but then approached Chiasson for this campaign. After struggling at times to lock down a consistent brakeman over the years, which can limit his ability to train properly, Chiasson was thrilled to team with Hulse.
"This winter, he's been very reliable," he said. "For all of the fellas that drive up there, typically, there isn't a big line-up of people standing there at the ready to go. You often have to find somebody that wants to slide.
"If they don't have any experience, or limited experience, jumping into the sled, you're not really gaining any ground in the sport. You're not training at your best."
Chiasson, who said he enjoys sharing the sport with new people, acknowledged that many athletes who might want to be brakemen often have other commitments or recreational pursuits.
Hulse grew up taking part in motorsports and developed a need for speed that he can satisfy on the bobsleigh track.
"It's a unique sport," he said. "It gets a lot of folks from different stages of life involved. To me, it's a lot of mental power involved, so you need to be in a really good headspace."
Hulse acknowledged that when he took up the sport, he didn't foresee competing with Olympic champions alongside other developmental athletes.
In the women's bobsleigh event, Christine de Bruin and Kristen Bujnowski earned the win, sharing the podium with silver medallists Alyssia Rissling and Melissa Lotholz and bronze medallists Kori Hol and Dawn Richardson Wilson.
Chiasson and Hulse were also crowned as one of three B.C. medallists along with the Hol-Wilson duo and the Stuart Chisholm and Clifford Crews team.
As for the skeleton races, Elisabeth Maier topped Mirela Rahneva and Madison Charney for the women's victory while Dave Greszczyszyn topped Mark Lynch and Patrick Rooney for the men's gold.