Powering Olympic dreams from the hardcourt to the ice track

Former Pandas basketball and BScKIN student-athlete Alysia Rissling applies her physical and mental strength to pursue a Canadian Olympic bobsleigh dream

Nicole Graham - 08 February 2018

Former Bachelor of Science in Kinesiology and Pandas basketball student-athlete Alysia Rissling will represent Canada on one of three two-person women's bobsleigh teams at the 2018 Winter Olympics in PyeongChang, South Korea.

Rissling's desire to pursue the Olympic dream began in the lower echelons of the University of Alberta's Van Vliet Complex. What was coined "The Dungeon" by many, was the training ground for Golden Bears and Pandas student-athletes. It was in this gym that Rissling watched national bobsleigh team officials test recruited track and field athletes.

"I knew I would be really good at the tests they were putting the athletes through, such as Olympic weight lifting and sprinting."

Rissling's Olympic dream was heightened after watching the particularly inspiring London 2012 Winter Olympics opening ceremonies. Having graduated from the Faculty of Kinesiology, Sport, and Recreation in 2011, the Edmonton product decided to put aside her plan to pursue a master's degree and instead, reached out to the Alberta Bobsleigh Association looking to get involved. Eight weeks later, after a successful try out, Rissling made the move to Calgary to pursue her Olympic bobsleigh dream.

Pandas Basketball head coach Scott Edwards says that, as a power forward, Rissling's best athletic qualities were sprinting and running.

"Alysia is a very gifted athlete and was able to bring her skills from multiple sports to Pandas basketball," says Edwards, who coached Rissling for her entire five-year varsity career. "Her power and speed set her apart from other athletes, and this skillset translates well for bobsleigh. She's also a complete daredevil, so in pairing her athletic abilities with her personality, it didn't surprise me in the slightest when she first told me she was considering bobsleigh."

While physicality is a major part of bobsleigh, Rissling credits the mental and psychological skills she formed as a student-athlete as a major component to getting her to her first Olympic appearance. Not only was she able to carry over her ability to play under pressure and her hard work ethic, Rissling says she was also able to apply the mental balance needed by student-athletes to succeed both in the court and in the classroom.

"Being a student-athlete, I had to learn how to turn my brain on to study after turning my body off from practice, and vice versa. The same applies in my training for the Olympics."

And while her experience on the court has helped prepare her for this high-intensity training, she also lends credit to her studies as a bachelor of science in kinesiology student for adapting to this training.

"I am thankful to have a background in kinesiology, because in a sport where we are fighting for hundredths of a second, I feel like I have a better understanding of the biomechanics and physiology of improving my start."

She adds that her educational background is very helpful in working and communicating with the athletic trainers when her body isn't feeling right.

"Alysia, like many student-athletes, had to be able to find the balance between school and sport in order to be successful," says Edwards. "She wouldn't have been able to play five years of Pandas basketball without this mental balance, and her success in both sport and academics speaks to her mental strength."

The balance of both physical and mental strength was key during her world cup season that ultimately decided her Olympic fate. Her efforts not only landed her a spot on one of the two-person Canadian women's bobsleigh teams, but she will head to South Korea ranked as the No. 2 pilot in Canada and No. 6 pilot in the world.

"I have done my work. My equipment is chosen. All I have left to do is have four great pushes and four consistent drives down the track. All there is left to do is show up and race, which is the best part."

Competition dates for Canadian bobsleigh are Feb. 18-21, 24-25.