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Melissa Lotholz | Athletes in Action

Alberta’s Lotholz Is Hoping for an Olympic Bobsleigh Comeback

After a transformative sabbatical, Melissa Lotholz is sliding back into the bobsleigh, signalling a bright horizon for Team Canada

Alberta’s-own Melissa Lotholz, a two-time Olympian, is back in the bobsleigh after a year-long sabbatical. 

During her time away from the sport, the Barrhead native finished her college degree and worked with a sports group that helped strengthen her faith and determination. Now, Lotholz is coming back better than ever. But the sport she loves looks much different now than when she left. 

Lotholz joined the Canadia Bobsleigh team back in 2014. During her first four years, she competed as the team’s brakeman–the person responsible for pulling the brake to stop the sled at the end of a run. Lotholz won big, earning 17 World Cup medals, including two World Championship silver medals.

At her first Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea, Lotholz finished seventh alongside Christine de Bruin, who piloted the bobsleigh. 

Woman posing with a bobsled on an indoor bobsled track
Melissa Lotholz | Facebook

Shortly after those Olympics, Lotholz attended a piloting school and became a bobsleigh pilot herself. But after the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics, where she piloted to a 12th place finish, Lotholz decided to step away from bobsledding.

During her sabbatical, the then 30-year-old Lotholz finished her Bachelor of Science in Nutrition and Food Sciences with a minor in Physical Activity at the University of Alberta. She wrote her last final this August and is set to graduate this month. 

When she wasn’t studying, Lotholz was growing her faith through Athletes in Action.

Established in 1974, Athletes in Action is a not-for-profit Christian sport-related organization “dedicated to developing the total athlete…through the integration of faith, life, and sport.”

According to Lotholz, her time with Athletes in Action was transformative. “This organization changed my life by how supportive it is. My faith is central to who I am, and to have Athletes in Action, I could connect with a faith community, even when I was on the road,” said Lotholz.

But while she was away, the bobsleigh world kept turning.

Due to funding cuts and retirements, the Canadian women’s bobsleigh program lost its spot in the World Cup for the third time. 

The coaches decided the two pilots who competed on the World Cup circuit last year, Cynthia Appiah and Bianca Ribi, would compete again this season. 

That decision took Lotholz out of the World Cup and put her in the North America Cup circuit as part of the development team. Lotholz will pilot a sled in both the monobob and two-women events at the North America Cup.

While most people would take this as a blow, Lotholz sees it as an opportunity to hone her skills.

“It is a great opportunity to not only get more runs in a sled but to gain experience on the track for next year’s world championships in Lake Placid, New York,” said Lotholz. 

A practice run. Melissa Lotholz | Facebook

But Lotholz’s placement on the North America Cup circuit speaks to larger problems. 

In March 2022, about 80 present and former athletes went public with a list of Bobsleigh Canada Skeleton’s (BSC) failures, raising governance, transparency, culture, and safety issues. The result was huge budget cuts, including an almost 60 percent cut to the bobsleigh program. Now, athletes like Lotholz are struggling to fund themselves.

“That is also playing into the plans for the upcoming season. I’ve never had to raise this amount of support to represent Canada and our community,” explained Lotholz.

But this isn’t stopping Lotholz from dreaming big. Lotholz hopes to return to the senior team for the 2026 Milano-Cortina Olympics. Until then, she has her sights set on the obstacle in front of her: the North America Cup circuit. 

Leading up to the competition, the team will train at Canada Olympic Park’s icehouse in Calgary, a state-of-the-art facility for sliding sports such as bobsleigh. Afterwards, the team will put their training to the test in Whistler, British Columbia, for three weeks. 

“…Whistler is the fastest track on both the North America Cup and World Cup circuit, so it is a little bit like someone who hasn’t swam for a while and then being thrown in the deep end of the pool,” said Lotholz. 

Bobsleigh Canada Skeleton has seen better days, but it’s athletes like Lotholz holding the sports federation together. After a year-long sabbatical, she’s fighting an uphill battle, but the proud Barrhead native is doing it with a smile… and a little faith.

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