When Alex Cafik-Irwin was little her mom would read the Dr. Seuss book “Oh, the Places You’ll Go,” to her and it became one of their favourite shared memories.
The Ontario Tech student’s favourite quote from the book is – “kid you’ll move mountains.”
It turns out she just may be that kid who moves the proverbial mountains as a bobsledder.
Cafik-Irwin has been on a unique athletic journey since arriving at Ontario Tech in 2016 expecting to play on the women’s hockey team.
Due to ligament injuries in her knee, her hockey career stopped before it started. Cafik-Irwin was then asked by field lacrosse coach Liane Chornobay to play for the team and she accepted.
“It was a pretty smooth transition between hockey and lacrosse. They are a little different but for the most part very similar,” Cafik-Irwin explains.
Along the way, the Vancouver native has also caught the eye of Bobsleigh Canada Skeleton as a possible candidate for the national bobsled team.
Last Christmas break, while back home, Cafik-Irwin went to the Whistler Sliding Centre. They have a program where anyone can get into a bobsled with a national athlete and go down the Whistler Olympic bobsled course.
“I loved it,” says Cafik-Irwin. “I had a rush of adrenaline and I just wanted to go down again, I was hooked.
“While I was in Calgary for the prospect camp (this summer) the first time that I ran, push the sled and hopped in it, it was just like that first time, the same deep breath of fresh air,” says Cafik-Irwin. “That different thrill.”
Unlike hockey and lacrosse, where athletes depend on the ball or puck coming to them and teammates being in position for a play, bobsleigh is all about being in control of a specific part of the operation, says Cafik-Irwin.
“You control how fast the sleigh goes from the push, if you have a bad push it’s not going to go as well. You have control of the steering; you have control of the brakes,” she says.
Being a rookie to the sport Cafik-Irwin thinks she would start as a brakeman. Her job would be to help push the sled to get momentum, help with weighing down the sled and at the end of the track control how the sled slows down and comes to a stop.
She explains athletes usually enter the sport between 26 and 30 years old because “that’s when you are strongest physically.”
Bobsleigh Canada Skeleton is starting to recruit athletes at a younger age, says Cafik-Irwin.
“I think the youngest person on the development team is 23 and I’m 21, so it’s exciting if I make it next year.”
This past summer in Calgary, Cafik-Irwin completed training with Bobsleigh Canada Skeleton’s national prospect camp and was re-invited for further training. She declined because she wanted to complete her final year of communication and digital media studies at Ontario Tech. She says she is looking forward to training again.
Teamwork and ambition are deep rooted, with both her parents being competitive on the World Cup circuit – in different sports. Her father, Mark Irwin was a downhill mountain bike racer and her mother, Juliana Cafik was an alpine skier.
Cafik-Irwin credits her family as a major component of her success. Her mother is her number one inspiration.
“She does it all. She was an athlete, she owns her own business. She’s selfless and she’s very professional,” she says.
Cafik-Irwin is very close to her mom, says Ontario Tech teammate and friend Dale Wilson.
“I know her mom pushed her to be her best self and is very supportive of her as an athlete and just in life. That’s been a big inspiration for her,” says Wilson.
Wilson says Cafik-Irwin’s teammates weren’t shocked by her invitation to try out for the Canadian Olympic bobsled team.
“She is one of the hardest working people and a true team player,” says Wilson.
They will all be cheering her on when she starts training again after she graduates from her program in June 2020.