For athletes like London’s Bobsleigh Champion, Alex Kopacz, the Olympics represents the top level of competition for an athlete. As a child, Alex remembers watching the Olympics in awe of the physical feats the athletes could achieve. “I dreamed of what it would be like to be at such a level and to compete amongst so many great athletes on a world stage,” he recalls. “Being able to represent my country and become part of history is a massive drive for me.” Before Alex started in the sport of Bobsleigh, he was competing in shot put at Western University. As a thrower, he was always considered very fast for his size since, at 280 pounds, he also made the men’s sprint standard every year. “I was attracted to bobsleigh by the fact that it encompassed all of my physical attributes. You have to be as fast as a sprinter and as strong as an Olympic lifter.”
It was one of Alex’s Western U sprint coaches at the time, Marty Robinson, who encouraged him to make the change in his chosen sport. “Marty Robinson used to do bobsleigh and said that some of the “freakiest” athletes in the world were bobsledders. I saw this as an opportunity to see just what my physical potential is.” When preparing for a competition on such a grand scale as the Olympics, an athlete must ensure they will be in absolute peak condition on the day. And the only way to guarantee that is to maintain maximum focus, with full-time training and recovery being the sole agenda.
“Since this is a once in a lifetime opportunity you just can’t leave these details to chance, 100% focus and commitment are necessary,” Alex explains.
Setting the course for Gold
To become a top performing Bobsleigh athlete, a grueling schedule is required. Alex spends four to six hours training daily in the offseason. That consists of two training sessions a day lasting two to three hours, followed by additional time for stretching and body maintenance. Since being at a bobsleigh track can take four to six hours, plus the physical training that is done before or after the sliding session, in-season training is even more intense, lasting upwards of eight hours a day or more. In either phase of the year, he strives to receive three to five days of physical therapy as well. That includes chiropractic therapy, physiotherapy, massage and more. Considering a professional athlete’s time commitment to training, it becomes logistically impossible to hold a job through such a demanding schedule. The tremendous cost of training, nutrition, medical, travel and living can be, at times, an incredibly stressful and challenging burden.
The actual amount athletes receive from the federal Athlete Assistance Program varies depending on the athlete, the sport and the likelihood they will take home a medal at the Olympics. At a minimum, the standard monthly stipend is about $1,500 – well below the standard cost of living and a sum that hasn’t changed since 2004. By contrast, Great Britain athletes currently receive about $45,000 annually from UK Sport, which is backed by the government and National Lottery. Despite these challenges, the wealth of opportunity and memories makes the whole endeavour well worth it. To represent London and Canada at the Winter Games would be the highest honour for Alex. “Only a small percentage of people have such an opportunity in their lifetime, and I think going for it, no matter the cost, is worth being a part of something so great,” Alex says. “I love London and have been happy and proud to be born and raised there. I love Canada for all of the opportunities it offers, especially to families immigrating here.” Alex’s father immigrated to Canada from Poland in 1982, and his mother was born here after the war in Poland brought her parents to Canada.
“My representation at the games would be a testament to the amazing potential this country provides to its citizens even if they are just first generation Canadians. My family would never have thought that a member of us could be a part of such a great experience before coming here. Simply put, as an athlete, I would be living the dream.”
Getting Alex Kopacz to the 2018 Winter Olympics
With your support, Alex will achieve the ultimate goal in athletic achievement, not only for Canada but London and his proud family. Visit alexkopacz.ca to learn more about how your donation can help Alex get to the Olympics.
Written by Lin Parkin
Photography by Eric Rockburn