Born in Lethbridge and raised in Edmonton, Canada, David Bissett has a 5-foot-9-inch frame packed with 220 pounds of pure sinew. His grandfather, Alvin Bissett, once said, "Hugging David is like hugging a fence post!" Not that he's un-affectionate. He's just built like a tree trunk. There's no give.
David is also my son, and an Olympic athlete.
With explosive speed and locomotive power, David is one of four men who hurl themselves down the side of a mountain in a thunderous din on a glorified toboggan. At speeds of up to 150 km/hour (93 mph) or better, they incur forces of up to five G's while cornering, crushing the breath out of them. Bobsledding is sometimes referred to as "NASCAR on ice."
Bobsledders are dual athletes, the fastest for their size and the largest for their speed. There are faster athletes who are not as powerful. There are stronger athletes who are not as fast. Bobsledders are highly skilled cross-bred athletes.
This year, that impressive combination of locomotion and speed comes together from all over the world to compete in Russia at the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics, David's third Olympic adventure. The four-man bobsled competition is this weekend. There are four heats, and the winner is the sled with the lowest combined time.
In the early days of bobsledding, two sleighs were tethered. To start, the crew would bob forward. Thus, the name "bob-sleigh," or bobsled as it's now called in the U.S. These days, four possessed athletes attack the sled in a perfectly synchronized monumental mount.
With a precision measured in hundredths of a second, a crew's consistency demonstrates its skill. In 2010, Canada One — the crew David was on — won bronze in the Vancouver Olympics, losing its silver standing by exactly one hundredth of a second.
The finesse of bobsledding is more detailed than one might imagine. The combined maximum weight of sled and crew is 630 kg (1,389 pounds). The minimum sled weight is 210 kg (463 pounds). Weight is added to the sled if the crew falls short of the required weight.
More muscle means more horsepower. A person's weight should carry itself. Less muscle means more added weight. That's why these fellows need to be so massive. Weight equals speed. Dead weight equals more work. So, big they must be!
There are four men to a crew: a pilot, two pushers and a brakeman. They all push to start, including the pilot. There's no free ride. Last man in is the brakeman. He must not pull himself into the sled as that kills speed. He must continue to push until he can jump forward into the sled, adding to its inertia.
Then off they go. May the G-force be with you.
There's no swooshing. Just a thunderous din as they scream by. Of course, they don't actually scream. They can't because the G-force flattens their lungs. However, I would still find a way to scream.
In Sochi, representing Canada is a team of bobsledders that includes a Mormon who is a father of two, a returned missionary who served in Las Vegas and a Cub Scout leader in the Crystalridge Ward of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Okotoks, Alberta.
It's doubtful any father realizes he's raising an Olympian. But, looking back, there are clear indicators that's where David was headed.
Although he's considered a world-class athlete and an Olympian, he's always been a spiritual Olympian to his dad. Me. There were times I passed his room and saw him on his knees, either reading his scriptures or praying. How many fathers can say that about their son?
From infancy, David was blessed with the build of an Olympian. He could pitch a ball like no child his age. There was no downtime for David. He was either up and going or down and asleep. There was on, and there was off.
But having the build of an Olympian doesn't give you the mindset of an Olympian.
As a child, David was ambitious and hardworking. At age 7, he got a paper route, hiring his younger brothers from time to time. Always wanting the best equipment, David's flier and paper routes made up for the difference we would contribute. If a good pair of sports shoes for him cost us $80, he would come up with another $80 to get the best pair possible. Half the registration fees for football or basketball or track and field came from his personal industry.
Early mornings and early nights were David's norm; He was up early for papers, then early-morning seminary, school, practice and bed. For years, that was his routine. That kind of discipline comes from Kim, David's mother, a champion speed skater in her youth. David's grandpa, Gordon Strate, played defense for the Detroit Red Wings in the mid- to late '50s. Great Aunt Doreen Ryan was a two-time Olympic speed skater in 1960 and 1964.
David's short powerful bursts of speed were noticeable, and Pierre Lueders, one of the most decorated names in bobsledding, approached David at a track meet to see if he would consider pushing for Pierre. Initially, David had no interest. His heart and mind were set on football, and he was using track and field to keep fit.
Eventually, David accepted a later invitation for a tryout in the Calgary Olympic Park Ice House. Hooked and flattered away from football, David went from the Ice House tryouts to his first Olympics in Turin, Italy, within weeks. Before competing in his first Olympics, David had only slid in a sled four times. (Seriously. I couldn't believe it, either.)
Now, as a world-class athlete on the international stage, fans treat him like a rock star. From countries, including those in Europe, that take bobsledding as seriously as Canadians take hockey, David gets mail requesting autographed photos.
Am I a proud father? Most certainly.
David Bissett is a son, a brother, a returned missionary, a husband, a father, an uncle, a neighbor, a salesman, a Cub Scout leader, a nephew, a grandson, a hard worker, a Canadian, a bobsledder and an all-round nice guy.
And David is a Mormon.
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