Bobsledder Bujnowski Barely Scratching Surface Of Success

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

by Jeffrey Reed, Editor, LondonOntarioSports.com

Kristen Bujnowski’s bobsleigh career is in its infancy, yet already her story is the stuff of legend.

Kristen Bujnowski. Photo: Facebook.

Don’t tell the 27-year-old brakewoman that, though. As intense on the inside as she is cool on the outside, Bujnowski said despite her quest for Olympic gold, she’s just happy to be along for the ride. Any external pressure put on her and pilot Christine de Bruin to medal will be met with an icy stare.

Bujnowski, who grew up on a farm outside Mount Brydges and was a standout athlete at Holy Cross Catholic Secondary School in Strathroy and at Western University, can’t avoid her new-found stardom, though. Less than three years into the sport of bobsleigh, she is considered a serious medal contender for the 2022 Winter Games in Beijing.

On March 3, Bujnowski and de Bruin, 30, of Stony Plain, Alta. captured women’s bobsleigh bronze at the World Championships in Whistler, B.C.

The duo, who had only teamed up at the beginning of the post-2018 Olympic season, reached the podium at both of their World Cup starts together this season. In early-January, they captured silver at Altenberg, Germany. Competing once with separate teammates at a mid-January World Cup race in Konigssee, Germany, the duo reunited weeks later to capture silver in mid-February at Lake Placid, N.Y.

“I wasn’t surprised,” said Bujnowski of the duo’s World Championship bronze. “There was a lot of pressure on us going in, because we had some good performances earlier in the season. People were calling us ‘future world champions.’ So we were frustrated and stressed out because we thought, what’s wrong with just medalling, or just having fun? Neither one of us had been in that position before.”

Kristen Bujnowski of Mt. Brydges (left) and pilot Christine de Bruin celebrate their February World Cup silver medal. Photo: Twitter.

To say that Bujnowski came out of nowhere to star in bobsleigh is not an exaggeration. Growing up in small-town Ontario, she starred in track, cross country and volleyball with the Holy Cross Centurions. But at age 16 she suffered a severe pulled left hamstring that “never really recovered,” Bujnowski said.

Giving it her all despite the pain, Bujnowski was a pentathlete with the Western Mustangs, and a member of the rowing team. Her five-foot-eleven muscular frame boasting power, strength and speed would later bode well for a bobsleigh career.

Graduating with degrees in Mechanical Engineering and Kinesiology in 2015, Bujnowski thought her career as an athlete was finished. The overachiever volunteered on a mission to provide 3D-printed hands for amputees in Bolivia. She then interned at a prosthetics company in the U.S. before accepting a research and development post in Oakville.

During the summer of 2017, Bujnowski found herself sitting at her desk, wondering, “Is this really it?” Her brother, Mark, a discus and shot put thrower who now competes for the University of Guelph, had been chosen as a member of Canada’s junior national track and field team to compete at the Pan Am Junior Games. She asked herself, “Why is he able to do this and I can’t? I was really angry with myself.

“I don’t know if inspired is the right word,” Bujnowski of her brother’s success. “I was more jealous, and frustrated. I always wanted to make Team Canada since I was a little kid. And then suddenly it hit me hard because of what he achieved, and I didn’t understand why he deserved it more than me.”

In fact, Bujnowski was first introduced to bobsleigh when the national program was recruiting athletes at the 2011 Canadian Junior National Track and Field Championships. But she wouldn’t become a bobsledder until six years later.

Six months into a hard-core CrossFit program which has added lean muscle to her powerful frame, Bujnowski attended a national bobsleigh testing camp in London in June 2017. Two weeks later, she was recruited by the program and attended push camp in Calgary. She quickly graduated from prospect camp to the national team camp, and the rest is history.

In a 2018 interview, Quin Sekulich, head strength and conditioning coach at Canadian Sport Institute Calgary, called Bujnowski physically “the most talented we have ever seen. Her physical ability and stature really stand out,” he said. “She’s a quick learner – a thinker.”

Said Sekulich, “The key is to keep her healthy and find out if she has that champion’s mind. I can’t wait to find out.”

Competing on the World Cup circuit, Bujnowski would be named an alternate for the 2018 Olympic team. She didn’t compete, but she did push for pilots de Bruin, Alyssia Rissling and Kaillie Humphries during qualifying runs. And she did live the dream of walking with Team Canada at the opening and closing ceremonies at PyeongChang.

Now, the shooting star is considered a world-class brakewoman.

Bujnowski and de Bruin capture World Championship bronze. Photo: Twitter.

“It’s pretty crazy to hear that,” Bujnowski said. “I had a good season, but I’ve still very new to the sport. Hopefully, without injuries, I can continue to improve. It’s all very surreal right now, but I’m excited about my potential.”

Always athletic, Bujnowski’s leaner physique stems from her dedication to bobsleigh – and all that competition entails.

“The leanness came last summer, after I moved to Calgary,” Bujnowski explained. “I decided I was going to try to be the best athlete I could be. I was very sick last year, with the combination of the move and the stress, travelling around the world, eating food I wasn’t used to. But after food sensitivity testing and seeing a nutritionist, and then training for bobsleigh fulltime, doing CrossFit training, it all shaped me to be the way I am.”

Bujnowski now lives with two roommates – de Bruin and her husband, Ivo de Bruin, a pilot with the Netherlands’ bobsleigh team. Like Bujnowski, Christine, too, was a track and field athlete who converted to bobsleigh. The former University of Alberta standout has also suffered injuries, including a bulging disc in her back.

“I have a lot of respect for the amount of time and effort she has put into this sport, as well as for her athletic capabilities,” said Bujnowski. “We enjoy a lot of comradery, too. We try to be open with each other, especially when it comes to the mental part of our sport.”

Both bobsledders work with sports psychologist Dr. Sommer Christie, a Rugby Canada alumnus with offices in Calgary and Montreal.

“It is so mentally tough at the World Championships or Olympics where you have to go out there and be consistent and disciplined for four straight runs over two days,” said de Bruin after winning World Championship bronze – her first World Championship medal after having competed in bobsleigh since age 22.

“Having Buj (Bujnowski) in my sled has been amazing. She is so chill and helps me brush off a bad run. She is always there to tell me to forget about things and is always focusing on the positive. That is huge for me.”

Bobsledder Kristen Bujnowski runs sprints in the Ice House during training at the Canadian Sport Institute Calgary high performance training facilities in Calgary, Alberta on June 22, 2018. Photo: Dave Holland.

The duo’s off season ends in late-September when Bujnowski will attend testing camp in order to re-qualify for the national team. Calgary’s Ice House will host push testing before selection races, and then another World Cup circuit beginning in November.

When she’s not training for bobsleigh, Bujnowski works a few days each week at the Pediatric HeadShape Clinic in Calgary where she prints 3D helmets for infants with head shape asymmetries.

“I’ve always been the kind of person who doesn’t like to be managed,” Bujnowski admitted. “I schedule my own patients, and for the most part run it like it’s my own practice.”

But when she’s in the brakewoman’s seat of a bobsled, Bujnowski is the ultimate teammate. Part of that stems from growing up in rural Ontario on the farm of parents Jerry and Rose Bujnowski.

But for the most part, Bujnowski’s world-class attitude was learned at the School of Hard Knocks.

Kristen Bujnowski. Photo: Facebook.

That culmination will most likely see Bujnowski compete for gold at Beijing. But one thing is for certain, and that is she’ll enjoy the ride, medal or no medal.

Don’t bet against her. The best is yet to come.

For more on Bujnowski, and how to join her sponsorship team, visit her website here.

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Jeffrey Reed has been a member of the London sports media since 1980, and is publisher/editor of LondonOntarioSports.com, and LondonOntarioGolf.com. Have a story idea for Jeffrey? Reach him at jeff@londonontariosports.com.

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About jeffreyreed

A leading Canadian communications professional. Corporate office http://www.JeffreyReedReporting.com established 1989. Publisher/Editor of this website and https://londonontariogolf.com.

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