May 17, 2011

Lumsden retires; shifts focus to bobsled


CALGARY — Jesse Lumsden decided one foot in bobsled and the other in the Canadian Football League won’t allow him to step onto the podium at the 2014 Winter Olympics.

The 28-year-old Canadian running back confirmed Tuesday he’d closed the door on his professional football career to concentrate on moving from the back of the bobsled to the front.

Once considered Canada’s best running back when healthy, Lumsden wants to become the country’s top bobsled pilot and win a gold medal in 2014.

Lumsden was a brakeman for Pierre Lueders at the 2010 Winter Games in Vancouver and Whistler, B.C., finishing fifth in the two-man event and seventh in the four-man race.

“I realized how technical the sport is, how precise it is and how good you have to be to be fast,” Lumsden said during a news conference at Canada Olympic Park. “That’s the goal. It’s not to get down the hill anymore. It’s to be fast.

“When I realized that, I realized I had to put my heart and soul into the endeavour. I don’t want to just place and just get by. For me to be No. 1 in the world, it’s going to require my full attention.”

Lumsden made his announcement at the top of the sliding track at COP, flanked by Lueders, who is now Bobsleigh Canada’s pilot coach, Calgary Stampeders quarterback Henry Burris and other Stampeder teammates.

The six-foot-three, 228-pound Edmonton native won the 2004 Hec Crighton Trophy with McMaster as the top player in Canadian university football. He was drafted by the Hamilton Tiger-Cats and had a tryout in 2005 with the NFL’s Seattle Seahawks.

But his pro career was star-crossed with injuries. Lumsden played very little football the last two seasons. He was a late addition to Calgary’s practice roster in 2010. Lumsden tore his anterior cruciate ligament in his third game after the Stamps activated him.

He had reconstructive surgery on his knee Nov. 15. Lumsden wouldn’t have returned to the football field before September if he’d decided to keep playing.

Lumsden is less likely to suffer a catastrophic injury running in a straight line pushing a bobsled than colliding with defensive backs. But he insists the risk of injury was not the factor in his decision.

“Those bumps in the road aren’t going to determine what I do with my life,” he declared. “It’s a personal decision of how I want to take on this goal of winning a gold medal for Canada.”

Signed by Edmonton as a free agent in 2009, he suffered a season-ending shoulder injury in his first game with the Eskimos. He didn’t play again until late in 2010.

The son of CFL fullback Neil Lumsden saw mostly special-teams duty with the Stamps, but got a few carries and scored a touchdown in his second game.

Late in a Nov. 5 game versus Winnipeg, Lumsden tackled Blue Bomber Brandon Stewart who was going out of bounds, but Lumsden put extra power into the tackle and twisted his knee.

Lumsden was going to Stampeder practice in the morning and then to the track to slide in the evening last fall. He admitted that was a difficult juggling act.

“I was exhausted,” he said. “The preparation with bobsleigh, you’re at the track a few hours before setting up your sled, you’re doing your track walking and your visualization.

“It may not be physically exhausting because I’m only running 50 metres, hopping in and driving for 50 seconds, but mentally it is quite exhausting. I was able to manage it for the short period of time.”

Lumsden had a cancer scare while preparing for the 2010 Olympics. He couldn’t make it through press conferences prior to the Games without losing his voice. Doctors discovered he had lesions on his vocal chords.

Post-Games surgery revealed the lesions were benign, but that experience has made him want to start a fundraising motorcycle ride for the Canadian Cancer Society.

Lumsden is a physically gifted athlete, but the all-out attitude of a running back suits only part of a bobsled race, said Lueders.

Jesse Lumsden (centre) is joined by Pierre Lueders (left) two-time Olympic bobsleigh medalist and Bobsleigh Canada driving coach, and Calgary Stampeders quarterback, Henry Burris. Lumsden announced his decision to work his way onto Canada’s World Cup squad as a pilot and is hoping to participate in the 2014 Sochi Games.

“Here you can have the reckless abandon for the first 50 metres, you jump in and then you have to have a completely different mindset and emotional state to be able to drive the sled as little as possible, correctly as possible in the opportune times,” he said.

Lumsden acknowledges he’s got a steep learning curve ahead of him.

“Anybody who knows me knows that I want to be at the front of it,” he said. “I’m not a control freak, but I want to see where I’m going. I’d rather be on the front of the motorcycle than the back.”

While Lumsden wasn’t able to push the sled while rehabilitating his knee this spring, he could drive one.

Lumsden’s performance in October’s selection races will determine his place on the national team. Because Lumsden is a new driver, Lueders expects him to race the circuit below the World Cup level next winter.

“That’s the biggest thing he needs right now is runs, runs, runs,” Lueders said.

Lumsden had 1,842 rushing yards – most of them in four seasons with Hamilton – and 10 touchdowns during his CFL career. He says Tiger-Cat fans singing “Happy Birthday” to him, and getting to sit in the same locker his father had as an Eskimo, are among his career highlights.

“The last couple of years have been a rough few years and that’s a very short period of my entire football career, from high school to McMaster to the early days with the Ticats,” Lumsden said. “Those injuries came in a slew unfortunately.

“(Hamilton offensive lineman) Marwan Hage was convinced I was cursed and I needed to go see a shaman or something like that. That’s part of sport. It makes for a great story once the end comes.”