December 22, 2023

REDBLACKS’ Bruggeling hopes to add Olympian title to resume

The Canadian Press

In recent years, making the jump from football to bobsleigh has become all the more common, and the most recent example is Ottawa REDBLACKS’ receiver Keaton Bruggeling.

Getting to where he is today has been a somewhat rapid process. It began during his time training for the CFL combine, after his collegiate career at Carleton University.

“I joined CANAM Strength and Conditioning, training with Adam Blandford and he was a bobsleigh athlete for the United States,” Bruggeling said. “There are a couple of Olympians at that gym and while I was training, they told me that I might be good at this.”

In March, he got into the sled for the first time in an official race with Team Norton at the North American Cup. An experienced Pat Norton jumped into the sled with Bruggeling, and piloted his team to gold.

In two-man events, Bruggeling has the role of brakeman. The other role in the sled – the pilot – is a role he’s not yet tried but says it’s loosely comparable to the experience of a Formula 1 driver.

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Although it may look from a distance like the role of the brakeman is easy work, Bruggeling has quickly learned that the opposite is true.

“The brakeman is essentially the engine,” he said. “They stay on the ice and push for longer. Some tracks are more pilot-oriented, but there are also ones that are more push. My whole job essentially is to push and then I get as low and aerodynamic as possible and then at the end of the race, the pilot gives me a sign and I pull the brakes.”

At the front of the sled, Bruggeling only knows what’s coming next if he knows the course. There are no visuals to warn him and he must keep as stable as possible to not throw the balance off.

“My head is down the entire time, so I don’t see anything,” Bruggeling said. “I don’t know when left or right turns are coming and I don’t know how well we’re doing. With every run comes more confidence and understanding.

“You can sometimes turn over 90 degrees in a corner and you’re looking at the ground. When you’re going down Whistler, for example, you’re going around 145 kilometres per hour and facing up to five-and-a-half Gs. It’s insane to feel that kind of pressure in corners.”

The 25-year-old hasn’t completely gotten over the fear of the sport just yet, but with each run, he becomes more comfortable with the risks involved.

“There are a lot of bobsleigh athletes who don’t make it past their first week because it is a scary ordeal,” Bruggeling said. “I call it the big scary water slide and that’s what it feels like when you have a good run, but if you have a bad run, it’s bumpy and rough and you could even get some air time. It’s spooky to get in a carbon fibre tube and go down the hill.”

That risk can be exciting for Bruggeling, at the same time. He says he’s been skydiving before and generally enjoys doing crazy things now and again.

“I’ve always been a bit of an adrenaline junkie,” Bruggeling said. “Getting thrown down the hill the first time was rough. It’s hard on your body and they shove a camera in your face when you get to the bottom, it’s a tradition. They get everyone’s immediate reactions.”

Competing primarily in two-man, Bruggeling has begun taking strides to get into the four-man sled, which is an entirely different animal.

“It’s more like dancing bears,” he said. “Trying to get four guys into the sled in about a second while you’re sprinting downhill is about the scariest thing I have done. I’ve only had a couple of reps of it, but I’m getting better at it.”

Despite never thinking this would be a possibility, and only watching the sport in passing during the Olympics, Bruggeling suddenly has aspirations to become an Olympian.

“I’m definitely on the right track,” Bruggeling said. “I’m running with the top guys in Canada, and I have extremely high hopes. I think it’s achievable but it’s going to take a lot of hard work. I need to keep progressing.”

The balance between football and bobsleigh, however, has been important. At times, he’s turned to fellow Carleton alum Jacob Dearborn – who is with the Hamilton Tiger-Cats and is a bobsleigh Olympian – looking for advice.

Thankfully, Bruggeling has been able to keep himself ready for the impending football season, employing workouts shared between the sports.

“I’m supposed to be about 235 pounds for bobsled, but I can’t do that, the REDBLACKS wouldn’t be happy with that,” Bruggeling said. “The workout program is mostly the same in the gym so in that respect, it’s pretty easy to balance. But I make sure I’ve got my cleats on me so I can find some turf to train.”

His lofty bobsleigh goals won’t stand in the way of an important season with the REDBLACKS, however.

“Football is always No. 1, it’s my first passion and first love,” Bruggeling explained. “It truly is my priority. It’s at the front of my brain.”

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