I have long been a fan of folks who overcome all obstacles and succeed. I see this every day with clients or athletes I work with. People who may have started out from humble beginnings or with moderate talent and rise up the ladder of success with persistance towards their goals. Every so often I see an athlete who does something truly amazing and provides inspiration to us all.
Canadian Skeleton Racer Duff Gibson is that kind of athlete.
Duff started his athletic career with wrestling in high school and quickly become a star in the Toronto wrestling scene. While he was good he knew that he would never be a standout with that sport. When he entered university Duff followed in the footsteps of his uncle who competed in rowing at the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics for Team Canada. This didn’t last too long as Duff ditched his oars for blades and spent several years training with the Calgary Speedskating Club in an attempt to make the Canadian National Team and represent his country at the Olympics. The problem is that Duff was a good skater, but not great. He had all the necessary tools, but somehow didn’t make it happen.
At a race in 1995 he was recruited as a brakeman by the Canadian National Bobsled Team as the coaching staff felt his fast starts in speedskating might be an asset with bobsled. Duff quickly proved himself as a racer and eventually moved from brakemen to driver as he showed an aptitude to compete and focus (which is critical when driving a 650lbs bobsled down an ice track at 90+ miles an hour with five times the force of gravity acting on the body).
Duff had competed for Team Canada for several years when I met him in Calgary and worked with him as a training partner. He had this incredible desire to race, improve and develop his abilities. I have never seen another athlete work as hard as he did. We would work with the medicine ball to develop power, heavy weights for strength and mass, and conditioning drills that made me vomit. I knew I worked hard with my training until I met Duff and he killed me every workout. It was such a great learning experience I have incorporated aspects of those training sessions into virtually all the training I do with clients.
While Duff was a really good athlete and bobsledder he raced behind one of the best bobsled drivers in the world, Pierre Lueders. After numerous second place finished at the National Championships and many moderately successful finishes in international competition Duff again switched from bobsled to Skeleton (a sport where racers first accelerate a 33lbs sled as quickly as possible then lye face down on the sled to navigate the same rugged track used for bobsled and luge competitions).
With skeleton Duff could use his fast start abilities he developed from speedskating and bobsled with his driving abilities he learned on the bobsled track. Duff quickly moved up the ranks of this fledgling sport with a sixth place world rankings heading into the 2002 Salt Lake City Winter Olympics. Unfortunately he finished a disappointing 10th. At this point Duff has spent over 20 years working towards being the very best in the world and his age of 35 was becoming an issue.
After a moderate 2003 season Duff came back with a renewed hunger and won the 2004 World Championships along with two other wins on the world cup circuit. In 2005 he worked hard to prepare for another shot at the Olympics where he ranked 10th in the world cup standings just before the Olympics. He held himself out of the final few world cup events before the Turino Olympics to physically and mentally prepare.
The result…a gold medal in the skeleton competition at the 2006 Turino Winter Olympics.
The impressive thing was that during all the years of work, training, and competing Duff never gave up. While doing all of this he also earned his Bachelors and Masters Degree in Exercise Physiology, and then become a fireman for the Calgary Fire Department.
Five sports, 20+ years of athletic competition, two degrees, a full time job as a firefighter and a 39 year old body that wouldn’t quit. Finally he was able to add Olympic Champion to his amazing resume of persistence!