David's grandfather, Alvin Bissett once said, 'Hugging David is like hugging a fence post!' Not that he's unaffectionate... He's just built like the trunk of a tree.
Sochi 2014 is now upon us. Countries from all over the world have sent their finest athletes to represent them on the world stage. After winning the bronze medal in 2010 and now representing Canada for the third time at the Winter Olympics is a team of bobsledders that includes an LDS father of two.
Born in Lethbridge and raised in Edmonton, David Bissett's 175cm frame is comprised of 100kgs of explosive speed and locomotive power. Honed from an intense lifetime of football and track & field, he 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, they incur forces of nearly 5G or better while cornering, that crush the breath out of them. Bobsledding is often referred to as 'NASCAR on Ice.'
Bobsledders are dual athletes. They are the fastest athletes for their size and the largest athletes for their speed. There are faster athletes, but nowhere near as powerful. There are stronger athletes, but nowhere near as fast. Weight lifters are stronger, but any four year old can outrun them. Sprinters are faster, but they couldn't carry a sac of sawdust at the speeds these guys move. These are highly skilled crossbred athletes. There are no ballerinas in bobsleigh.
In the early days of bobsleigh, two sleds were tethered and four men would sit on the sleigh and bob forward to get started. Thus the name, bobsleigh. These days, all four athletes attack the sled in a perfectly synchronized monumental mount. Timing is critical. It takes seven hundredths of a second to bat an eyelash. It only takes one hundredth of a second to win gold. That's how precise this sport is. When the difference is measured in hundredths of a second, consistency demonstrates the reality of their skill. In the 2010 Olympics, they missed a Silver medal by one hundredth of a second.
There are four men to a crew: a pilot, two pushers and a brakeman. They all push to start, even the pilot. There's no free ride. The last man in is the brakeman. He must not pull himself into the sled; that kills velocity. He must run faster than the sled and add to its momentum by jumping forward into the sled.
The finesse of the sport is far more detailed than one might first imagine. The combined total weight of the team and the sled is 630kg. The minimum sled weight is 210kg. That means the weight has to be added to the sled if the crew doesn't make up the difference. More muscle means less weight has to be added which in turn means more horsepower. You want your weight to carry itself. That's why these fellows need to be so massive. Weight equals speed. If they each carried the exact same weight, they would each weigh 105kg. If they weigh less, they must add extra weight to bring it up. Dead weight means more work. So, big you must be!
It's doubtful any father knows ahead of time that they're raising an Olympian. But, looking back on it, there were clear indicators that was where he was headed. From infancy, David was blessed. He had the build of an Olympian even then. He could pitch a ball like no child his age. There was no down time 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 youth, David was always ambitious and hardworking. At age seven, without being prompted, he got himself a paper route. He even hired his younger brothers to help him from time to time. He always wanted the best equipment, so his flyer and paper routes made up for the difference his parents would contribute. If a good pair of running shoes was eighty dollars, he would come up with another eighty to get the best pair available. Half of the registration for football, basketball, track and field or anything he was involved in came from a bit of personal industry.
Early mornings and early nights were his norm. He was up early for papers, then went to seminary, then to school, then to practice and then to bed. For years, that was his routine. He honed a discipline that escapes most people. That kind of discipline came from his mother, Kim, a champion speed skater in her youth. David's Grandpa Strate played defence for the Detroit Red Wings in the mid to late fifties. His Grand Aunt Doreen Ryan was a two time Olympian herself, competing as a speed skater in the 1960 and 1964 Winter Olympics.
Not going unnoticed for his short powerful bursts of speed in both football and track & field, David was courted by Pierre Lueders, one of the top bobsled names in the world. Pierre approached David at a track meet to see if he would consider pushing for him. Initially, David had no interest. His heart and mind were set on football and he used track and field to keep fit.
Eventually, David accepted another invitation to 'at least' come for a tryout in the Calgary Olympic Park Ice House. Hooked and flattered away from football, within weeks he went from the Ice House tryouts to his first Olympics in Turin, Italy in 2006.
Now, as a world-class athlete on the international stage, he has many fans. From countries that take bobsledding as seriously as Canadians take hockey, fans send him mail from Europe asking for autographed pictures. Although he may be considered a world-class athlete and an Olympian by worldly standards, he has always been a spiritual Olympian to me. There were times I passed by his room and through the door saw him on his knees either reading his scriptures or praying.
David Bissett is a son, a brother, a returned missionary, a husband, a father, an uncle, a neighbour, a salesman, a cub leader, a hard worker, a Canadian, a bobsledder, an all round nice guy, and oh, yes, David is a Mormon.