Humble ranch roots helped shape skeleton racer Mellisa Hollingsworth’s career

VANCOUVER _ It took years for Mellisa Hollingsworth to realize the humble roots she once was embarrassed about actually gave her the strength and conviction to become an Olympic athlete.

The skeleton racer from Eckville, Alta., was raised by her father on a ranch surrounded by horses and hanging out with cowboys. As a teenager attending basketball camps and track meets in the city, she would sometimes be teased.

"I was the young girl that was a little bit embarrassed by my roots," Hollingsworth said during a recent Canadian Olympic Committee athlete's summit. "I was the only country kid. I would get a little bit embarrassed when they asked me where I was from."

When she reached her mid-20's Hollingsworth started to understand the values and principles her father instilled in her.

"I've been desperately trying to get back to my roots ever since and have never been prouder to be that ranch girl," she said.

Growing up Hollingsworth's family did not have much, but her father taught his daughter a person is only limited by their belief in them self.

"We would dream big dreams," she said. "We dreamed big together.

"He was the one that didn't put me in a box and say 'no, that's not possible.' He was always the one pushing me, saying anything is possible."

Hollingsworth, 32, won an Olympic bronze medallist in 2006 and is a former World Cup overall champion. She went into the final run of the 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympics contending for a gold medal but made a critical mistake and finished fifth. She tearfully apologized to Canadians for letting the country down.

Hollingsworth struggled with sickness and chronic fatigue last season. She was second in the first World Cup event in Lake Placid, N.Y., but didn't reach the podium the rest of the year.

The ranch girl has never strayed far from her love of horses. She is a professional barrel racer in the off-season and spent six weeks this summer in Ledbetter, Tex., living in a horse trailer on the ranch of American barrel racing star Tammy Fischer.

Riding a horse in an arena and herding a sled down an icy track seem very different, but Hollingsworth sees the similarities.

"There are a lot of parallels," she said. "You are dealing with speed and reaction. "If I get nervous, if I get tight on my sled, it's going to stiffen up and not react the way it should.

"It's the same when I'm on my horse. If I get nervous and tighten up, she is going to feel that. She is going to get nervous and be like a ticking time bomb. It's having that ability to really calm yourself and be very focused."

Hollingsworth is heading to next year's Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, without the pressure she felt in Vancouver.

"I'm looking forward to what may be in Sochi," she said. "All I can do is work hard and stay focused and stay healthy.

"The result will be what it will be."