From varsity athlete to Olympic hopeful in 11 months

Women’s volleyball’s Jackie Boyle uses RBC Training Ground success to actualize dream

Jackie Boyle on the assault bike at the RBC Training Ground finals in Toronto, Ont.
Jackie Boyle on the assault bike at the RBC Training Ground finals in Toronto, Ont.
Credit: 
Supplied by Jackie Boyle

Jackie Boyle was certain she’d walked into the wrong gym. Full of 14 year-olds, the ARC looked more like a middle school class than somewhere unproven young athletes could take aim at their Olympic dreams. She hadn’t prepared whatsoever—her mom had signed her up on a whim.

Six months later, the fourth-year women’s volleyball player was being told to pick between joining Canada’s national bobsled team or cycling squad. 

The choice, they said, was hers.

***

Boyle started dreaming about being an Olympic athlete in 2012 when she and her family made a trip to London, England to see the Summer Games. Loading up on every event they could, Boyle quietly decided what she wanted to make out of her life.

“That’s when I realized my goal in life was to make the Olympics,” Boyle recalled in an interview with The Journal.

When her mother entered her into Kingston’s RBC Training Ground event last March, the thought of creating an opportunity for herself didn’t pass through her mind. She didn’t even do specific training for it.

RBC Training Ground, a project initiated in 2016, frequently sets up in cities and towns across Ontario, providing fitness testing for over 3,000 athletes. All members of the public are able to register. Through numerous physical tests, they select 50 male and 50 female athletes for the finals in Toronto.

The initiative’s mission is to provide a funding program to uncover Olympic potential.

Among a handful of fellow varsity athletes, Boyle excelled in the lower body-powered events such as the mid-thigh pull and vertical jump. Among the other fitness tests, she had to test her endurance in the beep test and showcase her explosiveness in 10-, 15-, and 40-metre sprints.

Shortly after the event, Boyle received notice that she’d made the cut for the top 50 females across Ontario. This time, she made sure to train practically—she was shooting high.

“My goal was to win the Toronto [camp],” she said.

While Boyle prepared for the event—which took place a month later in June—almost none of the machinery used in testing was available to her in Kingston. The challenges included unique versions of stationary bikes and rowing machines; the running tests stayed the same but long jumping exercises were added.

In Toronto, Boyle was grouped with the event’s strongest female athletes—after the first few tests, she realized she was dueling with one of the women for the top spot.

“If I hadn’t had them in my group, I wouldn’t have tried as hard,” Boyle remembered. “I beat her in some events, but she beat me in the majority of them.”

At the end of the day-long session, the results came in: she finished in second place. On her way home, she thought her chances of receiving funding or getting selected for a sport in the Olympics were shot.

A few weeks later, though, Canada’s national teams in bobsled, cycling, and rowing were filling up her inbox.

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By mid-July, Boyle was in Calgary at Canada’s national bobsled facility, trying out for the national team. 

With her mother watching in the stands, Boyle plunged her bobsled at 160 kilometres an hour for the first time in her life. To see how she’d adapt, the coaches didn’t provide her any instruction. In one of her first runs, she was paired with two-time Olympic gold medalist and 2014 Lou Marsh Award-winner Kaillie Humphries.

“It was crazy,” Boyle said. “The first run down I was so nervous […] They knew I hit the physical threshold requirements; they just wanted to see if I was a team player and how well I could learn.”

Bobsled Canada told her she’d find out if they wanted her to return later in the summer.

After returning to Toronto, Boyle travelled to Milton, Ont. to get tested at the national velodrome facility for cycling. Like bobsled, she went through the same process: the coach gave her a bike and told her to ride. Having never cycled in a velodrome—the track’s turns often angle upwards of 40 degrees—Boyle had to learn at 60 kilometres per hour.

In addition, Boyle had an hour-long interview with the national team’s head coach to gauge her experience in high-pressure situations.

Despite the steep learning curve, Boyle particularly excelled on the bike. A past hockey player, she said her lower body strength has always been her defining athletic feature, making her feel at home with the bobsled and cycling teams.

“When I got to the bobsled and cycling tryouts, everyone was jacked in their lower body and I was like, ‘Okay, this is where I belong.’” 

Placing herself in two high-speed sports, Boyle knew she had to erase any of her doubts if she wanted to succeed.

“You can’t have any fear. When I was on the velodrome, on the track, it’s like 45 degrees and if you have fear and slow down, you’ll fall off the bike,” she said.

“Honestly, I just had to be like, ‘F— it,’ and go down the track.”

A few days after leaving Milton, on the morning of her birthday, she received a call from the cycling coach while in the car with her mother. Forcing her to stop the car, 

Boyle picked up the phone. First, he said she’d made the team. Next, he explained she didn’t just make it, but he said she’d hit Canada’s World Cup standards—in running shoes, no less. The coach told her that she had world-class power and perfect mechanics for professional cycling.

But recently, Boyle committed to a three-week training camp in September with the bobsled team. Her coach gave her two weeks after bobsled training camp to decide between the two sports. During that span, Boyle spent hours on the phone deliberating with her mom on what she should pick.

“I’d call my parents saying, ‘Okay, I’m choosing bobsled.’ And the next day saying, ‘No, I’m going to go cycling,’” she said.

There were some factors when it came to her decision. After bobsled training camp, the coaching staff said they wanted Boyle right away, meaning she’d have to defer her final semester of life sciences and move to Calgary. But more importantly, bobsled is known to be a sport that athletes move to after a career in another sport. From what Boyle was beginning to understand, choosing cycling would likely be best for her career.

“Based on talking to [the cycling team], it seems like I have a better chance of going to the Olympics,” she said. “I can always go to bobsled later.”

Having made her final decision, Boyle’s currently on campus training with the national cycling program—she spends 60 per cent of her time cycling and 40 per cent weight lifting. After she graduates in April, she’ll be commuting between Toronto and Milton to prepare her for World Cup competition. Despite all her success, she’s remaining humble in her approach.

“It kind of came out of nowhere—I’m just taking it with a grain of salt and seeing what comes of it,” Boyle said. “I know there are a lot of steps to go along the way, but my goal is to go to the Olympics, be that in 2020 or 2024.”

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