Team Canada's Brooke Apshkrum is competing for Canada in the women's luge competition at the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea. The 18-year-old athlete's exceptional performances have catapulted her to Team Canada in under a decade - and friends and fans from this corner of Saskatchewan will cheer her on, knowing she has a connection to Carlyle.
Brooke spent a few of her formative years in Saskatchewan and when her family moved to Calgary, attended the National Sport School at Calgary's Canada Olympic Park, where she was an honours student. Her father, Mark Apshkrum grew up in Carlyle and says that the entire Apshkrum family is excited and touched by the interest in Brooke's athletic career from people from his hometown.
“She is in Latvia right now and the luge team will travel to Seoul from there on February 4, so by the time this is in the paper, she'll already be there,” says Mark. “Her mom (Sandy Apshkrum) was talking to her and told her we'd be talking to the newspaper in Carlyle. (Brooke) was thrilled about it.”
“She loved coming to Carlyle when my mom was still alive and she still remembers the playground there.”
Although her playground days are in the past, Mark says his daughter had an affinity for the sport of luge from a young age.
“In 2010 she tried it,” says Mark. “And from day one we knew that that was what she was going to do.”
“As parents, you're still kind of outsiders looking in,” says Mark. “Initially, we helped her financially, but we never had to tell her to get up and go - whether it was dry land training in the summer or during the season in the winter. I never had to be that 'pushy dad.' “
“She enjoyed it and she had a talent for it from the outset, so we've always just supported her in what she wants to do.”
Brooke's talent and work ethic has transformed that 10-year-old into an Olympian in an unusually short time. After joining the Calgary Luge Club's development squad, Brooke quickly progressed through Canada's Junior and Senior National teams, joining the latter at the age of 17, which is considered a young age to do so.
“Our top luger - the one who has the most medals in Canada for luge - also started at that age,” says Mark. “But usually, they're at least 20-years-old before they're on the national team here in Canada.” Gough is now 30 and another of Brooke's Olympic team mates, Kimberly McRae is 25, so the 18-year-old is going into the Games in Pyeongchang as a young - but not inexperienced - competitor.
In 2016, Brooke took top place at the podium when she captured the gold medal in the women's singles luge at the Winter Youth Olympic Games in Lillehammer, Norway, clocking a top speed of 114.7 kmh (71.2 mph) with a time of just over 52 seconds. The 12-corner track was the site of luge competition at the 1994 Winter Olympic Games. One European commentator described Brooke's run as “flawless.”
Her parents Mark and Sandy were there to witness their daughter's win over Germany's former world champion Jessica Tiebel (who took home a silver medal) and bronze medallist Madeleine Egle of Austria. Brooke's medal was her first international gold and was considered to be a surprise win by some because she came up from second place after the first run of the competition to win - only six years after she first took up luge.
“It was quite something to be there in Lillehammer when she did that,” says Mark. “And Sandy and I have also been to the World Junior Championships in Austria to watch her there.”
“That was a little different,” he laughs. “because we travelled all the way there to watch her crash on her second run, but that's the sport.”
“Wherever and whenever we can, we watch her train and compete.”
Brooke's family - her parents and her sister Layne (a University of Calgary student) - will travel to South Korea to share in Brooke's Olympic experience.
“We arrive in Seoul on February 6,” says Mark. “On the day of the opening ceremonies, we'll be at Canada House. Brooke starts sliding pretty early, so she'll be finished competing by the 12th.”
“She'll be there for both the opening and closing ceremonies.”
Brooke has said that because her 2010 start in luge coincided with the Winter Olympics in Vancouver, her passion for her chosen sport was intensified and her dream of becoming an Olympic competitor began.
Now with that goal coming to fruition, her dad says simply: “We wouldn't miss it.”