‘She’s constantly challenging herself’

Brooke Apshkrum is in her first year on Canada’s senior women’s luge team. -- Photo Courtesy of Luge Canada website

Olympic luger Apshkrum has Prince Albert connection

Brooke Apshkrum’s first time to try luging was a fortuitous one in the history of the sport.

It was the same day that Georgian luger Nodar Kumaritashvili died after a fatal crash during a training run at a track in Whistler, British Columbia in preparation for the 2010 Vancouver Olympic Games – Feb. 12, 2010.

Apshkrum was one province over, in Calgary, Alberta, and had just been invited by her neighbours to try the sport for the first time at the city’s Canada Olympic Park.

“She got to try it at a friends and family night. Actually her first day on the track was the day that the Georgian Olympic luger got killed that year,” Apshkrum’s aunt, Kate Merkowsky, explained. “Her mom just about had a heart attack.”

Brooke was 10 years old at the time.

Now eight years later, Apshkrum is a member of the Canadian Olympic women’s luge team, ready to compete for a medal in the singles event at the 2018 Pyeongchang Olympic Games in South Korea.

She was born and resides during the off-season in Calgary, but the 18-year-old has roots in Prince Albert. She attended Ecole St. Anne School for four years, from 2004 to 2008.

Merkowsky and Brooke’s mother, Sandy, had moved back to Prince Albert with their families in early 2004 to help take care of their parents.

Back in Calgary in 2010, Brooke fell in love with the sport instantly.

“Brooke got off the sled and said, ‘Mom, this is what I want to do.’ And she never wavered from that,” her aunt recalled.

Apshkrum’s now in her first year with Canada’s senior national luge team.

She spent two years on the junior squad, which included a gold medal in 2016. At the Winter Youth Olympic Games that year in Lillehammer, Norway, Apshkrum beat Germany’s Jessica Tiebel (silver) and Austria’s Madeleine Egle (bronze) to capture the gold medal with a finishing time of 52.861 seconds.

Merkowsky did acknowledge that Apshkrum’s parents did have some concern about the risk of injury, given when their daughter first tried the luge. But, “because she was so respectful of the potential for danger and things like that, she was never reckless or foolish. She just really studied the sport, and so we just knew that she would do it very conscientiously.”

Her aunt has also noticed the aspects of the sport she enjoys, even from her early first attempts at it.

“She liked the speed. She was a bit of a thrill seeker, and she really liked it sort of being something that she could challenge herself on.”

Apshkrum will have her hands full in that regard in South Korea.

In the entire 54-year presence of the sport at the Olympics, only one non-European competitor has medalled in the singles category: Erin Hamlin of the United States won a bronze medal at the Sochi 2014 Olympic Winter Games, with a winning time of 3:21.145.

For more on this story, please see the Feb. 10, 2018 print edition or e-edition of the Daily Herald.