Appiah and Richardson Wilson on the rise after Olympic debut
Like most women in the sport, Cynthia Appiah began her Olympic journey as a brakewoman, responsible for pushing the near 300 pound bobsleigh into high speed motion and tucking behind the pilot for a race against time down a winding iced track.
Dawn Richardson Wilson, one of Canada’s youngest Olympic bobsledders at just 22, donned the red and white at the Beijing 2022 Olympic Winter Games after taking up the sport just three years ago. Both Appiah and Richardson Wilson embraced the winter sport with an abundance of curiosity.
A more dynamic duo in bobsleigh is hard to find.
Appiah, the more senior of the two, has enjoyed bobsleigh success as a national team member since 2015.
Richardson Wilson often keeps a notebook handy at practice recording lessons and jotting down notes of mistakes so as not to repeat them.
The first-time Olympians combined forces to represent Canada at Beijing 2022 in the bobsleigh two-women event.
They also have something else in common: Both bonafide Canadian bobsleigh stars have Ghanaian heritage. On their Olympic journey to Beijing, they however took different paths.
Richardson Wilson is so new to the sport she had doubts she would be named to the 2022 Olympic team. Appiah, on the other hand, had made it her absolute mission to compete in Beijing after narrowly missing her chance to represent Canada at the 2018 Olympic Winter Games in Pyeongchang, South Korea.
Two weeks before PyeongChang 2018, Appiah was informed she would be going as an alternate. This demotion left her on the sidelines. She stayed at a hotel outside the Olympic village with the only chance of Olympic competition dependent on a team member injury. Ultimately, there were no injuries and Appiah was never called to action.
The deep disappointment led her to question whether or not to continue in the sport she had excelled in. Following months of contemplation and consultation with friends, family and her coach, Appiah decided to head to Lake Placid in the U.S. to attend a driver’s school to become a pilot. If she was going to continue in bobsleigh, she was going to do so on her own terms.
Appiah achieved her goal to pilot a sled and has become Canada’s first Black female pilot in bobsleigh. This historic accomplishment is not lost on Appiah. She told Olympic.ca in 2021, “I still want to be the best my sport has ever seen, and I fully believe I am capable of that, but I really want to be a representation of what Black athletes can do.”
Competing in the inaugural monobob event at Beijing 2022, she finished 8th. Most would consider finishing in the top eight at the Olympics quite an impressive achievement, but not Appiah. Going into the Games, she was ranked third in the event and had high hopes for a medal finish. Disappointed, but far from defeated she quickly refocused and set her sights on the two-women event she would compete in with teammate Richardson Wilson.
Richardson Wilson, a relative newcomer to the sport, was not at all certain she would make it to the Games and awaited the announcement of Canada’s Olympic bobsleigh team with great hope. When it was made official on January 20, 2022 that Richardson Wilson would be headed to the Olympics she posted on social media, “I can’t describe fully how I feel at the moment because it’s been an uphill battle, to say the least, but one I’m glad I went through because the love I feel towards this sport and the people is immeasurable.”
Part of the uphill battle Richardson Wilson refers to is the fact she is a relative rookie to the sport. Learning the physical and technical aspects of bobsleigh is a relentless multi-year process. The bumps and bruises endured learning the sport was taxing, eventually the bruises did heal.
However, the pain she experienced as a child in Edmonton left an indelible mark that will never be erased. At the tender age of six, both her mother and father died within months of each other leaving her to be raised by her older brother and his wife. Richardson Wilson grew extremely close to her brother’s wife, but life posed emotional challenges for young Dawn growing up without her parents. The void left by her parents’ deaths would be partially filled with a sense of belonging through her sport.
Officially part of the Canadian Olympic family, they competed with tenacity in the two-women event. Excited for the Olympic challenge, Richardson Wilson posted to social media, “As ready as we’ll ever be!”.
Their runs were not perfect. After crashing on their third run, they found vindication with a stellar final performance. To their delight the pair finished 8th. Clearly pleased with the results, Appiah posted to Instagram, “What a way to finish! Super proud of the runs I put down…” “Thank you Dawn for putting down some awesome pushes for a second in the [sic] row. Pumped to have finished in the top 8 in our first Olympics.”
Appiah made peace with the deep disappointment of being left off the 2018 Olympic team and found purpose in becoming Canada’s first Black woman bobsleigh pilot. Richardson Wilson’s early childhood loss created space for a powerful love of sport. Both women bring forth undaunted grace and fortitude that can be best summed up by poet and activist Maya Angelou’s poem, ‘Still I rise’,
“Just Like moons and like suns,
With the certainty of tides,
just like hopes springing high,
still I’ll rise.”
Canadian bobsleigh will bank on the duo to meet the demands of international competition and rise once again as they both have their sights set on the next Olympics in Milan, Italy in 2026.