Kristen Bujnowski grew up on her family’s tobacco and ginseng farm
By Diego Flammini
An Olympian who grew up on a family farm will be among the more than 200 Canadian athletes participating in the Winter Olympics in China next month.
Kristen Bujnowski, a brakewoman on the Canadian bobsleigh team, grew up on a tobacco and ginseng farm in Mount Brydges, Ont., with her parents, Jerry and Rose (a soccer player in her university days), and her brother, Mark, himself a University of Guelph track athlete aspiring to make the 2024 Olympics.
Bujnowski knew from a young age she wanted to be on Team Canada in some capacity.
So much so that if she received a national team item as a gift, she wouldn’t wear it.
“I had to earn the right to wear the maple leaf,” the 29-year-old mechanical engineering and kinesiology graduate from the University of Western Ontario, told Farms.com. “Once I was officially part of the team is when I decided I could wear it.”
Agriculture and athletics intersect.
And Bujnowski credits her ag upbringing with providing her the tools to compete in Beijing.
“I had great examples around me of what it means to work hard and be dedicated to something,” she said. “Being an athlete isn’t just a thing you show up to, it’s a lifestyle, where every decision you make can affect your performance. Farming works the same way.”
And she’s had to lean on that upbringing multiple times throughout her athletic career.
Prior to discovering bobsleigh, Bujnowski excelled in track and field in university. But injuries kept her from achieving her full potential.
So, in 2017, at 25, she put her athletic dreams aside and put her two degrees to use. She worked 9-5 for three years as an engineer and making artificial limbs.
“I was encouraged that it was time to be an adult and find new goals,” she said. “I couldn’t stomach doing sports for a couple years. When my brother made his first national team is when I decided to look for a new sport to do.”
During this time, Bujnowski had been doing CrossFit for about six months when she heard Bobsleigh Canada was holding a testing camp in London, Ont.
“I was a speed and power athlete so I was almost shopping for a sport that would fit my physical attributes,” she said.
She attended the camp in London in June 2017. Two weeks later she was in Calgary as an official member of the national bobsleigh program.
Since then, along with teammates Christine de Bruin and Alysia Rissling, has won multiple national and international medals.
Bujnowski attended the 2018 Olympics in PyeongChang, South Korea, as an alternate where she pushed for de Bruin, Rissling and Kaillie Humpries on qualifying runs.
Many athletes, upon returning from the Olympics, will get a tattoo of the Olympic rings to commemorate their experience.
But because she was an alternate, Bujnowski felt it wasn’t right for her to get the Olympic tattoo.
She got another one instead.
“I got the words ‘fight on’ behind my ear because that’s what I kept telling myself to reach these goals,” she said. “The Olympic experience in South Korea was great but it wasn’t the goal I set for myself. After actually competing this time around, I’ll be getting that Olympic ring tattoo when I get back.”
The Winter Olympics start Feb. 4.
Bujnowski and the rest of her bobsleigh teammates begin their quest for gold on Feb. 10.
Bujnowski isn't the only member of the Canadian ag community to compete at the 2022 Winter Olympics.
Maddison Pearman, a speed skater who grew up on her family's Alberta livestock farm, will also be going for a medal.
And Ella Shelton, who grew up on her family's farm near Ingersoll, Ont., is a member of Canada's women's hockey team.