After a Switch in Citizenship, a Return to Long-Term Goals
The New York Times Sports department is revisiting the subjects of some compelling articles from the last year or so. Here is our February report on the Olympian Kaillie Humphries’s decision to leave Canada to compete for the United States.
The certainty in Kaillie Humphries’s choice provided calmness. Nearly a year ago, she had not yet gained American citizenship to compete for the United States at the Winter Olympics after splitting with Canada’s bobsled federation.
Humphries figured she would either compete at the Olympics in Beijing, adding to her stockpile of bobsled medals, or be far away, sipping fruity drinks on a beach somewhere. Either way, she had reconciled with her fate.
Humphries, who had lodged a complaint of mental and verbal abuse against Canada’s federation, for whom she had won two Olympic gold medals, became a naturalized U.S. citizen last December, only two months before the Beijing Games. Then she earned gold in the inaugural Olympic monobob competition, becoming the first person to win Olympic gold medals for both Canada and the United States.
“I will say this a hundred times over: It was worth it even if I didn’t go to the Games,” said Humphries, who also finished seventh in the Olympic two-woman event in Beijing. “I knew coming to Team U.S.A. was the best decision for me and my career and my performance. For me, mentally and physically, being in a safe place was so important.”
The 2022 Olympics capped a yearslong ordeal for Humphries, a five-time world champion, and her husband, Travis Armbruster, a former U.S. bobsledder. After the 2018 Olympics, she filed a formal complaint of mental and verbal abuse against Todd Hays, Canada’s bobsled coach, then left the Canada program. She started competing with the U.S. team with no assurances that she would be granted American citizenship in time for the Olympics.
The couple paused long-term objectives like financial goals and starting a family to hire lawyers and regain sponsors in hopes that Humphries would compete at the 2022 Olympics.
“It definitely made it feel like it was the cherry on top, that extra little sweet treat from someone looking down that just said, ‘Yes, this was the right call,’” Humphries said of her win in monobob, a women-only event in which a single sledder pushes and drives her bobsled down an icy track. “But it always felt like the right decision from the very beginning.”
Humphries, 37, took about three months off after the Olympics. For the first time in a long while, she found herself with time to think about her decision. “We reflect now that we’re in a season where we’re not worried and stressed about citizenship,” Humphries said. “I’m like, ‘What is this?’ We have not had this for three years.”
She resumed training for about a month during the summer before pausing workouts again.
Over the years, Humphries had grown accustomed to her body responding to her will. She figured a pregnancy would work the same way: It would happen when she wanted it to.
Instead, doctors discovered an ovarian cyst when Humphries complained of hip pain in March. When she woke up from a procedure to remove it, doctors told her she had endometriosis, a debilitating disorder in which cells similar to the lining of the uterus grow outside it.
“It takes five to seven years in America to diagnose endometriosis, which is way too long,” Humphries said. “For most women, you get told painful periods are just a part of it, but you go in there and usually it gets diagnosed when you try and have a family, infertility being one of the big side effects.”
Doctors advised Humphries that in vitro fertilization presented her best odds for pregnancy. She underwent two rounds over the summer.
“I’ll compete this season and then we’ll look to implant and move forward with family planning next year,” Humphries said. “It’s definitely a balance. I’m not retiring. I still want to go and compete in 2026, so it’s about how can we start a family and then also continue the career path.”
Humphries’s allegations remain unresolved. Canada’s bobsled federation hired an independent firm to examine the complaint. The investigation cited no evidence to support her claims. But Humphries appealed that finding to an arbitrator who declared the investigation had been inadequate. Another inquiry was started.
Dozens of bobsled and skeleton athletes called for a leadership change to Canada’s bobsled and skeleton governing body in March, saying it had a toxic culture. Sarah Storey, the body’s president and acting chief executive, decided against seeking another term last month.
“I’m very happy that regardless of what the outcome is or will be, it doesn’t affect my career or my life in any capacity,” Humphries said. “It’s something that I have offered to no longer be a part of and drop, so that the organization can focus on its athletes that are currently competing for Canada, but I’m only half of the party.”
Humphries found herself at her new home track in Park City, Utah, this month. She finished first, securing a World Cup monobob victory on her first anniversary as a U.S. citizen. It was a nice ending to an eventful year, and similar to how she started it. “The cherry on top,” she said.