Even as a young child Cynthia Appiah (BA '13) always knew that she wanted to represent Canada in some way. Growing up in Toronto, the Etobicoke native's passion for sports and track and field began early as a sprinter in grade six before switching to shot put in high school. It's surprising then that when it came time for the accomplished high school athlete to pursue a post-secondary education that she didn't look into any athletic programs. She had already applied and had been accepted into York University. But it wasn't until her high school coach, sharing Appiah's accomplishments with a York coach at the OFSAA track and field championships, encouraged her to talk to coaches from York's athletics team that she decided to see what it was all about.
A few months later, at the end of summer in 2008, Appiah began her academic and athletic career at York and spent the next five years as a thrower with the York Lions – culminating with being named Athlete of the Year (2012 – 2013) in her final year.
Appiah admits her time as a student athlete was, at times, challenging. A commuter from her home in west Toronto – her days were spent balancing her studies, training competing, and completing her work study position before commuting up to an hour and a half back home. "I'm not gonna lie…it was really, really difficult," she says. "I wasn't getting home until 1 in the morning."
A move from late afternoon to early morning practice time during her fourth year, resulting in days starting at 5am and still ending close to 1am, proved even more challenging for the former student athlete – which in hindsight she finds weird. "That's the year I had my best results at the CIS championships," shares Appiah."I still managed to pull a decent GPA…even thinking about it now I don't know how I did it," she says.
As with becoming a student athlete, Appiah stumbled across bobsledding much by chance during the summer of 2011 while at York. She received a mass email sent by her strength and conditioning coach informing athletes about a test camp that was being held at York. Already on campus that day, she decided to give it a try to see how far she could go. She did well enough during the testing that she received an invitation to attend training in Lake Placid in Upstate New York a few months later but declined so that she could focus on her final year. She did, however, keep in touch with the organization and every now and then would participate in test camps to see how her numbers and benchmarks were holding up. Upon graduation in 2013 Appiah decided to focus on making the bobsleigh team and, after a summer of hard work, she was invited to join the Ontario team. For the next two winters she lived in Lake Placid helping Ontario pilots train for the national team and in fall 2015 Appiah herself made it onto the national team cementing herself as a full-time athlete.
Now, just four short years after graduating Appiah's reputation in the world of bobsledding continues to rise. In December 2016, along with her bobsleigh partner Kaillie Humphries, the duo won the gold medal at the Women's Bobsleigh World Cup beating the previous track record set in 2010 at the Winter Olympics. "It was crazy," she says. "…when we got down to the bottom I was asking my teammates what we pushed …it was 5.09 (note: the previous record was 5.11)…I was really ecstatic."
Hopeful at being named to both the World Cup team and the Olympic team (announcements will happen in fall and January respectively), Appiah is currently in Calgary training for the upcoming bobsleigh season. When asked what she learned from her experience as a student athlete at York Appiah recalls those challenging third and fourth years when everything was getting a little chaotic. "At that moment I realized how much I could handle. I had to learn how to say no," she says. "I also learned how to stick up for myself."
She ends by sharing "I wouldn't be a bobsledder if it weren't for York. There was a point in my throwing career where I felt like I wasn't having as much fun as I wanted to and I needed a break from throwing…but I still wanted to be an athlete. I still felt that representing Canada in some capacity whether it was on the Olympic stage or at some other international meet was still in the cards – I just didn't know in what capacity," she says. "I was very, very fortunate to have that test camp happen at York otherwise I don't know what I'd be doing now; I might not be an athlete."