Jay Dearborn: his drive for the Olympics

By Emily Coppella

Jacob (Jay) Dearborn has moved around a lot – from his hometown of Yarker north of Kingston to Prince Edward Island to Vancouver – and many places in between. His next stop? The Beijing 2022 Olympic Games. Jay, a Saskatchewan Roughrider with the Canadian Football League (CFL), qualified to be a brakeman on Canada’s third sled in the four-man bobsleigh in 2020. We spoke with Jay about what it means to see every game as the game, and how his Kingston-area roots have prepared him for the world stage.

Originally from Yarker, Jay spent his childhood going into the “big city” of Kingston for groceries, dentist appointments, and a variety of sports practices.

“I went to school in Harrowsmith and then eventually high school over in Sydenham. I think just growing up in those small towns and near Kingston throughout a huge part of my sports career gave me a deeper connection to – not just playing the sport – but understanding the atmosphere around the team. I was going to school with a lot of those teammates and had been to their birthday parties for my entire life. When I join a team, I try to bring that same kind of connection amongst my teammates.”


View this post on Instagram


A post shared by Jay Dearborn (@j.dearborn)

Jay spent three seasons playing football for the Holland College Hurricanes (in Charlottetown, PEI) and another three years on the Carleton University Ravens football team in Ottawa. He set an all-time combine record with a broad jump of 11 feet, one inch at the CFL regional combine. In 2019, he was signed to the Saskatchewan Roughriders. Unfortunately, the 2020 season was cancelled due to COVID-19, but Jay quickly found a way to challenge himself as a dynamic athlete:

“Through a strength coach at Carleton I was working with, I got in touch with the bobsleigh team. Two or three weeks after the 2020 CFL season was cancelled, I got the email from Bobsleigh Canada to prospective athletes who would like to come out to Calgary to try out for the team. It was kind of this perfect timing.”


View this post on Instagram


A post shared by Jay Dearborn (@j.dearborn)

Several things fell into place, allowing Jay to head out to Calgary and Whistler for bobsleigh training. In 2021, he returned to Saskatchewan for the football season and within three days after the season wrapped up, he was back to Lake Placid to join the Bobsleigh Canada team. Luckily, football and bobsleigh training are very similar, meaning Jay can focus on building the skills necessary for both sports at the same time.

“Bobsleigh and football, they go hand-in-hand…[In both] you’re trying to train that strong, explosive movement. You want to be able to move a heavy weight really, really quickly… A four-man sled (including athletes and equipment) weighs 630 kilograms. Once you get the sled moving, you now become a sprinter, a track-and-field athlete. We spend a lot of time working on running mechanics, watching film about your knee drive and every detail about the sprint aspect of the push.”

There’s a lot of pressure put on athletes, whether they’re in the CFL or at the Olympic Games. But Jay sees every game – no matter the perceived stakes by the public – as something he must give his all to. That’s been his attitude for as long as he can remember:

“I’ve played tons of different sports and they all felt big at the time. In high school, there were these big important, stressful games. And then I went to college, I felt the same thing. At the time, they feel like they’re the only things that matter, and they were the only things that mattered at the time. I feel like I’ve had a pretty good lifetime of being tested.”

He admits that joining the CFL offered an additional learning curve, due to the media attention and the business side of the sport. It helped prepare him for the global stage of the Olympic Games. But strangely enough, the Olympics don’t feel any more overwhelming than any of the games he’s played in the past.


View this post on Instagram


A post shared by Jay Dearborn (@j.dearborn)

The bobsleigh events will take place at the Yanqing National Slide Centre. The track is the first of its kind as it includes a 360-degree turn. Based on Dearborn’s athletic career though, he seems more than capable of switching directions. Leading up to event day, he hopes to avoid mental fatigue by revelling in the excitement of seeing the Beijing athlete village and enjoying the opening ceremonies.

“I’m just trying to take in those experiences. Even though they’re external to why I’m going there, I think it’s important to not get myself too wound up too early. I’m just trying to enjoy the excitement leading up and take in as much as I can before I have to flip the switch and really start focusing.”

Kingston is where Jay returns to take a little weight off his shoulders in the brief moments of off-season between his two sports. Almost his entire family has been Kingston-based for the last couple of years, providing a comfortable place for connection.

While speaking with us just one day before his flight departure for China, Jay reminisced about childhood cross-country meets at Fort Henry and his five years spent working at the Gould Lake Outdoor Centre. Now, Trailhead Kingston is sponsoring him on his Olympic journey.

Jay Dearborn is an example of where life can take you when you dare to try something different.

The Olympic Games run February 4 to 20, 2022. Follow along with Jay’s Olympic journey and view his event schedule.