March 20, 2023
When Luke Puto is standing at the top of a bobsleigh track, in that brief moment before the start of a run, he feels a sense of exhilaration that is hard to match.
“In that couple of seconds, it’s just you and you’re focused on what you have to do,” said Puto, one of the newest members of Canada’s national bobsleigh team. “In that moment, that’s when I always feel that exhilaration and that gratitude because at that moment, I’m in complete control of what’s going on and what’s happening.
“As long as I focus on myself, I know that the run is going to go well.”
Puto’s main role as a brakeperson only lasts about four to six seconds, so he has to be completely dialed in to get his team’s bobsleigh off to the fastest start possible.
“In bobsleigh, my entire goal is to push the thing as fast as I possibly can and then after that, my role is kind of done for the rest of the run,” he said.
In his first year with the national bobsleigh team, Puto has competed in three events on International Bobsleigh and Skeleton Federation’s North American World Cup circuit in Whistler, Park City and Lake Placid. His fourth and final event of the season will be on Mar. 23 and 24 back in Lake Placid where he will continue to implement all he has learned in his first year with the team.
“It was a big learning curve that I was kind of expecting but it wasn’t necessarily as easy as I thought it would be,” he said.
Puto was born in Prince Albert before spending his middle years in Red Deer. Then in high school, Puto and his family moved to Humboldt. He was an avid hockey player his entire life and even went on to play with the Saskatoon Blazers U18 AAA team in 2016-17. However, after high school, he was at a crossroads with his hockey career.
“When I finished high school, I tried to play junior hockey for a bit but my skill level was going to mean that I was going to be at the bottom of the lineup,” said Puto. “Honestly the passion for it disappeared at that point.”
However, Puto still needed an outlet for his competitiveness. That’s when he found bobsleigh.
“It was always something that kind of interested me when you watch the Olympics,” he said. “When you see what the sport is, it’s something you can’t quite take your eyes off of.”
Puto first encounter with bobsleigh was through RBC Training Ground, a talent identification program designed to find young athletes with Olympic potential. Puto didn’t make it to the regional finals but he did connect with Bobsleigh Canada Skeleton and went on to attend a prospect camp. He made it to the selection races in 2019 but didn’t make the national team. After the 2020 and 2021 season were basically wiped out due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Puto finally cracked the roster in 2022.
“It meant a lot to me,” he said of making the team. “I got so close a couple of years back and it left a bad taste in my mouth just because I knew I didn’t perform my best in the last little bit.
“I lived with that regret through the COVID-19 years and that’s what kind of kept fuelling me to try and come back.”
Puto now works with fellow Humboldt product and 2010 Olympic bronze medalist Lyndon Rush, who is one of his coaches. And like Rush did, Puto’s goal one day is to make the Olympics. But he understands there’s a process that needs to be followed before any of those lofty goals are achieved.
“Obviously I want to reach the peak of this sport but obviously there’s a lot that goes into getting there that you can pass by,” said Puto. “I think it’s easier to get to that goal if you’re paying attention to all the little ones.”
And with RBC Training Ground coming to Saskatoon on Mar. 25, Puto encourages other athletes between the ages of 14 and 25 to explore what other opportunities are out there in sport.
“There’s a lot of great athletes out here that are kind of like me and stuck in that where you’re not going to make it to the next step in the sport that you’re playing but you’re not quite done,” said Puto. “Things like RBC Training Ground are such great opportunities to give athletes who aren’t quite ready to be done.
“If sport is something that is important to you … the most important thing to do is just be open to all of these opportunities.”