‘Super mom’ cheers on Beijing Olympian, Jay Dearborn, at home in Yarker

A 27-year-old Yarker man is set to hit the Olympic bobsleigh run in Bejing, and his mother couldn’t possibly be more excited.

Liz Shibley, the mother of Jay Dearborn, speaks on the phone from her home in Yarker and the joy is palpable as she recounts a recent trip to a pet store for the regular supplies.

“I went in to get something to help [my dog] Phoebe not chew her leash, but I saw a collar with Canadian Maple Leafs on it so of course you know, I have to buy Phoebe a new outfit. And then I said to the girl working there, ‘Can I tell you why I’m buying this collar?’… Life’s exciting moments!”

Liz Shibley (top) with sons Chris Shibley (bottom left) and Jay Dearborn during a visit to the Ice House in Calgary this past summer. Jay was on a bye week from the CFL. Photo submitted.

She laughs at the irony, sharing, “You know, we always brought the kids up to keep their accomplishments to themselves, not to brag,” but understandably, she just can’t stop herself when it comes to having an Olympian in the family — she feels like “Super Mom.”

Jay is the youngest of Shibley and Ken Dearborn’s five children. Both parents taught at Sydenham High School, with Ken teaching physical education and coaching football.

“Everybody in the family other than me is very coordinated and athletic. I’m about as coordinated as a rock. But anyway, fortunately, the boys got their dads, their athletic genes,” Shibley says.

Jay played a number of sports at Sydenham High School, and continued with football at Holland College in Prince Edward Island, where he was pursuing an Industrial Electrical Diploma. 

Jay wanted a small-town experience after high school, Shibley says, “because Sydenham, as you know, is small, [and he wanted that] community connection. There, the Holland College vice president got Jay into getting into the Combine when he graduated. “So, that was kind of Jay’s first foray into ‘Hmm, maybe I could do more with this.’”

The CFL Combine (formerly known as the Evaluation Camp or E-Camp) is a three-day program in which athletes from Canadian universities and Canadians in the NCAA are scouted by general managers, coaches, and scouts of the Canadian Football League (CFL). After a stellar performance at the CFL Combine in 2016, Jay headed off to Carleton University’s environmental engineering program.

Jay Dearborn’s official Team Canada portrait. Submitted Photo.

“Which is fabulous,” says Shibley, “he’s been climbing away for a few years, doing limited courses with football.”

In 2019, after a second astounding Combine appearance as one of the tallest defensive back prospects ever, showing record-breaking explosion in the jumping tests, Jay was signed by the Saskatchewan Roughriders to play Special Teams and Safety. 

Unfortunately, he was injured in an exhibition game right after Roughriders training camp, says Shibley, “So, that kind of stopped him in his tracks and it was going to be an injury that took some time to get over and repair… we kind of thought ‘well, I guess that’s it for football.’” But in the meantime, “bobsleigh had contacted him, as they often do, apparently, with graduating football players, so [that was] cool! They like a lot of the crossover skills in certain football positions. So his ears perked up,” and that’s where his interest in the new sport was piqued.

After some setbacks and injuries that summer, the Roughriders called Jay back up, she says, “And so, we had a ton of fun that summer, but Jay continued staying in contact with Bobsleigh Canada… And then of course, the 2020 [CFL] season was cancelled, but he could still go and try out for bobsleigh, which he did and made the bobsled team.”

In late November 2021, Jay again made the bobsled team. “Obviously, there were discussions over ‘can you do two to elite level sports at the same time?’” Shibley shares. “Other CFL guys have gone from football to bobsleigh after they’ve retired, but to play both… the training is very similar, so one doesn’t take away from the other, other than the timing of when the football season ends versus when can you start in with bobsleigh.”

Jay had a great football season that finished off really well, despite a minor injury in the second-last game of the playoffs, his mother says, and she picked him up at the airport when the Roughriders had dismissed the team for the season. On the way back from the airport, Jay’s brother, Chris, met the family in Brockville with a car. Not one to sit still for long, Jay took that car to Lake Placid to compete in his other sport of choice, Shibley relays, and she and Chris returned home.

And so, just over a week after his CFL season had ended, Jay Dearborn finished second in the two-man bobsleigh with teammate Austin Taylor in the North American Cup.

Kingston’s Trailhead is proud to sponsor Jay Dearborn, saying, “We love being able to cheer Jay on from afar and to aid in keeping him prepared for each race with our gear!” Submitted photo.

Jay came home for one night during the holidays, Shibley says, noting that, due to the pandemic, the family was unable to catch up indoors, so they opted for an outdoor family bonfire instead. “That was before Christmas,” she recalls, “And then I took him up to the airport the next day, and off he went to Latvia for the end of the World Cup season.”

“This is a guy to whom Charlottetown P.E.I was a big city,” she laughs, “but I think he’s getting over that stuff.” 

Shibley says her son has found his teammates are “fantastic” with him being the “newbie on the team… just super encouraging.” Unfortunately, however, 14 members of the team came down with COVID-19 in Latvia, so they didn’t get to race. Then the team moved on to Germany where Dearborn did a two-man with Taylor Austin again, and then one trip down the ice in St. Moritz (Switzerland), “and they decided to put them on the back end as a pusher on Justin Kripps sled, which was super exciting because Kripps is the number one pilot.”

From there, Shibley said it was a lot of waiting around to see if Jay made it on to Team Canada in order to go to Beijing for the 2022 Olympics. Then, on Wednesday, Jan. 13 at 3 a.m. Jay texted his “Super Mom.”

“So I get a little ping you know? You just kind of instantly are awake… he said, ‘Are you awake?’ And I said ‘Of course I’m awake!’” Shibley recalls with evident enthusiasm. “So, then he does a video call. And then nobody could say anything, obviously, until the Canadian Olympic Committee released the team names… it’s all very exciting.”

Jay and his mom at a Roughriders game this fall. Photo submitted.

Shibley has become the media communication team for Jay, she says. “Everybody’s just going crazy, you know, emails with family and friends. Of course, everything suddenly turns up a notch. There’s some layers of complexity with going on to Beijing, he’s got a lot of work to do with that, he had to buy a new phone, new email. They’ve been given, you know, certain instructions as to what to do or not to do,and new social media accounts.”

“It has been a lot to manage and he would have never seen this coming. Suddenly [we are getting contacted by] lots of friends, and then there’s another layer of people, of course, people like [the media], which we never anticipated.”

Her son is a “fairly private” and humble guy, “So we’re just trying to kind of find our footing through some of this stuff.” 

“I had a conversation with Jay about how to kind of manage this onslaught, [of communication and well wishes],” says Shibley. “There’s a ton that he has to do in terms of just getting ready. He’s super focused he said, ‘my eyes have to be on the job I have to do.’”

The Olympic Bobsleigh events will take place from February 13 to 16, and 18 to 20, 2022 (Days 9-11 and 14-16). You can follow Jay Dearborn’s Olympic journey on Instagram.

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