Southern Alberta Hero Rides High as She Challenges Life & Amazing Race Canada

by Jean Van Kleek

The Southern Alberta region is anything but a densely populated area. That’s why it’s even more special that we are home to such a surprising array of talent. What we don’t have in numbers, we make up for in heart. Over the last few years we have produced a Canadian Idol winner in the very talented singer/songwriter, Theo Tams, a “So You Think You Can Dance Canada” winner in Tara Popowich, who wowed the judges and viewers with her style and personality, and in 2016 Lowell and Julie Taylor won the hearts of Canadians during their participation on Amazing Race Canada. Although they didn’t win the race, every Canadian couple wanted to be “just like them”.  

Once again, Southern Alberta has an opportunity to proudly showcase one of our own on “Amazing Race Canada, Hero Edition”.  Nancy Csabay, of Taber, made the cut for the show from literally thousands of entries with her hero partner, Mellisa Hollingsworth, from the Red Deer area.

Nancy, her husband, Tony and daughter, Kate, live just north of Taber on TNK Farms where they breed and train top barrel horses. Csabay also offers motivational retreats that involve the horses. Nancy has won many awards in women’s barrel racing and is a two-time Canadian Professional Rodeo Association Champion.  She also won a round in the Calgary Stampede’s barrel racing event in 2015.
Nancy’s win at the 2015 Calgary Stampede was especially poignant as it came on the heels of her battle with cancer in 2013. She took some time off to focus on healing, and once she beat the cancer, she returned with a renewed sense of purpose. Nancy says she’s changed her outlook since having cancer and adds “I’ve learned that it’s more about the journey than the destination”. She tries to do her best living in each moment rather than focussing on the end result. Make no mistake though, this woman is still very competitive, but now it’s more about doing her personal best. It’s very clear that Nancy faces life and anything it puts in front of her head-on. She celebrates the successes, and never stays down when thrown off the horse.

 Nancy’s father, Arnold Haraga, was the 1970 Canadian All-Around champion while her mom, Kaye (nee Thierman), won the Miss Rodeo Canada title. Nancy grew up on the road and learned to ride before she could even walk. I mentioned to Nancy that I couldn’t help but notice how intense her piercing blue eyes became in her barrel racing pictures when she was “in the zone”. She laughed and said she got that from her dad. He too, was very intense with an intense glare during competition.
Nancy found out about the Amazing Race Canada auditions from a friend’s post on Facebook in October. She has always been a huge fan of the show and decided to share the post with friends and asked who would like to audition with her. Nancy was amazed at how many friends wanted to join her, but it was Olympic medalist, Mellisa Hollingsworth, who stood out to Nancy as the choice for her partner.

 “Before the show, I didn’t know Mellisa well at all. She had interviewed me at the Calgary Stampede one year and that’s the only conversation up until the show that we had had,” she says. “Mellisa saw my post on Facebook and sent me a picture of her and Jon with an Amazing Race envelope, saying we should do this together. I knew she had a great story with her being an Olympian and since it’s the hero edition, Mellisa was the perfect choice. Hollingsworth was a national champion in skeleton within three months of entering the sport and earned a bronze medal at the 2006 Turin Olympics. She also has been to the podium for many World Cup finishes.  

The nation got behind Mellisa at the 2010 Olympics in Whistler, she was in silver-medal position and launched onto her sled for the final with a personal-best start time. She would eventually hit the wall at turn 6, knocking her into fifth place. She said she felt like she had let her country down at the time, which resulted in thousands of letters and emails of support from Canadians who shared their stories about moving on from disappointment.

Both Nancy and Mellisa are true champions, having surmounted disappointment and surviving life’s challenges as they carry on and thrive. They were chosen out of thousands of entries to audition for the show. Nancy says she thinks they were chosen because they both have stories people can relate to. While this may be true, I also believe it’s because these two woman stand out as earthy, honest and a true representation of what it means to be Canadian.

While Nancy and Mellisa share a winning spirit, they really didn’t know each other before the show. Nancy says at times it proved to be a challenge not knowing each other’s strengths and weaknesses.  For instance, she didn’t know how hard to push Mellisa during the challenges to encourage her, or if pushing would do the opposite. She likens it to training with the horses, different approaches work for different personalities. As it turned out, they built an amazing friendship throughout the five weeks of shooting the show. In fact, even though each team was competing to win, they all became very close and still stay in touch. They were sincerely saddened when teams were sent home.

One of the highlights for Nancy of taking part in the show, was travelling to parts of Canada she hadn’t seen before. She loved it all, but especially enjoyed the wild, rustic beauty of Dawson City, Yukon.

When asked about what the most difficult challenge was to date on the show, she immediately said “the blueberry pie!  It was the worst!” During that particular episode, each member of the team had to eat a WHOLE blueberry pie. Not just any old pie, it was a HUGE pie! Nancy says the crust was very thick too and even though she loves blueberry pie, this challenge was a lot to handle. Several teams were throwing up as they tried to complete the challenge. It didn’t help that Mellisa didn’t like blueberry pie at all and struggled even with the first few bites. Nancy, being the trooper she is, helped finish Mellisa’s pie after eating her own. Barely getting through the pies and becoming way behind, they reluctantly used their pass for the fairly challenge to help catch up.This part of the leg put Nancy and Mellisa behind in placement, but they worked their way up again during the next leg.

 An episode I found quite funny, was when the card read “who is handy?” Nancy squealed “I love to build things… I’ll do it!” only to find out it was a “hand dance” that involved intricate movements of the hands and complicated instruction. Nancy kept trying and trying and was obviously near the end of her rope with frustration when suddenly those “intense steely blue eyes” appeared.  She was in the zone, she was going to get through it, and right then and there, she succeeded.

The show, much like real life, presents situations that catch you off guard, the unexpected that you need to find a way to manage in order to carry on. And, as Nancy says she discovered through her own life changing moments, things are best dealt with by living in the moment. Becoming overwhelmed just isn’t an option when putting one foot in front of the other. When you think of how many miles you need to travel, it becomes difficult to carry on, but when you break it down into steps, the miles take care of themselves. The show requires much more than athleticism. It requires the ability to adjust quickly to situations you can’t control and often facing fears head on. And much like real life, it’s amazing what you can accomplish and overcome when trying to stay in the game.
Although Nancy was excited to take part in the show to challenge herself and travel, her main goal was to show her daughter there is nothing to fear, and to never give up. And as she enters her fifth decade on this planet, she wanted to let other women know life isn’t over at forty. She says “Whatever it is they want to do just grab the reins and do it!” We learn from everything we do, including failures. That’s why there really is no failure, it’s just another opportunity to grow. If you never put yourself out there, you’ll never fully know what you are capable of.

The show is done taping and Nancy is back home with her family, but she isn’t allowed to divulge any information past what has already aired or who wins the grand prize. In the end, it doesn’t really matter.  No matter the results, both Nancy and Mellisa are winners and reflect the hard work and ethics that are a part of our western heritage These two women exemplify strength, humility and class and are truly Amazing Canadian Heroes.

Jean Van KleekComment