There is no denying Canada’s rich history of women who have raised the bar in sport.
And when the Canadian Olympic Team marches into the “Fist” Olympic Stadium in Sochi, Russia for the 2014 Winter Games – just like at every Olympic Games – a group of strong and successful women will be wearing the Maple Leaf with pride.
These women, like all women celebrated on International Women’s Day on March 8, have the ability to inspire. They can inspire a new generation of young athletes who will look to them as examples of excellence, perseverance and determination. Just like the generations before them looked up to athletes like Beckie Scott (Vermilion, AB), Clara Hughes (Winnipeg, MB) and Barbara Ann Scott (Ottawa, ON), to name just three.
None have been more dominant this season than Kaillie Humphries, a trailblazer in her sport of Bobsleigh. She was crowned the first female Canadian Olympic champion in her sport and has won consecutive World Championship gold medals in 2012 and 2013.
For the Calgarian, one of her biggest goals outside of competition is to grow the reach of her sport and to see the inclusion of the four-man event which she states has not been included yet due to a lack of worldwide depth.
“I want to be like women like Sarah Burke,” said Humphries. “(She) provides real inspiration for me to push the envelope. In our sport, I really want to get women involved in women’s Bobsleigh and try to get women on the same level as men. (Burke) has pushed the boundaries and was successful in her own right.”
The legacy of the late Sarah Burke (Midland, ON), who died from injuries sustained in a training run in January of 2012, will live on in her peers as they prepare to compete in the newly added halfpipe event, making its Games debut in Sochi. Burke worked tirelessly to lobby for gender equality in her sport and her goal was finally achieved when the International Olympic Committee announced its inclusion for 2014.
“In the beginning, the competition organizers didn’t know what to do with her,” said Sarah’s mother, Jan Phelan. “A young woman who could hold her own with the men. They didn’t know it yet, but they had a tiger on their tail.”
One of the athletes inspired by Burke and following in her footsteps is Rosalind Groenewoud (Calgary, AB). She is the heir apparent to the title of Canada’s best halfpipe skier having won World Championship gold in 2011 and a Winter X Games title in 2012 - a win dedicated to the memory of Burke.
Groenewoud, who holds Burke as one of her biggest influencers for her “strong competitive drive to progress the sport and her ever-present kindness and compassion” noted how she sees more and more doors opening for women to compete in the sports they love.
Young girls have the opportunity these days to pursue several Olympic disciplines including Freestyle Skiing, Luge, Snowboarding and Skeleton - a sport in which Sarah Reid (Calgary, AB) has been making her mark as a recent silver medallist at the 2013 World Championships.
“Being a role model to women is huge to me and it’s something that I would never take lightly or take for granted,” said Reid. “I am someone who grew up with amazing female role models who taught me to be strong, and to be proud of being a woman. Knowing that I have the power to instill confidence and value into other women makes me really proud and happy.”
Role models are everywhere, if one looks hard enough.
Maelle Ricker did not have a female Snowboardcross athlete to admire as a young child, so she looked to people around her for inspiration, notably teachers at her school.
“I had some teachers that were huge role models for me,” said Ricker, the 2010 Olympic champion and the 2013 World Champion. “They were working well beyond overtime by coaching evenings and weekends, as well as doing all their work in the classroom. I was very lucky to receive that kind of attention going through high school. They helped me work harder and finish what I started. It also showed me that there’s always a way to make time to do something.”
Come Sochi 2014, Canadian women will not only be giving their everything to represent their country, but they will also represent the rich, strong tradition of Canadian women behind them who have broken down barriers to show future generations that anything is possible.