As a child I loved to run, swim, and climb on things. I did cartwheels any and everywhere I could. My parents signed me up for different sports and activities, enrolled me in summer day camps at the Dartmouth Sportsplex, and encouraged me to play outside as much as possible. I tried piano lessons once, but my musical career was short lived. I lasted only one session – that type of disciplined patience and quiet focus is something that escaped me as a girl.
At age nine, I joined a paddling club on Lake Banook for a summer and was hooked. Though I continued to play other sports, paddling was something I came back to every year. By fourteen I was training full time and spending March breaks at training camps in Florida, dreaming of racing at Junior Worlds and someday, the Olympics. In 2005, I made my first international team and have been racing for Canada ever since.
As a young athlete, I was fortunate to have strong female role models leading the way and shaping my attitudes around sport. My particular canoe club was home to two Olympians (Julia Rivard and Jill D’Alessio). I watched them work hard, build muscles, earn Olympic spots, and achieve their dreams. My paddling heroines showed me that it is possible to do anything, and because of them it never occurred to me that a woman might not be able to reach her highest athletic goals. But I realized later that is because I was sitting in a kayak rather than kneeling in a canoe.
Women have never raced in the sport of sprint canoe at the Olympic Games. While men have raced in this discipline for years, earning Olympic medals and achieving their dreams, women have only had the opportunity to race in the kayak discipline, and still, in fewer events than their male counterparts.
Like most athletes, my experience in sport has not been without hurdles, setbacks, and challenges. However, I have to say that sport has been mostly positive and empowering for me. While this is my individual narrative, I understand that the athletic experience for girls and women can be markedly different from that of boys and men.
Did you know that girls are six times more likely to drop out of sports than boys?
I didn’t know that – not until I started volunteering for an organization called Fast and Female. Fast and Female was founded by Chandra Crawford, an Olympic gold medalist. The organization hosts fun-filled, non-competitive events all over North-America for young girls. Participants meet inspiring Olympic, national and elite level female athletes, make friends, and learn strategies to overcome barriers to continued participation in sport. Fast and Female’s mission is to keep girls healthy, happy and active in sport through their teens, and as someone who has greatly benefitted from the skills and experiences gained through a sport career, I am thrilled to have joined the Fast and Female team as the new Program Manager for Atlantic Canada.
Though girls and women have faced unfair challenges in the sport world, change is certainly on the horizon. Organizations and groups like Fast and Female and Women Active are comprised of strong, passionate, and positive women in sport, working to make a difference.
Throughout my eleven years competing for Team Canada in the sport of sprint kayak, I have watched athletes, activists, administrators, and supporters bring the issue of inequality and women’s canoe to the forefront of gender equity conversations in the sport world. I have watched dedicated female canoe athletes earn medals on World Championship podiums and just this year, receive Sport Canada AAP funding for the first time. Women’s canoe is well on its way to breaking down the final barrier and will almost certainly be included in the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games.
Those female canoe athletes will form a new group of role models and paddling heroines that will inspire young girls at their own canoe clubs to dream big and stay involved in sport. Those women, and all women working to make physical activity, recreation, and sport more positive and accessible for girls are making a lasting impact. If there is one thing I have taken away from a long career in sport, it is that sport should be fun, sport should be positive, and sport should be for everyone.