International Women’s Day is an annual celebration of the social, economic and cultural achievements of women, and a reminder of the ongoing push for equity. This year Sport for Life decided to share stories from our team members that self-identify as women about the role physical activity has played in their lives, and the inspiration they draw from other women in the sport and physical activity ecosystem.
In their own words, here are their stories.
Mataya Jim, Manager of Indigenous Initiatives
For Mataya Jim, sport and physical activity is all about building community – which is an integral part of her Indigenous heritage as a W̱SÁNEĆ woman from the W,SIKEM community with ties to Penálaxeth' & Wwaayaa.
“Sport and physical activity have had a big impact on my life. When I think of sport and physical activity growing up, the first thing that comes to mind is family, community, and being outside. I think of riding bikes, swimming in the rivers and oceans, and climbing trees,” she said.
“I think of gathering for tournaments where uncles and aunties were the coaches and parents cheering us on from the sidelines. Sport and physical activity have been my connection to my community and the land.”
Much of what she learned throughout her childhood experiences was intertwined with the teachings of her community.
“If you look at many Indigenous languages, we are verb-based people – focused on action. I think that is one of the things that drove me to the work that I do. We look at sport and physical activity as the vehicle to create those experiences of sport that we all know and love. We see sport as a common connector of celebrating what people can do.”
Her life was deeply influenced by a number of female role models.
“I think the women that have impacted me the most would be my mom and my aunt. Neither work in sport. They did a lot of the work outside of their jobs on top of caring for their families to make things happen for soccer. They helped create the Saanich Arrows Recreation and Cultural Society,” she said.
“They helped fundraise, organize transportation and get jerseys so kids could play without worrying about some of the costs of participating in sport. I think a lot of times this work goes unrecognized.”
Carolyn Trono, Director of Quality Sport
Carolyn Trono has a lot to reflect on, when she looks back at both her athletic career and her work within the sport and physical activity ecosystem.
“Looking back over many years, perhaps the common thread over the decades are the friendships and life skills. There are people who I met through sport that I am still in touch with and I would still consider friends. Social connectedness is important,” she said.
“When I think of the sports I was involved in, at the same time I think about the people who were my friends and coaches then. I went through important life experiences with these important people in my life.”
These experiences have contributed to the person she is today.
“ I would say that sport shaped how I approach almost everything in life: 1) Goal setting, 2) applying skills needed to achieve the goals, 3) how to work as a team with people. In sport we often think of the term ‘excellence’ as being linked to high performance but in fact, excellence or quality can and should be applied in life beyond sport,” she said.
“There are many things that contribute to that. For me, most come from lessons from sport. The takeaways are important not just when things go well but lessons learned from failure. Having said that, I have also learned that sport and in particular high performance sport, can create a fairly narrow worldview. Yes, those working to succeed at the highest level of sport need to focus on their goals but expanding my world view has made me realize that many do not have access to sport the way I did.”
She had a number of significant female role models who influenced her along the way.
“Initially it was my auntie who was on the National Equestrian Team in jumping and actually went to the Pan American Games. Watching her train and compete was amazing. I knew I wanted to be on a national team. In later years, I just think back to all of the women who were trailblazers trying to get more women in leadership positions in sport as coaches, officials, sport administrators, CEOs and on boards,” she said.
“At that time, I had no idea about how hard it was and how important their work was and would be for the women coming through now.”
Chrissy Colizza, Communications Contractor
Ever since she was little, Chrissy Colizza dreamed of playing women’s hockey at McGill University – and now she’s in her sixth year on the team, and has even been named captain.
“Hockey has become a staple of my life, both challenging me beyond what I thought was possible and providing me with a sense of community and belonging,” said Colizza.
“Through my involvement in sports, I have developed key skills such as dedication, perseverance, and a strong work ethic. My experiences playing with and against talented athletes from all over the world have led to the formation of close friendships and a sense of community.”
These experiences resulted in her receiving various accolades, including the Jean Beliveau Leadership Medal, the Aleo Foundation Gildan Leadership Scholarship, and the Dorothy Nichols Leadership Award. She was trying to live up to her idol, Olympian Hayley Wickenheiser – one of the keynotes at this year’s Sport for Life Summit.
“Since I was five years old, Hayley Wickenheiser has inspired me. Her picture carrying the Canadian hockey flag has been hanging behind my bed as a constant reminder that I, too, could pursue a career in hockey. Despite the barriers that existed for women in sports during my upbringing, Hayley proved that anything was possible with hard work and dedication.”
Colizza also drew inspiration from her older cousins, who were active during her childhood and encouraged her to join them from a young age.
“My fondest memories have always involved playing sports, whether it was playing basketball or kickball in my Nono and Nona’s driveway or hockey on the outdoor rink. My cousin Julia Colizza especially played a significant role in my journey, serving as a mentor and coach and pushing me toward my goal of playing university hockey. Julia played division one hockey at Mercyhurst University and was captain of her team which ultimately motivated me to play university hockey.”
Colizza is hugely grateful for these influences on her life.
“The impact these women have had on me extends beyond their athletic achievements. They have instilled in me the values of hard work, dedication, and perseverance. They have shown me that success can be achieved with the right attitude and support system,” she said.
“These women serve as a reminder that women can achieve great things in the sport and physical activity field, and they have inspired me to strive for success and make my own impact in the world.”
Billie Tes, Manager of People and Culture
Athletics have played a huge role in Billie Tes’ life, leading up to her role at Sport for Life.
For most of her career, she was a member of the Coquitlam Cheetahs, where she was coached by Percy Parry and Tara Self. She earned the chance to represent Canada in the women’s 4x100-metre relay at the Pan American Junior Athletics Championships in 2005 and received a scholarship as a student-athlete at the University of Windsor, where she competed as part of the Windsor Lancers team.
Some of her greatest accomplishments include being a high school medalist in the 100-metre race in 2005, a Canadian Junior medalist in the 100-metre race in 2007, and competing in the 100-metre and 200-metre races at the BC Championships in 2005 and 2007.
According to Tes, these experiences couldn’t have happened without the guidance of her coach.
“Tara Self molded the person I am today. Tara was adamant that when we step on the track we are athletes first. For me, this invitation to be an athlete first before anything else was my key to freedom. Instead of being defined by socially constructed racial or gender signifiers I could work hard to define myself for myself for my benefit as an athlete,” she said.
“Every single day our team showed up to practice Tara was there rock-steady with clear instructions to work hard and pull the best results out of us. Tara’s wicked sense of humor, strong leadership skills and her lived experience as an Olympic athlete made for the perfect recipe for me to develop my skills.”
Her coach remained a relevant person in her life long-term.
“Later on in life Tara attended my wedding, and she attended many of my teammates’ weddings as well. This just goes to show the incredible impact she has on so many people’s lives. By far Tara is a role model, friend and inspiration. I am so grateful I got to call her coach for so many years!”
Francesca Jackman, Manager of Strategic Initiatives
Sport and physical activity provided Francesca Jackman with some of her lifes’ deepest joys, and gave her the opportunity to have experiences she would never otherwise have access to.
“Lately, sport and physical activity seem almost synonymous to my life. I work in sport, volunteer in sport, and escape through sport and physical activity. Overall, sport has had a very positive role in my life, and I'm extremely fortunate and grateful for the opportunities I've had as a result – meeting life-long best friends, volunteering at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games, and more recently sharing my passion for sport through coaching,” she said.
“I will say though that while sport has been the source of some of my greatest joys, it's also been the source of some of my greatest anxieties.”
Jackman was extremely competitive during her childhood and adolescent years.
“Growing up I was involved in competitive soccer, dance, and later track and field. I was happy playing any sport, but it became increasingly clear that running was where I thrived. Like many athletes, my nerves grew with each race and the pressure I put on myself became nearly unmanageable. I didn't go on to compete in university; instead I found joy through fitness classes and long-distance road races,” she said.
“I'm proud to have completed three marathons and six half marathons, but not without challenge, self-doubt and anxiety. I'm confident sport will continue to have an important role in my life, but in full honesty, I'm still working on defining what that looks like.”
She had no shortage of female role models as she progressed through her career.
“In my early years, inspiration came from my mom. She was one of my biggest supporters (the other being my dad), and I owe much of my passion for lifelong engagement in physical activity to her. From playing 21 basketball with me, to taking me to the track to train for my first 800-metre race, to carting me from soccer to dance to track and home, she was always there cheering me on,” she said.
“Throughout high school, inspiration came from my running coach Sue Northey. With Sue, it wasn't just that you could hear her cheering for you from anywhere in the stadium, it was all of the little things she did to make sport fun. Now that I've started coaching, I've become even more aware of the impact she has had on my relationship with sport and it inspires me to try and be that person for the athletes I coach.
She’s also taken inspiration from successful female athletes.
“Outside of my personal network, I've been most inspired by Clara Hughes. I fell in love with her book Open Heart, Open Mind and when I saw her at the Olympic Velodrome in Rio 2016 I couldn't pass up the chance to gushingly say hello. Clara humanized performance sport for me and her gratitude has stuck with me as I've pursued a career in sport administration.”
Renée Lozeau, Manager of Design Services
For Renée Lozeau, sport and physical activity helped her learn how to love herself, and took her on a journey of self-discovery that improved all aspects of her life.
“Growing up in a rural area, I was outdoors every day with family or the kids in my neighbourhood: tree climbing, swimming, canoeing, camping and riding bicycles on the back roads. I joined girl guides and with a newfound sense of adventure, enjoyed new experiences, new skills, competition and leadership, all combined with physical activity. My first competitive sport was soccer. It felt wonderful to excel at something and my team members supported and encouraged each other,” she said.
“Then after elementary school, I went through a period of feeling badly about myself and my body – children can be relentlessly cruel. That lack of confidence followed me through into my adult relationships and it wasn’t until leaving my marriage that I realized I needed to start loving myself more. Because as the saying goes, wherever I went I’d always be there.”
Feeling a need to get into shape but not interested in going to the gym, she decided to join a belly dance class at the local sport complex.
“I soon realized that it was an amazingly supportive environment which gradually helped me gain body positivity and confidence. The instructor and my fellow dancers made me realize that beauty comes in many forms, dancers can be all shapes and sizes, and that dance was something I could excel at. Beyond that, I realized I was enough, just being me.”
Before long, she’d found her niche.
“I explored a variety of dance styles and found one that really spoke to me. It was an improvisational style of belly dance that incorporated elements of Flamenco with a variety of middle eastern dance movements. I had always admired the feminine strength of Flamencas and this belly dance style was intriguing; more focused on group interaction than performance,” she said.
“Then my dance teacher encouraged me to branch off and begin teaching on my own. I had come to feel better about myself and though I still felt fear that I wouldn’t be good enough, I decided to venture outside my comfort zone. This new role was another step along my journey of personal growth. Teaching not only allowed me to give back everything I had received from my teacher, but I also got to see women who were just like me, learning to love their bodies, gain confidence and bloom like flowers. It was a wonderful gift!”
Eventually she moved and was unable to teach regularly, but she eventually found a new belly dance troupe and started taking a Flamenco class. She even involved her husband, taking him to monthly events where he drums while she dances.
“This Women’s Day, as I reflect on these women who have inspired and encouraged me, I realize that I wouldn’t be who I am today without them. As I attempt to age gracefully, I know the physical activity and lifelong friends I have made will carry me though. I can’t imagine life without dance!”