Powering podium performances

Joined by Paralympian Richard Peter (centre), Olympic athletes Ashleigh McIvor and Karina LeBlanc spoke about the power of leadership at a conference for B.C.
Joined by Paralympian Richard Peter (centre), Olympic athletes Ashleigh McIvor and Karina LeBlanc spoke about the power of leadership at a conference for B.C.'s next generation of champions Saturday at the Richmond Olympic Oval.
— image credit: Don Fennell photo

Forty-eight hours away from winning Olympic bronze, the Canadian women’s soccer team was still trying to overcome the disappointment of a heartbreaking loss to the Americans.

As the players gathered, further reflecting on the 4-3 extra-time loss in the semifinal match Canada once led 3-2, they’re were having difficulty making sense of the result.

Coach John Herdman didn’t say a word. He left that to the leadership group, which recognized the opportunity to finish in the medals still lay ahead.

“That was so powerful because he allowed us to deal with it the way we needed to,” said veteran goalkeeper Karina LeBlanc, whose own leadership skills helped to energize Canada’s 1-0 victory over France in the third-place game Aug. 9 at the London Games.

“It’s going to take one moment, and we’ll either walk out of here with nothing or the bronze medal,” she told her teammates.

Two minutes in extra time Diana Matheson scored, sending an entire nation into jubilation.

LeBlanc shared the team’s journey with 100 of B.C.’s current and future Olympic and Paralympic athletes at Athlete Advance, a one-day conference Saturday at the Richmond Olympic Oval. The conference, hosted by Canadian Sport Centre Pacific, was designed to educate and inspire the athletes in their quest for podium performances. Athletes had the opportunity to attend workshops by leading experts in their respective fields and hear from panel presenters including LeBlanc, Ashleigh McIvor and Richard Peter. Their address focused on the power and importance of leadership.

A member of the Canadian national ski cross team, McIvor became the first gold medal winner of women’s ski cross at the 2010 Winter Olympics in Whistler. But she’s convinced she wouldn’t have won had it not been for teammate Chris Del Bosco helping set the stage during training.

“Basically we had three days of training on the course but the jumps were really big (built out of hay and wood) and snow was an issue (much of it was trucked in),” McIvor said.

“A lot of times on the circuit the jumps are great for a lot of us and too scary for others. so often they’ll come in and tone the jumps down a bit. But at the Olympics, because the jumps were built of hay and wood, they couldn’t do that and so it was intimidating. I was able to convince myself I was less intimated—largely due to Del Bosco.”

As is customary, on the first day training day the skiers inspected the course and tried to memorize all the jumps. If it’s a mellow course they’ll run a couple sessions and ease into it, but the Olympic course wasn’t mellow.

“We got to the top and we’re standing in the start gate,” recalled McIvor.  I’m thinking we’ll do the first couple of jumps and stop, and I look over at (De Bosco) and he’s totally ready to go.

“I’m like, ‘Are you going to run the whole thing?’

“He looked at me like it was the dumbest question in the world. But what he did there was make me want to run the entire course too. He led by example.”

So McIvor skied the entire track on her first run, which she said was “a huge advantage because I got all those nerves out of my system and from there was able to focus on dialing the track in, whereas a lot of the other athletes took the full three days to even get one full length run in.”

“I was so thankful I had that teammate to (help) lead me down the course,” she said.

The following year, McIvor’s own leadership skills helped inspire teammate Kelsey Serwa to victory.

“(Going into the X-Games) Kelsey was feeling intimidated by the course, similar to what I was feeling at the Olympics,” said McIvor. “On this particular jump it was like flying 150 feet from take-off to landing—like going across a soccer field. I don’t know why, but I was just in a positive frame of mind and got the nerve up to hit the jump. It was the craziest thing I’ve ever done in my life, and really exciting. It gave her the confidence she could do it too and she went on to win the X-Games and a week later won the world championships in Park City, Utah. And our teammate Julia (Murray) was second at worlds.

“I celebrated their success as much as if it were my own,” continued McIvor.  “I felt a huge sense of accomplishment and pride, knowing what they were up against and knowing my leadership had played a role in their success. Success breeds success and the more you can work together as a team, even in an individual sport like ski cross, the better you’ll be. A good leader makes everybody better.”

A veteran of Canada’s Paralympic men’s wheelchair basketball team, Richard Peter recently won his third gold medal at the London Games and is widely recognized as one of the  game’s greatest ambassadors.

He’s also a constant source of inspiration, not only because of his talent but his work ethic.

“One of the biggest messages I try to promote is that you’re learning every day,” said Peter. “Even as veterans we still have to improve ourselves.”

Peter’s philosophy stems from his childhood where had to learn how to adapt and overcome many obstacles.

“When I first started playing wheelchair sports I just played because I enjoyed playing sports,” he said. “(Now) I  try to talk to a lot of the younger guys that are coming up, and whether they make the team again or not, say,  ‘All right, these are things you need to work on.’

“And I try to help them improve and get that broader picture of what being part of a team entails and also help them individually to prolong their careers. I think learned a lot of that from back home,” said Peter.

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