Supporting Canadian Athletes

Claire Carver-Dias

When Claire Carver-Dias retired from synchronized swimming, she felt compelled to continue contributing to the sport community as a leader in sport. Joining the AthletesCAN Board of Directors in 2003 enabled her to do just that. “The group of us (Board) felt like there had been a lot of progress made, however, the sport system still had a long way to go and I wanted to be a part of that journey,” says Claire.

Claire, the youngest of four siblings, grew up in Montreal, Quebec, and spent an active childhood playing soccer and watching her parents compete in running races across Quebec. All of Claire’s older siblings were involved with swimming and diving, and as a result, the local pool became her summer hangout. The natural progression to competitive swimming at the age of nine was a given for her, especially since “it was not an option to not do a sport in my household,” laughs Claire.

Claire joined the local competitive synchronized swimming team at the age of eleven, but admits that she did not immediately excel in the sport because she was an awkward and uncoordinated child. It was through her love of her sport that Claire quickly learned the importance of goal setting. Despite her lack of grace in her tween years, Claire’s determination led her to success – and she eventually qualified for the junior national team at the age of sixteen. After continued hard work, she squeaked her way onto the National A Team and began to realise that her Olympic dream was within reach. Thanks to the tutelage of Sheilagh Croxon*, combined with a good dose of perseverance and grit, she gained top spot on the 2000 Olympic team. Some of Claire’s successes include two gold medals (one team and one duet) at the 1999 Pan American Games; one team bronze medal at the 2000 Olympic Games; two bronze medals (one team and one duet) at the 2001 World Championships; and two gold medals (one solo and one duet) at the 2002 Commonwealth Games.

After achieving all her goals as a competitive synchronized swimmer, Claire retired from competition in 2002 in order to pursue a Master’s Degree in English at McGill University. She is currently working on her PhD in English, and runs a communications company that offers customized communication services to clients.

Actively involved in athlete leadership throughout her entire competitive career, Claire was often chosen as the spokesperson for her team. “Media would often ask me questions about what it is like to be an athlete and what our needs are, and this is when I started to develop my voice as an outspoken athlete in favour of athlete rights”, she says. Inspired by the need to ensure an athlete-centred approach to sport, Claire worked to ensure there was athlete representation at the national sport organization level and contributed to a number of sport organizations and athlete causes, including as the athlete representative to the Coaching Association of Canada Board of Directors; a member of the Commonwealth Games Canada Bid Review Committee; a member of Team 2008 for the Toronto bid to host the Olympic Games. Though busy, Claire still felt that she had more to give to sport. This is what motivated her to join the AthletesCAN Board of Directors.

Attending her first Forum in 2003, Claire had heard of AthletesCAN and the Forum before but had not been able to attend due to her competition schedule. “I was so moved that there were other athletes that felt the same way about the importance of sport as I did and that we needed a strong and loud voice for Canadian athletes”, she reflects back on her first Forum experience. Claire felt that it was amazing to learn from other athletes about their sports, what type of roles they had, how their sport is run, and where the issues in sport governance existed. Forum allowed her to realize that in order to have an impact on the sport community and contribute at the Board level she first needed to be better informed about the issues facing Canadian athletes. She was compelled to join the AthletesCAN Board in 2003 because she felt like there was much change that needed to occur in order for the sport community to be a friendlier place for athletes to build their careers. “I noted that the sport community was not as athlete-centered as it could or even should be”, says Claire. After joining the Board, she immediately became involved in pushing for more funding for athletes, as well as making sure athletes’ voices were heard at the Canadian sport community decision-making tables. “We helped to raise awareness amongst athletes that they had rights and they had support from AthletesCAN”, say Claire as she reflects on her time on the Board.

Claire was asked to run for the position of President in 2006 as it was felt that the organization would benefit from her leadership experience and vision. She was elected by her peers, and Claire has since played a large role in mapping out the future of AthletesCAN. “I felt like it was a bit of a turning point for the organization, with a change in management, huge change in board make up, and looking ahead to an Olympic Games in Canada”, she says. “We were also facing a change in the funding structure for sport organizations, which forced AthletesCAN to look for new ways to fund itself.”

Claire retired from the Board in October 2008 in order to focus on her career, pursue a PhD and focus on her young family. “I like to think that I helped AthletesCAN move through a tough time of transition, and now I believe that there is a great group of board members ready to lead the organization into the future,” she says. Although now retired from the AthletesCAN Board, Claire plans to stay involved. She hopes to be used as a resource and intends to continue working on the leadership project, “I feel strongly about the value of our leadership training project because I see AthletesCAN as a training ground for sport and community leaders.”

“The sport community is much more aware of AthletesCAN now,” says Claire. “We used to have to fight to get our voice heard, but now we are invited to speak, and we’re seen as partners or advisors in many cases, rather than adversaries.”

Claire lives in Oakville, Ontario with her husband and two daughters, aged three years and seven months.

* Sheilagh Croxon is one of the top synchronized swimming coaches in Canada and ranks among the best in the world.

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