Supporting Canadian Athletes

Heather Moyse

As a member of two senior national teams in bobsleigh and rugby, Heather Moyse is a remarkable example of passion and dedication to sport. Not only has she represented Canada in 15 international rugby games; Heather has also competed for bobsleigh at the 2006 Winter Olympics in Turin, Italy, and is a 2010 hopeful for the Olympic team in Vancouver, BC.

Heather was born and raised in Summerside, Prince Edward Island, where her parents made sure she was involved in several extracurricular activities. “Although sport was always a part of our life, Sundays were strictly family days for us”, explains Heather. “Coaches knew that if there was a practice on Sunday, I likely wouldn’t be there”. Instead, Heather and her family (parents, Cyril and Sharon, and siblings, Heidi and Walter) could be found participating in all sorts of activities together, from cross country skiing, to hiking, to swimming, to movies and pizza.

As a “tiny tot” in gymnastics at the age of four and a “smurf” in figure skating at the age of five, Heather’s participation in organized sports began at a young age. In high school she played soccer, basketball, rugby and track and continued with some of these sports at the varsity level at the University of Waterloo. In 2004, she started playing rugby for the Team Ontario and by the end of the summer; she played in a development Canada A game against the United States. Shortly after, she was asked to join an international rugby tour in England in November 2004. She was the leading point-scorer in tries for the whole tournament and the only Canadian selected to the All-Star team at the Women’s Rugby World Cup in 2006. Heather also made her debut with the National Women’s Rugby Sevens team in March 2008 in Hong Kong.

Heather was first recruited for bobsleigh in 2001, just prior to the 2002 Olympics in Salt Lake City, however she had already accepted an internship position in Trinidad as a Disability Sports Program Officer with Commonwealth Games Canada. “At the time, it was more of a dream for me to work in a developing country than to go to the Olympics for a sport that I didn’t really know anything about”, says Heather.

It was exactly four years later (and one year after Heather moved back to Toronto from Trinidad to pursue a Master’s degree in Occupational Therapy) that she ran into the same recruiter. In August 2005, she agreed to travel to Calgary to go through the testing and was tested for a variety of different transferable skills, such as speed and strength and pushing in the ice house (an indoor start track). Heather did extremely well and was asked by a couple of drivers if she would push for them for that season. Although this meant taking a one year leave of absence from school, she saw it as a challenge and needed to see if she could do it, especially after having turned down the opportunity 4 years earlier! “There were people questioning my pilot’s decision to take me on as a new brakeman for the Olympic season and I just wanted to prove to everyone that I deserved to be there”, she says. “It was a challenge I couldn’t refuse. Not only did I have to learn a new sport and learn how to do it well, but the Olympics were in less than five months!”

In her first season together with pilot Helen Upperton, Heather won the Canadian Championships, finished 2nd overall in the World Cup Circuit with 1 gold, 2 silvers, 1 bronze, and push-start records on four international tracks. Her bobsleigh season culminated in a 4th place finish at the 2006 Winter Olympics in Turin, Italy where she and Helen set another push-start record. Heather relates the experience as a bit of a blur since her first season in bobsleigh happened so fast, she found it hard to believe that she went to the Olympics at all. Heather believes it was a great honour to compete wearing the Canada’s maple leaf and has high hopes for the 2010 Olympic Games in Vancouver.

When asked if she gets a lot of support from her family, she responds, “Sometimes I feel like I’ve had an unfair advantage because my family is so supportive. I grew up having so many different ideas and never once was I told that something was impossible or that I couldn’t do it. That seed of doubt was never planted – so why can’t I learn a new sport and go to the Olympics in five months?”

In order to prepare for the 2010 Games, Heather is putting all she has into her training requirements, as well as keeping things in perspective. She feels that she is fortunate to have already experienced an Olympic Games and understands that the hectic schedule and heightened publicity can take a lot out of you. For Heather, it is important to schedule in down time to make sure she isn’t spreading herself too thin.

Heather’s goals for 2010 include representing Canada on the top of the podium and having the best performance of her life at the Vancouver Games.

Not only does Heather believe that sport is a great way to learn how to persevere in the face of challenges, but that it also promotes leadership development at the individual, community, national and international levels. In 2001, Heather was selected to serve as a Disability Sports Program Officer with Commonwealth Games Canada in Trinidad and Tobago. She developed and established a camp for children who are deaf or hearing-impaired from islands across the Caribbean called Camp ABLE (Active Bodies, Leadership, and Esteem). Heather remained in Trinidad and Tobago for almost three years doing other work with the Paralympic Association, Disabled People’s International, and the Trinidad and Tobago Rugby Union.

Since returning to Canada to do her Masters in Occupational Therapy, Heather has continued to serve as a Member-at-Large for Commonwealth Games Canada to make a positive change in communities throughout the Commonwealth. In 2006, Heather was named the spokesperson for the ‘Pave the Island with Toonies Campaign’, launched by the Stars for Life Foundation for Autism. The Stars for Life Foundation was established in 2002 to ensure the future of children with autism spectrum disorder in their community.

Heather is an ambassador for Operation Eye Sight, which is an organization that is helping to overcome preventable blindness. “I have a passion for helping those who are at a disadvantage to start believing in themselves and showing them that possibilities are everywhere!” she explains.

Reflecting back, Heather believes she first became involved in athlete leadership in high school when she took a leadership class which promoted coaching and organizing sport events. During her time in Trinidad and Tobago, Heather noticed the popularity of the men’s game of rugby, but only a handful of girls practicing off to the sides. After being asked to help with a weekend coaching clinic, she decided to continue coaching girls and women in the sport. She wants to be the one to light the fire of passion for a sport which she feels so strongly about. Heather continues to make guest appearances and coach her old high-school team whenever she’s home in Prince Edward Island for a visit. She truly believes that if your first coach is a good one and is passionate about the game, you will always love the sport and will remain involved in it as much and as long as possible!

Most recently, Heather was an AthletesCAN Ambassador during the 2009 Canada Summer Games in PEI, a leadership opportunity which she promptly seized. With her home province hosting, Heather was able to take on the incredible role of mentor to the Canada Games athletes, speaking at the Opening Ceremonies, answering their questions, motivating and inspiring them at team meetings and venues and recognizing their amazing efforts by presenting at medal ceremonies. “Being asked to be an AthletesCAN Ambassador at such an important national event for Canada’s developing athletes was a great honour – especially as my home province of PEI was hosting! To be called a leader and a positive role model is one of the highest compliments one could receive, and it was wonderful to be able to share my story and answer questions to hopefully inspire the 2009 Canada Games athletes to fulfill their potential.”

Most of Heather’s leadership initiatives occurred before she competed at an elite level and she loves the fact that now she has even more opportunities to do similar things but with a lot more weight behind what she is promoting. When asked how she balances athlete leadership with her hectic schedule, Heather responds “I think it is natural for athletes, we don’t necessarily strive to be leaders, it just comes with who we are. I just hope that what I am doing and how I live my life makes a positive difference in someone else’s life”.

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