Supporting Canadian Athletes

Susanne Dandenault

Susanne Dandenault first ran for the AthletesCAN Board of Directors in 1998 and by 1999 was chair of the organization.

Despite being intimidated by taking on the role so soon after joining the board, she says the support she had made the decision a lot easier.

“I had a lot of great people around to help me,” she says. “And who doesn’t like to be the leader once in a while? I was the sucker who didn’t decline the nomination!”

Susanne was born and raised in Winnipeg, Man. She attended the University of Washington on a track and field scholarship and graduated with undergraduate degrees in Psychology and Environmental Studies in 1993. She returned to Canada and completed a law degree at the University of Manitoba in 1996 and continues to live and work in Winnipeg.

Competing in throwing sports from a young age, Susanne was convinced by a friend to try weightlifting to improve her results. Two years later she retired from track and took up weightlifting full-time. She joined the national team in 1998 and competed in five World Championships, two Pan Am Games, a Commonwealth Games, was an alternate at the 2004 Olympics and is a nine-time national champion (1997-2005). During this time she became the first drug-free woman in Canada and third in North America to successfully clean and jerk 300 lbs. Susanne retired in 2005.

Susanne first got involved in athlete leadership when she was asked to be part of the founding group of the Manitoba Athletes Association (MAA) (modeled after AthletesCAN) in the early 1990s. She later became president of the MAA and says her law background and ability to speak her mind were a great fit.

“I was well educated and outspoken so I was perfect for sticking up for athlete rights,” she says.

Susanne attended her first AthletesCAN Forum in 1996 and attended again in 1998 when she ran for the board. She took over as chair from Lori Johnstone in 1999. At the time, AthletesCAN had been continuing to grow and evolve from its “fighting the system” approach to developing relationships with key groups in the Canadian sport community. Susanne says when she became chair, AthletesCAN was “really being heard”.

“The ‘radical’ start (to the organization) was really how it had to be because athletes having rights and sticking up for themselves was very new and I think it had to be forced upon others for them to realize the need,” she says. “That smoothed out when organizations realized that we were basing our actions and decisions on research, experience, intelligence, etc. I’m mostly non-confrontational and believe that working together is the way to solve issues. We play with the same kids in the sandbox everyday, so why make a mess?”

AthletesCAN was also in the process of moving its Toronto office to Ottawa and hiring its first CEO Tom Jones.

“I wanted to ensure that we had great leadership in the office by the time I left and I think we achieved that with the hiring of Tom Jones,” she says. “It was a difficult time and the burden on the board members was quite profound, but we managed successfully.”

Susanne’s chairmanship came to an end in 2001. She continues to stay involved in sport as an athlete representative with the SDRCC, as a board member with Coaching Manitoba and as former president of the Manitoba Weightlifting Association. She is also a big proponent of women in sport.

“Being a woman in a male dominated sport made being an advocate for women very important to ensure equality, fairness and even the right to participate,” she says. “I also believe that females are more likely to not participate in sport because of stereotypes, body image issues, etc., and other females must do whatever they can to encourage participation in sport and physical fitness at any level.”

Susanne says it is important for athletes to be leaders off the field of play because they have the ability to make a difference.

“If athletes want changes in the way they are funded, selected, and have decisions made that affect them, they must be involved,” she says. “We have a right to speak our minds and to make informed decisions but we cannot do that without leadership from within.”

For the future, Susanne hopes AthletesCAN continues to grow and prosper.

“I hope that they will continue believing and advocating for the rights of athletes and become an even bigger name in sport in Canada and that the government will be constantly knocking at AthletesCAN’s door for advice and input.”

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