MY ATHLETESCAN FORUM EXPERIENCE

BY JOY SPEARCHIEF-MORRIS, ATHLETICS 

First I want to a take a moment to thank Aboriginal Sport Circle (ASC) for sending me to the AthletesCAN Forum in Ottawa. I can easily say it was one of the coolest experiences I have ever had the chance to be a part of and I would not have had this opportunity if it was not for ASC. So thank you for allowing me to open my eyes to the inner world of sports, meet some new friends, and find new ways to be involved in sport and the impact athletes can make when we use our collective voice!

I am so excited to share this post because I am just so excited about everything that happened over this whole weekend and about this organization! I have been waiting to be truly excited about something for awhile and finally there are some things that are starting to come together.

Back in July, the ASC asked if I wanted to attend the AthletesCAN Forum as their athlete delegate. For those who don't know who Aboriginal Sports Circle are, they are"the national voice in sport, fitness, culture and recreation pursuits for the Aboriginal peoples in Canada." I first came to know of the ASC when I won the Tom Longboat Award in 2017. I had heard of AthletesCAN before and knew that they acted for national team athletes in Canada, but I didn't really know what they did. Being someone who is always eager to say yes to opportunities, I was excited to go. Arriving at the Forum in Ottawa I really didn't know what to expect, I didn't know if I was going to be bored or how much of the weekend would require physical activity (we're talking about collecting a group of high level athletes together and I was still in off season so the competitive side of me was worried I wouldn't be able to keep up!) I was also just a little nervous about putting myself out there to a group of strangers. As it turns out I wasn't alone and had the chance to do some bonding with some fellow trackies, some I knew before and some I didn't. 

To kick off the weekend, I had been asked to present the award of Male Athlete of The Year (winter and summer sport) with Olympic Snowboarder Caroline Calvé at the Canadian Sports Awards. So just like that, I was straight into being put slightly out of my comfort zone with speaking in front of a very large group of people. The Awards were a great night, I didn't screw up on stage, and there were some amazing award winners who had some inspiring speeches. When the Forum officially kicked off the next day, all I can say is how eye-opening everything became. What I learned is that AthletesCAN is dedicated to an athlete-centred sport system and building athlete leadership for ALL national team members. They are also not afraid to talk about the tough issues in sport. We looked at athlete representation and involvement, athlete rights and athlete advocacy. The sessions focused on issues that I had heard of or seen in the media but was never really able to dive deeper into. Some of the most interesting sessions for me focused on the issues of human rights in sports. The sessions spoke on what is the true meaning of inclusion. We touched on racism Indigenous peoples face in sport, and the violation of human rights pertaining to gender targeted athletes. Thank you Janice Forsyth, Aboriginal Sport Circle, Kristen Worley and CanoeKayak Canada for this discussion! We had a very raw and open session on sexual assault in sport. Thank you Allison Forsyth and Bridie Farrell for sharing your stories. We also discussed athlete advocacy and the Universal Declaration of Player Rights in Canada. Something I learned was that when signing an athlete agreement for national teams, you surrender your Canadian Charter rights, particularly as they apply to WADA doping control. The Universal Declaration of Player Rights works to enforce basic human rights over sport policy. 

The most inspiring session for myself had to be the keynote speaker, Canadian Adventurer Ray Zahab. How do you inspire a group of elite level athletes? You give them an ultra-marathoner who ran 7500km across the Sahara Desert in 111 days. Oh yeah, and he ran his first ultra-marathon after being a pack-a-day smoker with no running experience prior. Ray spoke to us on the idea of "impossibilities" and needless to say, I had my jaw hanging open the entire time he was speaking.

One really rewarding experience for myself at the Forum was connecting to the other athletes from all sports across Canada. The Forum brings together national team athletes, Olympic athletes and Para-Olympic athletes. In one of our sessions we discussed what a holistic approach to athlete development would look like and how that could be supported. Based on my experiences over the last year, it was so comforting to know that here were other people that had gone through similar experiences to me and could truly understand and relate to what I had gone through and what I was trying to do. I just kept walking around the whole weekend feeling like, "Wow! Here is where I need to be and these are my kind of people!" As the weekend progressed I started to find my voice again. I felt comfortable expressing some of my opinions in small groups, or even to the whole group in activities like "The Fish Bowl." By the end of the weekend I was started to feel the most like myself that I had felt in a long time. I was feeling more confident, more energetic, more focused and so much more inspired to go after my goals and my dreams, on and off the track. I didn't want to leave!

During the Forum, it was announced that the Board of Directors were holding open elections at the end of the weekend and there were five positions open. I just remember thinking to myself, "this is right up my alley, this is something I could do, this is something I want to be involved in!" I know I have a unique voice and I wanted to be able to use it. So I started to talk to people about the board and said I wanted to run. I shared my feelings and views, why I thought I would be a good member and why I felt what I had to say was worthing being heard. At the end of the weekend I accepted to run for a position and was elected. You are now officially looking at a member of the AthletesCAN Board of Directors, one year term! 

I wanted to be on the board because I want to be able to use my voice in an impactful way. I want to be able to learn from this organization and this amazing group of people I met. I want to have an opportunity to grow as an athlete, an individual and even as a policy maker. I want all national team athletes, and not just the top tier athletes, to know what AthletesCAN is and does and how they can be involved in the process. I am so excited to be part of this organization. I am excited about what I am going to be able to learn over the next year, work on my collective athlete voice and see more of how athletes can make a difference in sport in Canada.

Read more from Joy here

 

1 Aboriginal Sport Circle. "Aboriginal Sport Circle." Retreived October 9, 2018 from http://www.aboriginalsportcircle.ca/en/home.html#

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