Team Canada athletes and alumni making an impact in their communities
Olympic athletes are often recognized for their work on the field of play. The OLY Canada Legacy Grants aim to recognize projects led by Team Canada Olympians that draw on Olympic values to build stronger communities.
Ten Olympian-led projects received $10,000 grants last December.
Here’s a look at a few of the projects OLY Grant recipients are currently working on.
Tim Berrett (Walking Champions de Marche)
Tim Berrett knows a thing or two about racewalking.
The Edmonton resident competed in five Olympic Games, finishing 10th in the 50km event at Atlanta 1996. Now, as the program lead for Walking Champions de Marche (WCM), Berrett is hoping to help his home province become more active.
“Walking is a simple and free activity that people across various ages, cultures and genders can enjoy, while incorporating walking into one’s daily routine is a realistic goal,” explained Berrett.
After being delayed by the COVID-19 pandemic, WCM launched as a pilot program in four northern Alberta schools in May 2022. The program aims to encourage walking in various forms to both school-aged Albertans and their adult role models.
Over a six- to eight-week period, the program challenges participants to take part in a different form of walking each week. These include: walking for the environment (walking outdoors in nature); walking for transportation (walking instead of driving to school); walking for speed (participants see how fast they can walk 100 metres); walking for social interaction (participants are encouraged to go for a walk with a friend); walking for health and wellness (participants learn about the physical and mental health benefits of walking); walking faster (participants are challenged to beat their previous 100 metres walking time); and walking mentorship (participants are inspired by Olympic bronze medalist Evan Dunfee’s words).
Berrett explained that without the OLY Grant, the program would be much be smaller in scope. The funding impacts a wide range of initiatives, including program delivery, development and promotion. The grant also allowed the program to work with racewalkers from around the world to create some “motivational vignettes.”
“The OLY Grant was instrumental in enabling Walking Champions de Marche to launch in 2022,” said Berrett. “As part of our soft launch, we engaged 10 racewalkers from around the globe to contribute promotional videos to support Winter Walk Day in Alberta.”
One of those videos was from Dunfee, the popular Canadian racewalker who won bronze at Tokyo 2020. Berrett hopes that Dunfee’s inspirational messaging not only helps build the next generation of Canadian racewalkers, but also encourages more everyday walking.
“These not only promote the discipline of racewalking, but, in keeping with the philosophy that underpins WCM, all forms of walking. We are seeing attitudes toward walking change as a result of Evan’s influence in the community.”
Nickolos Farrell (Farrell Boxing Foundation Non-Profit)
Nickolos Farrell became a boxing coach because he wanted to make a positive impact on young lives. He’s done just that with the Farrell Boxing Non-Profit.
The boxing program aims to help idle Hamilton, Ontario-area youth and young adults to keep being productive in a positive environment. Participants not only learn about the sport of boxing, but also important life skills such as self confidence, focus, respect and compassion for others.
“I decided to help youth because they are our future,” said Farrell, who competed for Team Canada in boxing at Atlanta 1996. “It feels so good to help build young, positive leaders that will give positive energy back in our neighbourhoods and society.”
Farrell’s first youth program began five years ago followed by a second a couple years later. In 2021 he opened his own gym, the Farrell Boxing Foundation Non-Profit.
“We are getting stronger,” said Farrell. “Parents love to send or bring their child to our youth program.
“We help about 35 kids. We train them for 70 minutes, three times a week. 35 to 55 kids benefit directly because of the OLY Grant. We are very thankful.”
Emily Nishikawa (Northern LYTES)
Due to their location, many Yukon youths do not get the same exposure to high level athletes and expertise as those developing in other parts of the country. Northern LYTES aims to change that, helping link young Yukon athletes to elite sport.
After being started by two-time Olympic track cyclist Zach Bell in 2015, Emily Nishikawa, a two-time Olympian in cross-country skiing, reached out and asked if she could be part of the initiative. Prior to the pandemic, the two were able to support four or five programs each year. Now, with the pandemic easing and the support of the OLY Grant, they are hoping to double that number.
“It is so exciting to be able to reach more athletes in the Yukon and provide that inspiration and access to high level knowledge and experience in sport,” said Nishikawa. “After COVID, it was especially important to be able to provide opportunities to athletes who haven’t had this type of opportunity in so long. We are really seeing how sport organizations are reaching out to us to find support to make these events happen for their athletes, and we are so excited to help.”
An example of the program’s impact was in 2018 at a girls judo camp and sleepover in the rural community of Carmacks, 175km north of Whitehorse. Northern LYTES was able to bring Olympian Amy Cotton to the camp, where she guided, taught, and gave the girls tips for their judo practices. They also participated in other activities like dance classes, a healthy cooking workshop, a movie night and more
“A special event like this has a lasting impact on young athletes, where they had a chance to learn from a two-time Olympian, have fun, and be inspired right in their own community,” said Nishikawa.
Michelle Russell and Madeline Schmidt (FUNSports)
Since 2019, Halifax-based FUNSports has helped more than 100 kids participate in sport programs and events. Thanks to an OLY Grant, Olympians Michelle Russell and Madeline Schmidt hope to help the program expand even further.
FUNSports was founded by Dave Green, the sports massage therapist for Canoe Kayak Canada. Green started the program in the north end of Halifax after his two nephews experienced barriers in registration for sports programs. FUNSports’ goal is to make sports, which are often costly for families, more accessible. Youth get to learn up to eight different sports in a year through the program and the free access helps remove barriers to sport participation.
Sprint kayakers Russell and Schmidt, who both competed at Tokyo 2020, got involved in the program through Green.
“Nothing is better than playing sports with a bunch of high energy and laughing kids,” said Schmidt. “The kids involved in FUNSports just want to play. It’s as simple as that. With FUNSports, we can give them an opportunity to try new sports, meet new people, and challenge themselves, without any barriers.”
Thanks to the OLY Grant, new equipment has been purchased for sports like baseball, lacrosse and tennis. The organization has also formed a partnership with the Atlantic Division of Canoe Kayak Canada, providing 30 or more spots for youth from the Halifax community of North Preston to paddle this summer. FUNSports has purchased $3000 worth of kayaking equipment for this program.
At last count, the OLY Grant has allowed 30 kids to be registered into the multi-sport program and a similar number will be reached for the summer canoe/kayak program.
Leah Ferguson (Push to North American Indigenous Games 2023)
The North American Indigenous Games can be a life changing experience for many athletes. Leah Ferguson is working to ensure both athletes and coaches take full advantage of the opportunity.
Ferguson attended the 2017 NAIG as part of the administrative staff for Team Manitoba. Since then, the London 2012 Olympian has turned her focus to helping develop more Indigenous wrestlers in the province.
Ferguson has been assisting coaches in their applications for the 2023 NAIG. She’s also helping set up events across the province to identify athletes who could represent Manitoba in wrestling at next year’s event in Nova Scotia.
“We have selected certain communities where we want to host ‘try it’ wrestling days,” said Ferguson. “We have also set up an online long distance training space that we will plug the kids into after the ‘try it’ wrestling days. We will host two final camps. One will be in Winnipeg, prior to or in conjunction with the tryouts. One will be in Peguis and have various cultural components that the community is looking forward to sharing with the athletes.”
Ferguson said the OLY Grant will be used to help rally athletes and ensure they are fully prepared to compete at the NAIG next July. The NAIG can often lead to a chance to attend university.
“I was originally thinking of doing development camps and a university trip,” explained Ferguson. “After speaking with the coaches it was decided that several mini-trips to various communities and an online platform to direct the potential athletes to would be the best bet to get as many kids involved as possible. I am always so encouraged and inspired working with these coaches — they really understand using sport to develop community and the whole athlete.”
The OLY Canada Legacy Grant is designed to advance the Olympic Movement by providing financial assistance to Team Canada Olympians leading impactful projects that aim to build stronger communities through the principles and values of Olympism. Applications for the 2022 OLY Canada Legacy Grant will open in the fall.