Please tell us a little bit about yourself.
I grew up as a shy kid in Toronto who was passionate about sports. You name it I played it. My main sports included basketball, competitive ice hockey, tennis and golf. Sports were a venue where I would feel confidence, a part of a community, and push myself physically and mentally to develop and eventually excel. Later in life, I was able to translate my childhood sports into a social vehicle. Using my hockey skills, I worked my way onto various university intramural teams which later led to competitive hockey teams within the Ottawa area. My sports were an excellent way to network and build lifelong connections. After graduating from the U of Ottawa, I did a technical diploma at Algonquin College. I played one year of varsity basketball with them and the following year got cut from the team. Instead of letting that get me down, someone introduced me to the sport of Ultimate. This is where my life would change forever. My sporting background allowed me to understand a new sport that had aspects of various other sports I already knew: football (throwing to a receiver), basketball (pivoting), soccer (lots of running/cutting/juking). Ultimate is self-officiated and based on Spirit of the Game. So naturally it was very welcoming. I started playing recreationally one night a week with the Ottawa Carleton Ultimate Association (OCUA), and then quickly progressed to playing 5 nights a week. Women were always in demand, so it was easy to find a game. As my skills developed, so did my confidence and I ended up playing competitively on a local Women’s touring team called Stella. One of my best friends today, told me back then, that putting in the work with this team was going to be worth it. She was right. It was all women’s play and I was able to learn new skills from some very impressive women in the sport. The all-women’s play was a different dynamic to co-ed where many gender barriers were removed. I looked up to a female captain who had previously played team Canada and she was a new mom at the time. I was getting tips from female players who came from so many different sporting backgrounds and we could feed our energy off each other. I knew I had to work hard to keep up with this crowd and am thankful for the experience.
Over 10 years and 2 kids later, I am a x4 National Silver medalist in Ultimate Frisbee, x1 silver Medalist at the PanAm Ultimate Championships, and in 2019, I was one of 4 captains to lead our competitive Women’ Masters Ultimate team, lowercase (comprised of women aged +30 and based out of Toronto/Waterloo/Ottawa area) to a Gold medal at the Canadian Ultimate Championships in Edmonton, Alberta. I was finally a National champ!
Pandemic hit and I had to adapt. Ultimate tournaments were not possible, and we all needed something to keep us motivated. I took to running. Something new and a physical challenge I was soon going to enjoy. Starting small with 5km runs, and moving quickly to running my first ever 10k race. I jumped into a “100km in May” running challenge put together by a friend in Ultimate and participated in various other charity runs supporting Cancer research and local food banks. What started with silly thumbs up pictures after every run on Instagram (@breakawaysimon67), I found that I was able to turn my social media into a power for good. I was able to not only motivate myself, but get others involved with a “running with friends” series and documenting my struggles and successes to let others know it’s not easy but it’s worth it to keep moving. It kept me accountable and got friends and family out running too.
What I am most proud of this year is supporting the women of the Ultimate community. Regardless of pandemic, alongside the OCUA, I was able to develop female leadership programs, coordinate and coach winter and summer women’s recreational leagues, provide competitive women’s scrimmage nights, create and run multiple indoor Ultimate Frisbee training pods when restrictions only allowed limited number of players on field. All to promote more female participation in the sport I love! I certainly could not have done this alone. With huge support from the Executive Director at OCUA, social media posts from the league, past and present teammates, it was made as easy as possible to succeed. I made sure to focus on making the experience for the women the best possible, tweaking the format of each program to be fun, inviting, a safe space to play, and having learning opportunities. I wanted to make sure the women wanted to come back week after week, session after session and tell their friends. I got to coach so many women interesting and motivated women. I was lucky enough to really get to know what drives them and will use this to improve on future programs.
How has sport provided you with new or different opportunities you would not have expected?
The sport of Ultimate Frisbee has really brought me out of my shell. Interacting with players of all shapes, sizes, ages, skill levels, I was able to build relationships with not only teammates, but people who have now become some of my best and most important friends. A support system that one can only dream of. It is also where I met my amazing husband. Someone who shares my love of the sport and supports me on my life journey no matter which direction it goes.
Sport has also given me a platform to stand up for things I believe in. I coach my two kids in hockey (9yr old daughter & 7yr old son). Hockey is historically a boys’ club when it comes to coaching. Last year more than ever, I faced various forms of sexism and gender barriers as a volunteer. I decided it was worth fighting for a female spot on the ice and tried somewhere new to coach. So, I left the girls hockey organization and jumped feet first into coaching for the boys. They welcomed me with open arms. It was intimidating being the only female head coach at the U9 level but important for kids to see a female in a leadership role. Inspired by campaigns like #SheCanCoach, Lead Thru Sport, meeting Premier Ultimate League’s coach Eileen Murray, and work I was already doing with women in Ultimate Frisbee, showing kids gender roles that they might not have been used to was important. Mom is head coach and she belongs there. I would make the practice plans, coordinate on ice helpers, try and recruit other mom’s to join on ice, and back up my on ice presence with playing and coaching experience. Sharing my knowledge through coaching feels incredibly rewarding and continues to make me feel ALIVE!
What elements of leadership parallel your sport and life leadership?
Knowing that people learn and understand things in all different ways, affects the way I lead. I feel that the tone, language and patience are of utmost importance. Having worked 10 years in the Information Technology world, I found the customer experience is just as important as the solution to the technical problem itself. Something that I am trained to fix is not necessarily something that is easy for someone else. I translate this into sports as well. As a player I may know how to throw an Ultimate Frisbee 80 yards, or how to shake a defender, but it is so valuable to be able to break down the movements, and explain complex mechanics of a move simply so that the next player can understand. This is something I have been working on for years.
What advice do you have for parents, coaches or sport administrators to improve inclusion in sport?
Find a way to say yes to inclusion. I am speaking from a gender point of view but this can apply to other barriers to inclusion – Seek help and collaborate! Take the feedback of your members/participants/players, step up and get more women involved. Don’t make it an option. Put policies in place to mandate women in leadership positions, offer training courses, mentoring opportunities, shadowing of experienced female captains/coaches. Most importantly, make the experience in sport a positive one and as easy as possible to participate. Offer programs at different levels to suit all different demographics of women. We do not all fit one mold, girls are not boys. Our motivation is different and programs should reflect that!
Surround yourself with those who are positive, motivated, and who will help you achieve your goals. Collaborate with people who are going to lift you up. I don’t pretend to know everything, but I make sure to team up with those people who can fill the gaps of what I am missing. In Ultimate Frisbee, I am a handler – this means I am like a quarterback. I can call the plays and survey the field for the cutters (receivers) to complete passes and score points. I see the field from one point of view but it is just as important to see from the cutter’s perspective to make sure we are all in sync to be most efficient and successful as a TEAM!