Please tell us a little bit about yourself.


I was an all-round athlete who ran track and played volleyball and basketball. I discovered rowing in grade 10 and gradually focused more intently on it. I was part of a Henley winning crew for my home club and then made the junior national team in 1983 where we placed 4th at the Worlds. From there I went from U23 to the senior national team. We earned a gold at the Commonwealth Games in 1986 followed by a bronze at the worlds. I competed at my first Olympics in 1988 where we placed 7th but then went on to steadily improve to 4th, then gold at the Worlds. We won in the eight, pair, and four events at the 1992 Olympic Games in Barcelona.


Please share a story about an internal or external barrier you have faced.


I experienced a couple of barriers: the first was with fear of failure due to a challenging coaching situation. The second was an injury.

How did you overcome that barrier? What skills did you develop in sport that helped you overcome your barrier?


I reached out for support on many levels. In the process I learned the value of dialogue and reflection. I learned to confront the fear in order to better understand what is threatened, what is at stake, and what I could not control. I was able to identify my goals more clearly and design a plan for achieving them despite the unpredictability of my coach. I then proceeded to reach my personal bests from then on.

After the injury, I learned the difference between ‘risk’ and ‘challenge’ and that as athletes we are taught to push through challenges but that we must not push through risks (to health, life, soul). The key skill is to differentiate between a risk and a challenge. An injury is a risk, whereas a tough opponent or lactic acid build up is a challenge. I also learned how to recognize my breaking point and take a break. Everyone is better off when I take care of myself. I believed I was invincible and that I had to be there for my team no matter what. However, I ended up self-fulfilling my fears and wasn’t there for my team. I did learn to support my team in different ways through my injury. I learned through loss and that sport and winning isn’t the most important thing in the world but that excellence is – we can pursue excellence in loss as well as in winning. I think these experiences and others have made me the leader I am today – I’m a creative problem solver, a collaborative decision maker, a good listener, a calm presence, a thriver under stress, and a systems thinker.


If you had one word to describe your character, experiences or philosophy what would it be? Why?



I think unity is crucial to any human endeavor. In order to learn, to build, to create… we need to work with each other. This isn’t always easy because we are diverse on many levels – but differences do not need to lead to conflict. Differences challenge us to see in new ways, explore new avenues, discover more in ourselves. That’s why I love sport – competition is actually collaborative and for the common good of humanity and the world.


If you wanted to motivate a young female athlete to #BuildHerUp, what quote would you use? Why?


“And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same.”

– Marianne Williamson

I like this quote because I think for many young women, what gets in the way of their excellence and potential is a cultural expectation of women to be meek, quiet, restrained – to remain in the background for fear of becoming too dominant, too abrasive, too loud, too much – hogging the spotlight … I know as a young female athlete, I would get accused of being obsessed, crazy, too intense because I wanted to push beyond limits, to do extra, to go further… but what I want to share with young female athletes is to ‘go for it’ because when we do we encourage – give permission – for others to also reach for the sky!


I also love this video from Amy Purdy who talks about how ‘Our limitations are gifts that can be used to ignite our imaginations…it’s not about breaking down borders, it’s about pushing off of them. and seeing what amazing places they might take us!’




Instagram: @jwalinga