Monday, April 20, 2015

Olympian Beckie Scott gives keynote speech at Women's Fair

Beckie Scott
Toni Lucas

Canadian Cross Country Ski Gold Medal Olympian Beckie Scott gave the keynote speech at the Women's Fair that was held at St. Michael's School in Pincher Creek on Saturday, April 19.  Scott said that two of the main themes of her talk were learning through failure and standing up for what you truly believe in.  "I had a lot of success toward the end of my career, but it came as a result of facing a lot of failure. It was failure that taught me the most.  The second part of my speech is about integrity, and taking a stand.  It is about the doping, and drug related issues that came up in my sport while I was competing. I think my hope is to leave people today with the message of personal inspiration."  Scott talked about competing around the world, relating fascinating stories to highlight her messages.

Raised in Vermilion, Alberta, Scott loved cross country ski racing, not only the challenge of it,  but also the travel.  "Hinton was the best, they had a Smitty's," she said.  With encouragement, family and coaching support "I began to actually imagine myself as a ski racer, a full time ski racer who would maybe someday go to the Olympics."  By the time she was 19 she was on the World Cup circuit. "I was young, I was fresh, I was focused, driven, confident, and blissfully unaware of what I had signed up for, and the disasters that loomed ahead." At the time the Canadian team was one of the worst performing teams on the circuit, only marginally outperforming the last placed team.

"I went through crushing defeats, heartbreaking failures, setbacks and obstacles on a regular basis."  Surrounded by world class competitors, "For the first time in my life, I began to feel like 'I don't belong'." Even with hard training and dedication Scott admitted that "I was still mid to back of the pack."  She spoke of the 1998 Winter Olympic Games in Nagano Japan, where she crossed the finish line last, after they had started to dismantle the course, removing banners and pylons.  "There was my coach, Wes, from Vermillion, he had come all the way to Japan to cheer me on.  And I was the last person finishing...I was so demoralized." She had to do some soul searching.  "This was the Olympics, this was supposed to be the magical experience I had dreamed of my whole life, and what the hell was I doing here?"  She said that she ranked 45th out of 50 competitors.

Faced with the decision of continuing competitively was a difficult decision, but she persevered.  "I think that going through all those years of really challenging times, and really poor results, and real heartbreaking  failures was probably one of the best places I could have been, and probably one of the best places I could have started my career. On reflection now, I think I have learned more from failure about persistence, and resilience, and staying committed to something than I ever would if I started at the top."  The team celebrated in grand style ordering a cake in a restaurant when she had made it up the world cup rankings by placing 29th in a race in Italy. The lights dimmed and the entire restaurant staff brought out a huge cake and sang 'Happy Birthday' to her, believing that that was the cause of the celebration. To add irony to the moment, the silver medalist of the race was dining in the restaurant at the time.  "It tells a story about our team, too.  We were a group that saw a lot of failure, saw a lot of setbacks and we knew when to celebrate each other.  We knew it was such an important cornerstone of being part of a team.  The ability to celebrate each other."

Talking about a 4 minutes long hill in Salt Lake City during the Olympics  known as 'the make it or break it hill' she got to see the teamwork in action.  Technicians and coaches had lined themselves along the course so one could be running, and cheering beside her.   "It was a tag-team cheering relay, up the hill right beside me the whole way so that I was never alone.  I always had this little extension of Canadian support beside me.  It felt like they lifted me up that hill."  Becky was originally placed in third taking bronze at this race that was later to become so controversial.

"There is a very toxic threat to sports and competition, and that is performance enhancing drugs."  In a very physically and mentally emotionally demanding sport she said that "It was frustrating to know that I may never reach my potential, because of the cheating that was going on.  I was devastated, and I was furious." She chose to not follow the pathway of enhancers, and not to step back and let it continue to happen around her.  "It was not the easy choice.  There was nothing fun, comfortable or uplifting about confronting some of the most powerful people and organizations in our sport."

Because of these issues, although originally awarded the bronze medal she was presented with the gold two years after her race in Salt Lake City.  "It was about way more than me, and about way more than an Olympic ski race, or a medal.  It was about the integrity in the sport, it was about standing up for clean sport, bare sport, and the right of every athlete to play on an even playing field, no matter where they're from, or what their sport was. More than anything though, it was about raising your voice for what you believe, and taking a stand, and trying to be a part of the greater good."

During one world cup race in Oslo, Norway she heard her name called out during a 30 km race.  "I looked down the track, and there was a guy, running as hard as he could down the track, cheering me on, and he was wearing giant viking horns,  and long braids, and he had the Norwegian flag wrapped around his neck...and nothing else." The room erupted in laughter, as did Scott.  One of many memorable moments during her career.  "Don't ever forget the essence of the journey, the heart is what you remember most."

"The friendships, the connections, the moments of laughter and pure joy."  She said the medals, trophies and ribbons are mementos, and wonderful symbols, but "If I didn't have my fondest memories of all my years on the team,  with all the great laughs, and camaraderie, and moments of pure connection, and friendships, I don't think I could say it was time well spent."

Scott closed her address by saying, "A special wish for you to follow your dreams and inspirations, and determinations.  Don't fear failure, know it well."

"Seize the moments when they come to you.  Step up and find the courage that you need, contribute, make a difference.  Above all, enjoy the journey."

Becky Scott is currently working with a group called 'Ski Fit North Alberta' which does physical and mental outreach work with First Nations youth in northern Alberta.

Related stories:
Lynne Teneycke and Jacqui Bennet Bruns awarded the Rose Johnson Award for Inspiring Women

2015 Women's Fair a sold out success

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