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Sami Jo Small

August 26, 2014 by Speakers' Spotlight

Spotlight On: Sami Jo Small, Gold Medal-Winning Goalie with the Canadian Women’s Olympic Hockey Team

The night before the Olympic game, in the race to the gold medal, Sami So Small was told that she would not be on the ice. At first, she was devastated and angry, but eventually, she chose to rise above those  feelings and embraced her new role with enthusiasm―she became a force of positivity in the dressing room, on the bench, and on the ice, and in doing so ultimately helped the team become champions. We’re thrilled to feature Sami Jo in our spotlight today: 

What inspired you to want to be a speaker?

I sort of fell into it. As an elite athlete in this country, especially a hockey player, we were often forced in front of crowds. Many of my teammates hated it, but I loved it. When my hockey career with the National team was drawing to a close, I realized that speaking could fill the void. I get the same nerves before I go on stage as I used to when I suited up for the National team and if I do well, I get the same applause at the end. Speaking doesn’t feel like a job to me, and I just feel so fortunate that I found it.

Any advice for aspiring speakers?

Get on stage as many times as you can. When I first wanted to be a speaker, I organized trips across provinces earning enough money at a gig to pay for the gas to get to the next town. I called them “Share the Dream” tours. Really, it was just a great way to see this country, but I needed to earn some money too. Some days I’d do three talks a day. I learned to craft my speech, speak while I was tired and cut my speech in half. I was thrown into so many different situations, now nothing really fazes me.

What do you like to leave audiences with?

I want them to have been entertained. I want them to have laughed and  thought about their own life.  And ultimately, in sharing my journey to Olympic gold, I want them to think about how they can build a better team and be better teammates to those around them.

How do you prepare before a talk? Any special rituals? A good luck talisman?

I give my stuffed penguin, Squishi, a high five. She’s been all around the world with me. (You can even follow her on twitter at @squishipenguin!)

Any funny or embarrassing situations you found yourself in as a speaker?

I’ve had my shirt on inside out a couple of times. I’d like to say it’s just happened once, but nope, a couple of times. I’ve never missed a speaking appearance, but I have shown up a day early. I think my most embarrassing story is when Dennis Hull (hockey player & speaker) bought my jersey at a silent auction. I was so impressed that I went over and thanked him. He was wearing the jersey backwards and seemed so excited. When I introduced myself, he said, “Who are you?” Embarrassed, I said, “That’s my jersey you’re wearing.” He looked at it and said, “Oh, I was just excited it said “SMALL 1″” and was pointing down to his mid-section.

Is there a charitable cause that you feel passionate about? Why?

I do a lot of work with Right to Play working in aboriginal communities around Canada. I feel that sport has given me so much and I want every child to be able to learn through play. I also heavily support CAN Fund. They provide support to Olympic athletes. They helped me on my journey and the CEO is a good friend. I sat on the board of the CNIB, the Canadian National Institute for the Blind. My whole family are optometrists and this was something that was started at a young age. Lastly, I helped start and still do a lot of work for the CWHL (Canadian Women’s Hockey League). It’s the league I play in with the Toronto Furies. I am most proud of this endeavor because we started it from scratch and it has now grown to over a million dollar entity. We have charitable tax status which means all the money goes to help elite female players pursue their passion.

If you had to choose a new career, what would it be?

Engineering-Product Design. It’s what I studied at University and I am still captivated by design.

Desert island album?

Great Big Sea.

Best subject in school?

Math, Gym.

Last book you read?

Tina Fey, Bossypants.

Last film you saw?

Documentary on Burning Man.

What speaker alive or from times passed, would you love to hear give a speech? 

Pierre De Coubertin, founder of the modern day Olympics.