Jennifer Botterill is one of Canada’s most successful athletes, achieving Olympic glory on numerous occasions. She is a three-time Olympic gold medalist and an Olympic silver medalist with the Canadian Women’s Hockey Team, and responsible for the assist that won gold at the 2010 Olympic Games. In 2014, she acted as a sports commentator for the CBC at the Sochi Winter Olympic Games. Embracing the chance to connect with audiences, Jennifer shares many of the valuable lessons she learned on the way to becoming a champion. Below, Jennifer discusses what it’s like for Olympic athletes during the “non-Olympic” years, and what it takes to sustain them to get to the next Games:
The Olympic Games is a very special experience as an athlete. There isn’t another major sporting event that is quite like it. For many, it can seem like a lifetime of hard work, focus, and athletic endeavors to reach their first Games. Once I had my first taste, I couldn’t wait to try and get there again. However, this meant a four year block of anticipation in between Games.
The Olympic years are a very intense process. As women’s hockey athletes, we move to Calgary as full-time athletes where we train, practice, and compete. It is a demanding schedule both physically and emotionally.
I have always believed that balance is an important part of performance. My father is a mentor of mine, and I have been studying from his work in the field of performance psychology. I was attending one of his presentations recently, when a member of the audience asked if too much of anything can be a bad thing, including too much performance psychology. My dad smiled and responded without a pause, “Actually, in over forty years of consulting in the field, I have yet to encounter one client who said they had too much inner peace.”
He didn’t have one client whose journey to a clear mind and inner peace was in any way, shape, or form, a deterrence from their form of peak performance–inner peace only enhanced performance. It became key to sustainable high performance.
The time in between the Games can be very important to find balance and perspective. The Olympic years are “all consuming” as an athlete. While the other years as an athlete are also rigorous and challenging, they can provide key opportunities to develop as a person, even if they are for small windows of time.
I had the opportunity to attend Harvard University in between my first and second Games. It was an inspiring environment because people were pursuing excellence in many different ways. It increased my appreciation for the game of hockey and allowed me to improve as a player and as a person.
For some athletes, the time after the Olympics can be right back to international competition and world travel. For others, it can be back to Canadian universities or competing in the NCAA. It can be back into a routine of training and looking after your health, fitness, and overall wellness. It can also be pockets of time to connect with Canadians, and to thank those who support you on your path.
The best part of representing Canada and enjoying the thrill of the Olympics is the opportunity to share the experience with people in our country. Olympic athletes are often asked, “how does it feel to compete at the Olympics? How did it feel to have the medal placed around your neck?” It really starts to sink in when we connect with Canadians after the Olympics. We can hear their stories, including how they remember our events and how they shared in that moment with us.
One event that provides this opportunity to share our experiences is the Gold Medal Plates event. This is an event that was founded in partnership with the Canadian Olympic Committee and the Canadian Olympic Foundation. They wanted to find ways to support the athletes and sport initiatives in Canada. The event is a celebration of great Canadian talent in sport, entertainment, food, and wine.
The event has already raised over eight million dollars for the Canadian Olympic Foundation and Own the Podium. This fundraising has helped athletes reach the podium at the recent Olympic Games. The Olympic Foundation and Gold Medal Plates is also raising funds for the next generation of Olympic hopefuls. They understand that there is a broad base of athletic talent in Canada, and that they require support to make it to the international stage.
Every fall for the past seven years, Gold Medal Plates host events in eleven cities across Canada. They invite many Olympic athletes to attend the events, as well as eight local chefs to each location. The evening is a culinary championship event–each city names a winning chef, and these winners then go on to compete at the National Culinary Championships in February. This is an emotional competition for some of the chefs–it can be their version of competing at the highest level.
Jimmy Cuddy, Ed Robertson of the Barenaked Ladies, Barney Bentall, Anne Lindsay, and Spirit of the West are just a few of the musicians that have supported Gold Medal Plates with live performances throughout the evenings.
One other innovative aspects of these events is the trips that are available as part of the fundraising. Gold Medal Plates have created once-in-a-lifetime adventures for Canadians. The trips have included vacations to Tuscany, Provence, Scotland, Chile, South Africa, and New Zealand, among other destinations. Canadian musicians (some mentioned earlier) attend the trips and perform in the evenings. There are also Olympic athletes on each of the trips who provide insight into their lives and experiences. I had the honour of going to South Africa. It was an incredible adventure! Each of the trips contains wonderful dining and wine, hiking, bike riding, cooking classes, and activity choices each day.
These Gold Medal Plates events are one example to show a side of the balanced experience for the Canadian athlete. I always described my approach as wanting to be more than just a hockey player. This is a chance to engage and create more balance in the overall experience.
It can be an extremely demanding path to the Olympics. In the end, it’s a journey and definitely worth every step. It’s these unique events and opportunities that can help remind us of the joy surrounding sport.
Being an elite athlete requires dedication, sacrifice, and decision making every day. Taking the time to recover, refocus, and re-energize is also hugely important. Life can be extremely busy, but taking a moment to celebrate past success and look forward to the adventure ahead can be very meaningful.
It’s these moments in between the Olympic Games that help athletes understand that when they step on that podium, or reach their dream, Canadians are standing right there with them.
By Jennifer Botterill/November, 2014