How elite women athletes turn challenges into passion for change

A young woman loses use of her legs in a terrible accident, yet defies all odds to become an international star. A girl who’s so shy she can barely speak up becomes a confident, lauded role model and public speaker. A bullying victim goes on to dominate the world stage.

These are stories of women champions, facing enormous challenges and accomplishing unbelievable feats through one thing: sports.

They’re the Fuelling Women Champions Ambassadors: Chantal Petitclerc, Jennifer Jones, Kaillie Humphries, Desiree Scott and Natalie Spooner.

Our Ambassadors, Jennifer Jones, Desiree Scott, Kaillie Humphries, Chantal Petitclerc, and Natalie Spooner all know what it takes for girls and women to win.

Our Ambassadors (clockwise from top left): Jennifer Jones, Desiree Scott, Kaillie Humphries, Chantal Petitclerc, and Natalie Spooner.

A veritable roster of Canada's most elite women athletes. A group whose accomplishments prove the power of sports to change lives.

Chantal Petitclerc’s story demonstrates the depth of that positive impact. After a barn door fell on her, she became paraplegic and faced judgment.

“When you become someone with a disability, a lot of people focus on your limits,” she explains. “Sports was the most amazing answer to that because I showed myself and everybody else that, on the contrary, there were still so many things I could do.”

The things she could do included winning 21 Paralympic medals for Canada, 14 of which were gold. Not to mention being named a companion of the Order of Canada and holding 5 world records for wheelchair racing. Her triumph over disability is just one aspect of what sports can do for a woman's life. Whatever challenge a woman faces, even if it’s not a dire accident, there’s something to learn from sports.

Just ask Olympic gold medalist hockey player Natalie Spooner. “There are so many different skills that you learn through sports, that translate over into real life,” she says. “Hard work. Being driven and determined to reach your goals. Leadership.”

But these things do not happen in isolation. Their journeys to leadership couldn’t have been possible without support, mentors and icons to guide them.

“I didn't have sports in my family,” says Petitclerc. “So if I didn't have people that inspired me to try different sports, I would have never found out that I loved it, and had a great potential for it.”

Spooner has her own inspiration story. “When I was 11, I got to meet Jennifer Botterill at a hockey school and see her medal. That sparked a dream in me. I wanted to win a gold medal, too.” And so she did.

As huge as these ambassadors’ accomplishments have been, they’ve now set their sights on an even bigger goal: giving all women the access and support to grow with sports as they have.

Desiree Scott, Canadian national soccer team player, said, “Sports has changed my life for the better, and I hope I can be a part of helping to influence others’ lives.”

Group photo of the ambassadors and our partners at a Fuelling Women Champions event.

The Fuelling Women Champions Ambassadors and our partners gather at the official FWC launch in Toronto, on April 7th, 2015.

Kaillie Humphries, two-time Olympic gold medalist bobsledder, winner of the Lou Marsh award and the first woman to compete in four-person bobsled, shares that vision. “I hope to be a guiding light for other girls and women, to encourage and motivate them to continue breaking down the barriers not only in sport, but in life. If we believe in ourselves and our ability, the rest of the world will also see it.”

This greater vision for women in sports is deeply personal for these athletes. Jennifer Jones, Olympic gold medal curler, five-time national curling championship winner and mother, sums it up beautifully.

“You want your children to have everything that life has to offer, and certain things are more difficult for women right now. I know that’s changing, and this is another step in the right direction. As a mom of a young daughter, there’s a sense of pride and happiness and relief. I believe that Fuelling Women Champions has the opportunity to change the way society thinks. There aren’t that many times in a lifetime you can really say you’re part of something like that.”

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