By Ryan Taylor | The 2014 Sochi Olympic Games are quickly approaching and I caught up with Jennifer Heil, decorated Canadian Olympic Freestyle Skier, to discuss her experiences on the “Hill” and her life outside of sports.
Ryan : How old were you when you started skiing? Was your family involved in the sport?
Jennifer: About two years old! My dad was an absolute ski fanatic.
What advice do you have for parents of kids who want to pursue a sport seriously.
I think the most important piece of advice I could give to parents (and all of the research backs this up) Don’t commit or specialize in just one sport especially at a young age. It’s so important to be a multi sport athlete to have the different skills. Most olympians didn’t start in the sport they went to the Olympics in… And its so important that kids develop the physical literacy from a young age doing all types of movements. You develop that by doing different sports (over time you do need to specialize) I think in general there is too much specialization to early.
What was it like being the youngest Canadian athlete at your first Olympics? (Finished 4th in 2002 losing bronze by only 1/100 of a point.)
The 2002 Olympics were very exciting. It all happened very fast. It was something that I geared my whole life towards already and it was a big goal … a big ride … I could hardly believe it. I didn’t have any outward pressure for those olympic games. Just my own pressure to succeed after putting so much into it and to do my best. But I was a little overwhelmed. I didn’t have the skills to deal with competing at the Olympic Games. Standing at the top of the hill and seeing 20,000 people at the bottom when you are used to having your mom and dad at the side of the hill.
What was it like being a Canadian & winning a medal in Vancouver?
Being in Vancouver was the greatest privilege I think anyone could ever have. To stand at the top of the mountain and have basically your entire nation cheering you on … it’s really hard to put it into words how that makes you feel. At the same time it was absolutely incredible pressure, I didn’t digest my food very well for 2 full years before those games; that’s just how deep that stress was. I had the privilege to compete day 1 and was reigning champion. My greatest souvenir of my life, standing at the top of the mountain and when my name was announced it was like the entire mountain vibrated. Then standing on the podium in BC place in front of 40,000 Canadians … it will always remain one of the greatest moments of my life.
What made you come to the decision to retire at the young age of 27
It was so amazing to be a part of Vancouver and see the nation come together and to be able to represent my country was absolutely incredible. I wanted to go on for one more year to world championships ( one title I was missing). I did one more year . I feel like i could go to Sochi and challenge for another gold medal. It just felt like it was time to get the other things in my life moving forward. I just graduated Mcgill (BA of commerce).. it took 10 years to get it. I knew if I wanted to find success off my skis I had to invest into it. I know every time I watch the olympic games I’ll want to be in that start gate even when I’m 50 .
Tell me about the work you are doing outside of sports right now.
I’ve been an ambassador for Because I am a Girl initiative since 2008. They took me to Burkina Faso to see their programs in action. I was sold when I walked into a classroom and it was filled with girls — because they were receiving scholarships, they were the first of their generation of girls in their community being educated, and they realized what a privilege this was. I asked them what their goals were and their hands shot up and they had huge smiles on their faces. They wanted to be lawyers, doctors; one little girl wanted to be the president of her country. It just struck me those are the exact same dreams you would find in any classroom around the world, including Canada. My whole life had been built around my dream of being an Olympian; I realized it’s not a lack of motivation or talent — it’s opportunity that holds these girls back. So I got on board 100%. I came home and wanted to do more. In 2010 right after my race I donated $25,000 to the campaign … then challenged Canadians to raise $1,000,000.
And you hit that incredible goal! That is an amazing accomplishment!
Thanks … I think I got a little caught up in the Olympics when I chose that number.
What is B2ten?
The reason why I am involved in causes is because I had an unbelievable amount of support. I co-founded B2ten which raises money for athletes to be able to train without compromise. Before 2006 I had a group of business leaders in Montreal & Edmonton get together and donate personal money (it wasn’t sponsorship it was a donation to me) so I could have the best trainers to prepare me, and that allowed me to go on to win Olympic gold. My coach Dominick Gauthier and mentor J.D. Miller looked at each other and thought, why was I the only one to get these resources? So we started B2ten.
What advice do you have for parents or kids who are not athletes but want to help out?
Sport in this country runs on volunteers , we need volunteers , we need parents to be involved . Or if you want to be a volunteer at an international event being staged in Canada.. volunteers are critical . not one of our world cup events would be possible without the help of volunteers. There are so many ways to be involved. I think people just have to follow their passion. Whether it be sports or with an organization like “Because I’m a girl” we all have the ability to influence our peers , family and friends or to push for a policy change.. we have that power..we just have to follow what we are passionate about.
How is the challenge of being a new parent ?
lol It’s a WHOLE new challenge . lol My mom said to me its the greatest challenge I would ever be faced with ( I thought Vancouver was that) It is a big challenge .. but all those good things you hear about being a parent .. they are true. I have a happy little boy so i think I’m doing alright.
How is the challenge of being a new parent?
Its a WHOLE new challenge! My mom said to me it’s the greatest challenge I would ever be faced with (I thought Vancouver was that). It is a big challenge … but all those good things you hear about being a parent, they are true. I have a happy little boy so I think I’m doing alright.
Jenn is mentoring multiple athletes leading up to the Sochi Olympic Games, where you can also catch her commentating for CBC; she is a passionate ambassador for Plan Canada having recently raised an incredible one million dollars for Because I am a Girl