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Para Canoe, Ottawa, ON.

Brianna Hennessy

 

Meet the resilient Tokyo Paralympian, Brianna Hennessy, from Ottawa, ON. 

 

"We don't know how strong we are, until being strong is our only choice."  This is a quote that Brianna had her family write in her hospital room right after her catastrophic accident.  It resonated deep within, as she was facing her new reality. 

Brianna has been an elite athlete her entire life from playing AA ice hockey, to national level ball hockey, to representing Canada in rugby, to being an Ontario Amateur Provincial Champion in boxing.  Sports have always been the most important part of her identity.  But on November 11, 2014 while attending a work conference in Toronto, her life changed in a way she could never prepare for.  While crossing the street as a pedestrian, she was struck by a speeding cab driver.  She was knocked unconscious from the impact of her head smashing into the windshield, and suffered a broken neck and severed a main artery to her brain.  At first, she woke up in the hospital and couldn't move her body from her neck down.  Since then, she has lived with excruciating chronic pain and mobility challenges as a tetraplegic. 

"I felt like I had forever lost my identity that day.  What would my purpose be now?  What was the point?   For the first time in my life, I was ready to quit.  I was terrified, helpless, and felt stuck." 

"I had to choose to survive when I was in the hospital.  When something bad happens, you only have three choices: you can let it define you, you can let it destroy you, or you can find a way to let it strengthen you.  And for me, the third was my only option." 

2 years after her accident, Brianna was introduced to wheelchair rugby, and unsurprisingly quickly excelled in the sport.  For the 3rd season in a row, she is the only female international import to play on one of the 44 men's teams in the entire USA - for the Tampa Bay WWAR Div 1 team.

However, when Covid hit, competing in a team environment became increasingly difficult, so she turned to para canoe/kayak at the Ottawa River Canoe Club (O.R.C.C).  This was upon the suggestion of her then wheelchair rugby coach, co-captain of Team Canada, & multi time Paralympian Patrice Dagenais.  Para Canoe provided a competitive sporting opportunity that she could pursue during the pandemic.

Remarkably, in less than a year on the water and in both boats and with her phenomenal coach Joel Hazzan from O.R.C.C, Brianna qualified and made her Paralympic debut in Tokyo.  She finished only 1 second off the Paralympic podium, competing against athletes who have years of experience in the sport. She is the first ever female to have qualified and competed in para canoe for Canada, in the history of the Paralympics.
She was also the only Canadian athlete, to have qualified and competed, in both kayak and canoe at the Tokyo Games.

Since then, she has been training very hard with her team, and has gone on to win a silver medal in canoe, and bronze medal in kayak at the World Cup in Poland May 2022.

With minimal funding, and being a dual sport athlete for Canada, she has to purchase both a kayak and canoe, along with custom paddles and carbon fibre seats for her accessibility in the boats.  This is quite expensive, and she is unable to purchase all of this on her own. Brianna has defied all odds with her sheer determination and resiliency.  Paris 2024 is only two years away and imagine what Brianna will be capable of accomplishing with the financial backing to afford the equipment she needs along with access to the ongoing therapy required to continue being a world class athlete.  Brianna has applied to CAN Fund #150Women and is currently on our funding waitlist.

Maggie Coles-Lyster

Cycling, Maple Ridge, BC.

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Chasing her Olympic dream since she was 8 years old – meet track cyclist Maggie Coles-Lyster.  Countless times she could have given up, but she has fearlessly continued on.  And today, her story is empowering female athletes like herself who experience situations that no woman should ever encounter to stand together for action.

Maggie is proof that if you can see it, you can be it.  Her Dad owned a bike shop and cycling team that 2012 Olympic medalists Laura Brown, Jasmin Glaesser, and Gillian Carleton raced for.  All of these cyclists are also multiple CAN Fund recipients and are the role models who sparked Maggie’s Olympic dream.  
 
In 2017 Maggie was competing at the Junior World Championships in three different disciplines and by age 17 Maggie was standing on multiple Junior World podiums. Her success subsequently earned her a spot on a Belgian road team which is common in cycling to compete on teams in Europe “the hub" of the sport.  Away from home and at her first competition with the Belgian team the unthinkable happened.  During her first post-race massage she was sexually assaulted by the team masseuse.  He proceeded to assault her in every post-race session for the remainder of the week.  Maggie was only 18 years old, still in high school and terrified of speaking out worried about repercussions that could ensue regarding her career and Olympic dream.  Victims guilt, uncomfortable, confused, is this normal? What will people say? so much for Maggie to process.        
 
“Originally, I tried to deny it and block it from my memory. At that age, it's hard not to blame yourself for something like that and be embarrassed and ashamed by it.  You work so hard in cycling to make it to Europe that you feel you have to stay quiet and don't want to jeopardize that opportunity.”
 
In the following year Maggie suffered 3 concussions, 4 fractures to her face, a punctured lung and broken ribs sustained from severe crashes in 3 consecutive races.  The impact of returning from injury too quickly, struggling mentally and physically exhausted from mounting comeback after comeback led Maggie to take a break from sport.  Maggie rediscovered her love of cycling and returned to competition in 2019 winning two silver medals at the Pan Am Games.  It was a disappointing blow not to be given the opportunity to make the 2020 Olympic team, but Maggie used the pandemic to get stronger and faster than ever.  And in 2020 after 3 years of emotional and mental trauma, Maggie went public with her story. 

“The more people who talk about this, the more stories that will come out and the more action that will hopefully be taken.”
 
A 15-year journey and at 23-years-old Maggie is currently the top road sprinter in North America, the current elite women’s road race and criterium national champion.  But more importantly, she is a woman with incredible strength and courage whose powerful story is inspiring others with similar experiences to come forward for positive change. 
 
Maggie is on a mission to Paris 2024 with the podium in her sights.  When not travelling to races she teaches spin and yoga to supplement the costs of competing for Canada.  Costs that despite personal best results will increase this season as less funding is available to the track team. To realize her dream it will take racing more in Europe and working with the best support team possible. CAN Fund #150Women can be the difference that Maggie needs at this crucial stage in her journey.  She has applied to the Fund and is currently on our funding waitlist.

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Athletics, Brampton, ON.

Khamica Bingham

Meet Khamica Bingham, Canada’s Fastest Woman who is finding strength through tragedy.

 

"I made a promise that day that I was going to do everything that he wouldn’t get the opportunity to do”

 

That day was March 27th 2015 after a week-long training camp in St.Kitts with Canada’s top runners.  Khamica, alongside 5 of her teammates went swimming in the Atlantic Ocean, a common post training activity to soothe their legs and aid in recovery.  That swim would have deadly consequences.  Amongst calm waves a strong undercurrent was present and teammate Daundre Barnaby quickly found himself unable to feel the ocean floor beneath his feet.  As Daundre screamed for help so did Khamica and her teammates while a few people nearby tried to swim to him.  As multiple attempts were made to rescue, Daundre was dragged further away.  After 4 hours divers rescued his lifeless body.  Shock, overcome with heartache, anxious, confused, helpless his teammates grieved the devastating loss of a dear friend, teammate and someone who Khamica described as her brother.  Daundre was only 24-years-old when he drowned, a horrific accident that profoundly impacted Khamica and many of her teammates.  Through their own Olympic journey’s, they have used this tragic accident to keep Daundre’s memory alive.  Daundre was known for his strong finishes in the 400m, for never giving up and for fighting until the end which is what would propel Khamica to some personal best performances in the coming months as she pursued Rio 2016.  “He taught me to finish strong in the races and in the race of life.”

 

Only a month after Daundre passed, Khamica anchored Canada’s 4x100m relay team to a national record time and subsequently qualified the team for Rio.  Canada hadn’t reached the Olympic finals in 32 years in this events.  At the 2015 Pan Am Games Khamica ran 11.13 seconds in the 100m final earning the title as Canada’s fastest women for the first time in her career.  Poised and on track for an incredible performance in Rio injuries struck, keeping her out of competition until a month before Olympic trials.  Going to the line at trials was really difficult knowing she wasn’t 100%, she finished fourth, and was completely devastated that her Olympic dream had slipped away.  However, one week before the Games were set to begin Khamica was given a second chance to qualify, she would have two attempts to run 80m in 9.10 seconds, if she did, she would become an Olympian.  It came down to her second and final attempt and with everything on the line Khamica hit the mark and would be named to the 2016 Olympic team. Whenever she faces adversity, injuries, or feels like giving up she thinks of Daundre and what he would do. 

 

The quadrennial between Rio and Tokyo would be plagued by nagging injuries that she fought to overcome and as the 2020 Games approached Khamica was running some of her best races ever.  She had finally gotten back to the sprinter she was when she had earned the title of Canada’s fastest woman.  But four months before the Games Khamica lost her biggest supporter.  Her mom passed away from an auto-immune disorder.  “Shocked and broken, I returned to Canada for 3 weeks, mourning and planning and funding funeral costs for my mom. Mentally and physically it was challenging to continue the season but I knew my mom wouldn't want me to give up.  I remembered my why and my mom's words gave me strength. I made the Olympic team for Tokyo, ran my 2nd fastest time ever, and became a semi-finalist at the Olympics in the 100m.”

 

Paris 2024 will be her third and final Games.  Leaving no stone unturned she now trains full-time in Louisiana where she has warm weather year-round in an elite environment with 8 Olympians and medalists.  Unable to work on an athlete visa Khamica faces mounting coaching and travel expenses and has applied to CAN Fund to offset her costs to train and compete for Canada.  She is currently on the CAN Fund waiting list.     

 

Support now in the crucial years leading up to the Games will help Khamica qualify for 2024 and when she comes to the starting line in Paris with her two guardian angels by her side, she can finish like Daundre!

women's
field hockey

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In 2019 at their last chance Olympic qualifier for the 2020 Tokyo Games an Olympic berth for the Canadian Women’s Field Hockey Team came down to a shootout.  It was Canada vs Ireland playing in Ireland.  The Irish ranked 8th in the world and Canada 15th, one game, the winner goes to the Olympics.  At the end of regulation, it was 0-0.  A shootout would determine their fate, Canada was up 3-1 in penalty shots until the Irish goaltender shut them down.  Utter heartbreak and devastation the Canadians lost 4-3 and just like that their Olympic dream was crushed.

 

They now look to Paris 2024 and should they qualify, it would be 32 years in the making, the first time since Barcelona 1992.  This resilient group of women has never been so close yet ironically lacking so much support.  Last week they competed in the FIH Hockey Women’s World Cup having qualified earlier this year a feat the program had not accomplished since 1994.  However, for a team that is predominately self-funded they weren’t even sure if they would be able to afford to attend and like so many times before they had to focus on fundraising to ensure they could.  Their team has received $0 since 2016 from Own the Podium, at times the roster is composed of those who can afford the team levy versus the best suited and for their entire national team careers it has been a constant financial struggle to represent Canada on the world stage. 

 

Of the 11 players who have applied to CAN Fund the majority work part-time to supplement their income which means less hours to recover, less time for quality training and more time on their feet - contrary to their international counterparts like European teams who pay their players with stipends.  Being a national team athlete is a full-time job and these women are literally working overtime, living pay cheque to pay cheque every single day to wear the maple leaf.  Imagine paying out of pocket and going into debt to attend a work conference, company offsite or take part in meetings in other cities for an organization that you belong to.  Their commitment is unwavering.

 

Captain Natalie Sourisseau is in school, preparing for MCATs and coaches on the side, Karli Johansen started dog walking, Elise Wong works for communications start up and lives with her grandmother who she is also the primary caregiver, Amanda Woodcroft teaches when her competitive schedule allows, Alexis De Armond gardens part-time while also living with the daily challenges of life as an elite athlete and type 1 diabetic, Sara McManus works part-time at a coffee shop and spin studio and for Marcia LaPlante finances have never been easy. She grew up living below the poverty line and had to move across the country in order to be eligible for Team Canada camps as her home province of New Brunswick didn’t offer a high performance pathway.

 

What they have overcome as a team under a financially strained program is simply incredible.  These women are worthy of being supported, of being believed in and of the opportunity to pursue their passion wholeheartedly without financial constraint.  After coming so agonizingly close in 2019, they are on a mission to Paris and have applied to CAN Fund to help them on their journey. 

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Fencing, Hamilton, ON.

Eleanor Harvey

A Mom's Selfless Decision To Fund Her Daughter's Dream - Meet Olympian Eleanor Harvey - one of the many #REASONSTORUN in the 2nd Annual Virtual CAN Fund #150Women BE EPIC Run. 

“I was raised by a single mother, and we only had cable during the Olympics, so to me the Olympics were the most amazing feat I’d ever seen.”

 

Watching the 2000 Sydney Games when she was 5 years old, Eleanor Harvey decided that one day she was going to be an Olympian.  Her mom competed in Ironman triathlons, and every morning at 6am before work she would go running and push Eleanor in the jogging stroller until she was old enough to bike beside her, and eventually to run alongside her.  So, the natural path to becoming an Olympian seemed to be through running.  But at 8 years old she tried Karate after qualifying to attend free classes at her local YMCA.  She fell in love with Karate and two years later watching Athens 2004 was devastated to learn that Karate wasn’t yet a part of the Olympic program. To pursue her dream, she would have to find a new sport.  Upon the suggestion of a family friend who heard a radio interview with Canada’s most decorated fencer 4x Olympian, and multiple CAN Fund recipient Sherraine Schalm, Eleanor decided to try fencing.  She knew instantly that this was the sport she was meant to do.

Today, at 27
 years old she is a two-time Olympian, Rio 2016 and Tokyo 2020, and is the first Canadian fencer to win a Grand Prix medal and make it to a World Cup final! 

However, her journey hasn’t come without challenges.  She made her first national team at 15 years-old but travel to competitions, training and equipment was completely self-funded.  As expenses piled up it got to the point where she would either have to quit the sport she loved and give up on her dream or her mom would have to find a way to continue to afford the mounting costs of fencing.  Choosing the latter, her mom sold their house and they moved in with Eleanor’s grandmother, so she could keep competing. That selfless decision paid off as Eleanor is now training for her third Games - Paris 2024, and has developed into one of the top fencers in the World.  

That was the first but not the last time in her career when she seriously contemplated giving up.  More recently, she had plans to retire immediately following Tokyo as just prior to the start of the pandemic she was unsatisfied with her results, performance, and training environment - finding that the joy of fencing was slowly dwindling.  In need of a change, she uprooted her life in Hamilton and moved to Calgary to train with a new coach, Alex Martin.  At the time of the move, she was ranked 23rd in the World but under Martin’s guidance Eleanor flourished and in her own words began to see fencing through a “fresh set of eyes.”  She went on to finish 16th in the individual foil and 5th in the team event at the Tokyo Games.  Since then she has been unstoppable and continues to reach new heights.  Currently Canada has 3 fencers in the top 10 in the World, the only country with this remarkable feat and Eleanor is leading the way ranked 3rd - followed by teammates Jessica Guo and Kelleigh Ryan who are ranked 7th and 9th respectively.  Despite this unprecedented success, travel to international competitions is the responsibility of the athlete just as it was when she made her first national team at 15.  Thankfully the past few years a private sponsor helped fund flights but unfortunately this is no longer the case and our top fencers are now left to fend for themselves and pay for hotels, flights, entries fees and sometimes the costs of bringing their coach to competitions.  Eleanor gets her club membership where she trains for free in exchange for coaching the kids in the club.  However, with a minimum of 10 international competitions per season it is always uncertain as to how she will be able to afford attending critical events which is why she has applied to CAN Fund.  "Having support from CAN Fund would impact my ability to travel to all the competitions necessary to maintain my world ranking.”