SASKATOON — Two-time Olympic gold medallist in speed skating, Catriona Le May Doan, places a high value on leadership and community involvement.
Le May Doan, who now lives in Calgary but grew up in Saskatoon, has always been aware of the Saskatoon Lions Speed Skating Club’s history from 1942 onward and how it produced an Olympian, Craig Mackay, for both the 1948 and 1952 games.
She learned to skate at the old Clarence Downey oval, beginning in 1980, and coaches such as Henrietta Goplen, Klaas Post and Tim Comfort helped her develop a work ethic and build a dream of the future.
When she retired from competitive skating in 2003, Le May Doan had been on skates for 23 years, on the Canadian national team for 15 years and won two gold medals and one bronze medal in four Olympic appearances. At the peak of her career and because she excelled at 500 metres, she was called the fastest woman on ice.
Le May Doan returned to Saskatoon Oct. 17 as the motivational speaker at the first Knights of Columbus Celebrity Dinner, organized and hosted by Saskatoon Council 8215 at the Cathedral of the Holy Family.
The dinner was an amazing success, with more than 350 in attendance, and the Knights of Columbus has since presented the Children’s Hospital Foundation with a cheque for $50,000 from the proceeds of the event. Organizers have also made the promise that a second dinner will be held Oct. 16, 2015, and the proceeds will again go to the hospital foundation.
Le May Doan praised the Knights, lauding their courage and the effort to bring the community together for a first-ever event.
“The impact of this event can be observed at the moment, but most of the rewards come over a longer period of time. True leadership is measured over the course of a lifetime,” said Le May Doan.
“Leadership is about the opportunity to make a difference in one’s life. I’m doing this because you’re doing this. When you try harder, great things will happen.”
Le May Doan’s story was an inspirational one.
She was in a position to win a medal at the 1994 Olympic Games in Norway, but as she turned a corner, she crashed into the bumpers and that was the end of her race.
“I picked myself up and realized that I had failed,” said Le May Doan. “I was upset and frustrated. And because of television coverage, the whole world had seen me fall.”
She continued: “I stepped back, told myself I was 23 years old, and worked too hard to have regrets that I’d fallen. I wasn’t ready to quit.”
Le May Doan seized the golden moment in Nagano, Japan, in 1998. She and another Canadian, Susan Auch, were in the final pairing; the medals were within reach. It was the first time the Olympic medals were decided by two races. Le May Doan took the first of the 500 metre races in 38.39 seconds, the second in 38.21 seconds for a gold medal total of 76.60 seconds. Auch won the silver. Le May Doan also won the bronze at 1,000 metres.
Four years later in Salt Lake City, she was asked to be the Canadian flag bearer in the opening ceremonies. She recalled how some people predicted: if you carry the flag, you won’t win. “It was like a superstition. I had to deal with such pressure again. But I defended the medal and it was an absolute dream come true.”
When she retired from skating, she had become the first woman to break the 38-second barrier at 500 metres, made four Olympic appearances, was a world champion at 500 metres and was a World Cup champion five times.
The celebrity dinner in Saskatoon was a double-barrelled entertainment program, with Donny Parenteau, a Western Canadian country music star, performing a string of original hits from three CDS and adding some homespun conversation to the evening.
Garry Maier, committee chair for the celebrity dinner, said his Knights of Columbus organizing committee totally embraced the idea of working to raise money for the Children’s Hospital Foundation.
Dream, a real estate investment development and management company formerly known as Dundee, was the presenting sponsor. A live auction included hockey sweaters from Wayne Gretzky, Steve Stamkos and Johnny Bower, and a silent auction featured a wide variety of options. Steve Chisholm and Rev. David Tumback were the masters of ceremonies.