The person I chose to interview for my Community Connections project is Jennifer Gibson. She has been skating for over 20 years, both as a nationally ranked athlete and now, a coach. She is the official long track coach for BC, head coach of the Salmon Arm Ice Breakers and has earned numerous NCCP (National Coaching Certification Program) certifications and post-secondary degrees, including a Competition Development Speed Skating Coach certification, Exercise & Health Physiology and even Level 1 Olympic Weight Lifting. I chose to interview Jennifer because she has made an amazing career out of speed skating and I wish to do the same. She has set an example of exactly what I pictured my future as. Jennifer is an incredible speed skater, coach, business owner and mom. Why wouldn’t I want to follow in her footsteps?
I contacted Jennifer via email and she sent me the answers to all of my questions. While I was reading her responses I learned a lot, both about her and coaching. When asked why she is so passionate about her role as a coach, she said she loves sport and working in an environment where people are challenged motivated to be the best selves they can. She says it doesn’t matter really what sport it is as long as it involves being active but that skating is her happy place She enjoys working with young athletes in particular and uses coaching as an opportunity to be a part of their lives and help them grow in sport and in life.
“Coaching brings me joy and challenges me to see what I can do to help an athlete become better” – Jennifer Gibson
There were a few things that stuck with me in her response to “What obstacles have you faced to get you where you are today?” as well. Jennifer said that over the years she has faced many challenges as an athlete, including injuries, financial struggles, overtraining, body size and mental health issues such as anxiety. She grew up in a small town which often lacked the amenities needed for high performance athletes, so she did a lot of traveling to reach more training and ice time. Her pursuit of a career has also had its challenges. She worked in a male dominated environment for 13 seasons as a fire fighter for BC Wildfire. She traveled to many other parts of Canada and even twice to Australia to fight fires and had to prove time and time again that she belonged and was strong enough mentally and physically to do the job well.
“You cannot change the past but you can learn from it” – Jennifer Gibson
Her advice to pass onto someone interested in what she is doing is to follow your heart. She says that if you set your mind to a goal or dream and give it some effort, you will be successful. Jennifer also suggests to find a mentor or listen to those around you and watch what others are doing so you can learn from them. She mentioned that the thoughts or questions she had as an athlete or student come in very handy when coaching if you turn them around and teach your athletes or students the things that you wish you had known to help them on their journeys.
On the subject of her job, she says she is into her third career. At first she was a long track speed skater and student. She finished her Exercise Physiology degree while training full time and used her degree in part time work as a personal trainer and her summers as a fire fighter. Her second career was full time fire fighting. Jennifer says it was not the career path she had planned for but it enabled her to be challenged, maintain a high fitness level and meet some amazing people during her 20s and 30s. She loved the job but it was not one to have while starting a family. This choice led her to her third career as a mum to two little boys. She says they are her everything and she would not change her decision in a heartbeat. She began her role in the skating world again in 2010 and worked in the sport development sector of BCSSA as a strength and conditioning specialist, physical literacy development, high performance consultant and NCCP coach facilitator. She is a volunteer speed skating coach and owns her own company called Alive In Motion: Fitness & Sport. Owning her own company enables her to travel for competitions and take on more skating related responsibilities as she can choose her own hours and take on projects as she is able.
“Do not be afraid to step out of your comfort zone… that forces you to be challenged, grow and build as a person” – Jennifer
When asked how she would possibly change or improve the environment she coaches in, she said it is a tough question as she works in a very supportive environment full of amazing opportunities, such as coaching at BC Winter Games, Canada Winter Games and working with the national team. She says she would like to see more females coaching at the national and international level which is one of her long-term goals. She would also like to implement some regulations on the payment of coaches as some clubs pay more than others and some can’t afford to pay. There are many factors to consider she says, but she appreciates the expenses payed for when she travels to competitions for athletes and the smiles and thank you/s from the athletes and families.
I find it almost astonishing how much I aspire to live a life as passionate and fulfilling as Jennifers. She has experienced so many things and had a positive impact on so many people all while following her passion and raising a family. She is an amazing role model for me, other athletes or anyone else who wants to live their life to the fullest. I can’t wait to expand my assistant-coach role at my skating club into a career that I can enjoy for the rest of my life. Thank you for the inspiration!