Heroes in our Midst
By Toogood Consulting
Heroes in our MidstDec 01, 2023
Episode#74: Claire Hanna
If you were ever wanting to hear the story of someone who has worked for absolutely everything she’s ever gotten in life, then, you’ve found the right story. Our guest today is Claire Hanna. Most recently, you may have seen Claire on the sidelines of the 2023 Grey Cup championship game as part of the TSN broadcast. Or, you may know her name from the volleyball world, in which, she is a 3-time National champion with the UBC Thunderbirds, she went on to play pro AND was a member of the Senior National women’s volleyball team for 4 years too. She is a 2-time Canada West libero of the year and even nabbed the CIS Libero of the Year title in 2010.
Claire’s dreams didn’t stop when volleyball ended though. Her dream of becoming a TV broadcaster for TSN was also on her list… and much like she pursued her volleyball dreams, she went after the TV dream too. The best part is she feels the best stories in her life are yet to come… but stop for a bit and listen to this one. But be careful, you may be inspired to put in a whole lot of work after you do.
Episode # 73: Mark Borowiecki
“A 30-year reunion… do your ex-teammates want to come sit at a table with you because you scored a bunch of goals or was it because you were a good person and a good teammate? That’s always kind of stuck with me.”
That’s just one of the things recently retired NHL hockey player, Mark Borowiecki said when we chatted about his life story. You see, he was drafted by the Ottawa Senators and played there for a decade before being traded to Nashville, where, only recently, his playing career came to an end.
But Mark doesn’t only have a hockey story… he’s been on a mental health journey of his own as well. When he played he was a fighter. A tough guy. But on the inside there were some dark times. He talks about that, his motivation to carry on and how he now wants to use every experience he’s had to help others and with his current job in Professional Player Development for the Nashville Predators, he is poised to do just that!
Take a listen and hear the story for yourself!
Episode #72: Danny Zhilkin
“I think the biggest thing is just finding the motivation within yourself. If this is something you want to do and if this is your passion, I think you’ll have no problem having that motivation to succeed.”
Well, 19-year-old hockey player Danny Zhilkin is certainly motivated, and he has been since he was a 9-year-old boy in Russia, when his entire family moved to Canada so that he could pursue his dream of not only making it into the NHL but winning the Stanley Cup. He’s not there yet but with his focus and confidence, truly the sky’s the limit.
Never mind he’s already started “Zhilkin’s Vision”, a foundation committed to creating safe spaces for athletes to speak out and find resources to help with their mental health journeys too.
He is currently playing for the Manitoba Moose in the Winnipeg Jets organization and if you ask him what he needs to do to make it all the way, he’ll tell you this: “Just stay focussed. I know what my goals are and what I need to work on. Putting in the work every single day. Dreaming beyond your beliefs. Dreaming of that Stanley Cup every single day. Keep being motivated and passionate about what I do. Just – keep -- going.”
Listen to Danny’s story and you’ll be cheering him on to do just that.
Episode #71: Team Toogood
“It’s not just about, ‘How can I get a million people to buy my stuff?’ it’s ‘How can I get one person to be affected by the stuff that we are saying and that we are sharing’ – and that for me is this.”
“Heroes in our Midst” host Michelle Sawatzky-Koop said that in conversation with creator Dr. Adrienne Leslie-Toogood, when asked about what “Heroes in our Midst” means to her. That’s it. Being the vehicle for some incredible humans to share their stories and then, for us to learn from it all. Sport is an incredible vehicle for stories of challenge, 100% commitment, dedication, hard work, perseverance, pure joy and devastation… potentially all in the same season. We live life in seasons too, so why should we not learn from each other.
In this episode, Michelle and Adrienne look back at their most recent season of guests and find that as they unpack some of the things they’ve heard, the lessons just keep coming.
“It’s more about getting to know yourself deeply and understanding how you work, so that you can show up authentically as yourself and you know how to manage it, so you can get consistency out of your performance when it matters the most.”
Dr. Adrienne Leslie-Toogood
Take a listen and be inspired to listen even more!
Episode #70: Sara Orlesky
“Hard work pays off and we all fall down at some point, the important thing is to get back up.”
Those are the words Sara Orlesky ended our conversation with, in this episode of “Heroes in our Midst”, and the stories she has to tell along the way lead us to that.
Sara is now the Senior Host and Producer of the Jets content team and it’s been a lifetime of stories that has gotten her there. Sara has been “all in” since the day she decided on her chosen career and when you hear her share her life story, you will be amazed at her work ethic and her willingness to do whatever it took to reach her dreams.
Episode # 69: Catherine Wreford Ledlow
“Winning Amazing Race Canada has made my platform much bigger and I’m able to reach out more to people and be a bigger advocate for brain cancer and every kind of cancer and people with disabilities and people who don’t think they can do something – I’ve proven them WRONG!”
She most certainly has.
Catherine has danced with the Royal Winnipeg Ballet, she’s performed on Broadway and yes, won “Amazing Race Canada” all while living with a cancer diagnosis that will, as she will tell you, end her life. But she has NO plans on stopping anytime soon. She is a best friend, a wife, a mother of 2, a champion and an inspiration and advocate for so many!
So, really… who is this incredible human? Listen to find out.
Episode # 68: Dayna Spiring
“The harder I work, the luckier I get.”
Dayna Spiring might attribute that quote to her husband, but she certainly lives it.
Every single day she wakes up with purpose and the realization that to be your very best, you can’t escape the work. Dayna is currently the President and CEO of Economic Development Winnipeg which includes YES! Winnipeg and Tourism Winnipeg. As the former chief strategy officer and general counsel of the Canadian Wheat Board she did incredible things… she’s a lawyer, a passionate Winnipegger, a tireless volunteer, a Queens’ Platinum Jubilee medal recipient, the first woman to ever have her name engraved on the Grey Cup and so much more!
So, who is she and what’s the story behind all she’s done? You’ll know when you listen to this episode of “Heroes in our Midst” brought to you by Elite Sports Injury in Winnipeg.
Take a listen and be inspired.
Episode #67: Venla Hovi
“That was my goal since daycare that I was going to play in the Olympics.”
Who sets goals like that in daycare? Venla Hovi, that’s who.
Venla is one of the best female hockey players to ever come out of Finland – she is a 2-time Olympic medalist, a multiple World championship medal winner, a Canadian University National Champion with the Manitoba Bisons, and now, is coaching female professional hockey in the United States. She has an incredible story of big dreams, hard work, and great personal loss but through it all a clear vision of where she wanted to be and what it would take to get there.
Venla always believed in training and hard work. She knew that having the drive to do both would push her onto great things. She was right! But that’s just me trying to tell you what she’s already said – so, if you really want to learn from Venla about reaching excellence, listen to her story and you’ll hear it all.
Episode #66: Vanessa Martinez Lagunas
“My plan to go to Germany was to get a PHD in sport science, to get the highest coaching license in the world and I wanted to play pro soccer in Germany. Those were my three goals and many people told me I was crazy.” – Dr. Vanessa Martinez Lagunas
Some pretty big dreams and she realized them all. Every Single One!
In this episode, you will get to know Dr. Vanessa Martinez Lagunas. Vanessa has been the head coach of the University of Manitoba Bison women’s soccer program since 2013. She holds a PhD in sports science and her playing résumé includes representing her native Mexico from 1999 to 2004 and playing with the Bundesliga Giants Bayern in Munich in the 2007-08 season.
From a young age – she was intrigued with coaching and early on KNEW that that’s what she wanted to be. She combined her pursuit of her coaching levels with her studies, her sport, her passion, her grit, and her belief that anything is possible and today she will tell you how she did it.
Episode #65: Adam Bighill
“NOW, go do something with it!”
If there’s anyone who believes that everyone has huge potential and it just takes hard work to realize your dreams, it’s Adam Bighill. He grew up in the States where “Friday Night Lights” was actually a “thing” and he went on to play on the biggest stage in his world of football. He’s been named the CFL’s Most Outstanding defensive player three times, won multiple Grey Cup championships and is proud to call himself a Winnipeg Blue Bomber… still.
No question, hard work is his mantra, but he doesn’t just say it – he backs it up in a big way and his performance on the field proves that every single day. He’d love nothing more than to have us ALL live that way – so, listen and be inspired. According to “Biggie” – anything’s possible.
Thanks SO much to Elite Sports Injury for getting this episode to so many!! Elite Sports Injury, with 5 locations in Winnipeg they are here when we need physiotherapy or massage therapy. Your body's worth it. Make the time for yourself.
Episode # 64: Neil Craton
“I think this idea, the open hand, sharing what you’ve been given openly… that’s very important to me.” – Dr. Neil Craton
Well, good thing we asked him to join us to share his story! Dr. Neil Craton doesn’t only have his own life’s story to tell. He has countless experiences and examples of what he’s learned along the way from hearing other people’s stories. He is one of the longest standing sports medicine doctors in Manitoba. He has worked with the Bombers and the Jets for years, multiple Olympic and Paralympic athletes, he’s an author, he volunteers at a homeless shelter and he is grounded in a faith that drives him forward in his service to others.
Just one of these things might make him a hero. Combine them all and it leaves no doubt, Neil Craton is most certainly a “Hero in Our Midst”.
Listen and be inspired!
Episode #63: Jill Officer
“I want her to know that she can chase her dreams”. That’s what Jill Officer said about her daughter, Camry, because that’s exactly what she has always done – chased her dreams. All her life, Jill wasn’t afraid to put in the work, survive the ups and downs and deal with the pressure to be her very best. And in her case – “her very best” was the best in the world!
Jill curled with Jennifer Jones for many years, winning both the Olympics, and multiple World, National and Provincial championships. She balanced being a mom, working as an RBC Olympian and being a professional athlete and excelled at them all. But it wasn’t always easy. Even winning as much as they did was done in every way imaginable.
In this episode, Jill takes us to some of her most special moments and also some of the most controversial ones too and gives us a front row seat to what it’s like to be the best in the world. Take a listen and enjoy getting to know yet another 'Hero in our Midst'.
Episode #62: Alexa Scott
“Cindy Klassen, Clara Hughes, Shannon Rempel, Brittany Schussler: I just want to be the next 'one of them'.” – Alexa Scott.
But who IS 21-year-old, long track speed skater Alexa Scott in her own right?
She’s a Canadian Junior champion, a 3-time Canada Winter Games gold medalist, she’s won junior world medals, a world cup medal and she’s already an Olympian having competed in the 2022 Olympic Games in Beijing where she finished 12th. But wait, that’s just where she’s been and what she’s done – it’s not who she is! Once you spend some time with her, you will quickly hear that Alexa is a young woman who knows what challenge means… and I’m talking about challenges that went far beyond the track… and she shares them all with us in this episode.
Thanks to Elite Sport Injury for helping us share another story of yet another “Hero in our Midst”. If you want to be inspired by a story of a young lady with fire, passion, courage, resilience, strength and big, big goals – take the time and listen to Alexa Scott tell her story.
Episode #61: Cindy Klassen
No doubt, when you hear the name Cindy Klassen, speed skating and Olympic medals comes to mind. SIX to be exact. The whole world was talking about Cindy Klassen in 2006 when she won FIVE of them in one Winter Games!! But who knew who she really was? YOU will, when you listen to her story. Which includes when Cindy was in Grade 5 and how she entered a bike race with one of her best friends… and her dad looked at her and told her to “Go out as hard as you can and don’t look back.” It seems she took that advice for the rest of her life and never did look back.
Cindy Klassen is a “Hero in our Midst” for more than just her speed on the ice… and she is more than happy to blend in with the rest of us. But much to her chagrin, there are so many reasons she stands out – sit back and listen as Cindy even lets us inside of her head on her way to an Olympic gold medal performance!! Just be prepared to be inspired and impressed with one of the best people we know.
MORE THAN A HUMAN SERIES: Martha McCabe
It is exciting for me to introduce our special guest today – Martha McCabe. I’m excited to highlight Martha for a few reasons. First, she’s a 2-time Olympian in swimming and won a bronze medal at the World Championships. Second, she has started “Head to Head”, an incredible program which offers high level athletes a way to transition out of sport and at the same time, make a difference in other people’s lives! Third, she’s just an incredible human being who cares about the person behind every performance.
Through her athletic journey, she learned to deal with disappointment and then, to focus on and celebrate all the little improvements along the way… and she approaches life now in exactly the same way.
Listen to Martha McCabe’s story. Be inspired. Enjoy.
Episode #60: Peter Jensen
So, this is it. We have reached Episode #60 here at “Heroes in our Midst”. It’s our final guest of Season 2 and we truly believe we’ve saved one of the best for last. This series we’ve focused on incredible people who are “Unapologetically Human”. Dr. Peter Jensen is one of those people. He is one of the most successful performance coaches in the world, working beyond sport into the corporate world as well.
He founded the company “The Third Factor” and if you’d like to know what that is and how it can help you become the best you can be, then, listen. In fact, leaders of all kinds seek him out for help in finding the best ways to communicate with their teams and bring them to greatness… and you don’t have to look any further – we’ve got Peter right here for you to listen to… enjoy.
MORE THAN AN ATHLETE SERIES: DJ Lalama
Today’s episode is all about professional football player DJ Lalama and it is also, all about a partnership that “Heroes in our Midst” is enjoying with ProPrep Academy. DJ is one of the founders of ProPrep and this podcast series is about more than just being an athlete. No question, the journey DJ’s been on in football has been a challenging one, but the human behind every step has never wavered. His motivation to be his very best, to contribute and to get the most out of life has never changed.
When our conversation took place back in March of 2021, DJ was signed to go back to the Montreal Alouettes, but since that was “on pause” he wanted to use his time to give back – and he’s doing that in a big way!! Today, you’ll hear a story filled with change, filled with challenge, filled with falling down but always getting back up again… and his story is definitely “to be continued”… take a listen and you will be inspired by an incredible human who doesn’t know how to ever give up. DJ Lalama is a hero in our midst. Enjoy.
Episode #59: Curt Tribble Part TWO
Welcome to the very first “Part 2” of an episode on “Heroes in our Midst”. Last week I had the pleasure of introducing you to Dr. Curt Tribble. If you missed it, he’s at the University of Virginia School of Medicine as Professor of Surgery and the Associate Program Director of the Thoracic Surgery Residency.
A highlight from Part 1 of Curt’s and my chat was how, before surgery, whether a heart transplant or a lung transplant, he’d ask his patient what he or she wants to do when they get well. Talk about instilling hope and trust in your patient, that you are expecting a good outcome and doing your very best to ensure one.
He’s inspiring, he’s passionate, he truly cares and you might be surprised to see who he would say impacted his life in a big way.
Listen to find out. Listen to be inspired. Listen to Dr. Curt Tribble.
Episode #58: Curt Tribble Part ONE
This is a first for “Heroes in our Midst”!! We are sharing today’s episode in 2 parts. Dr. Curt Tribble had so much to say and so many great stories to tell that we couldn’t fit it all into one episode. So, we decided to split it into two… this week and next.
Honestly, this guy has done so much in terms of all that he’s studied, all that he’s done, all the lives he’s saved and changed forever and all that he’s researched. He has countless awards to his name and has conducted research around the world.
Presently, he’s at the University of Virginia School of Medicine as Professor of Surgery and the Associate Program Director of the Thoracic Surgery Residency. So, you could say he’s been in some of the highest pressure situations there are… and while he has literally saved lives, and taught others to do the same, he knows that things won’t always end the way he hopes.
His story is inspiring. His work is literally life and death and far from finished. His humanness through it all? Unapologetic!
Listen and get to know Dr. Curt Tribble.
Episode #57: Tim Frick
If there was a coach you should look forward to hearing from, it’s Tim Frick. Not just because he’s the winningest team coach in the history of the sport of wheelchair basketball and not just because he’s the only Paralympic coach inducted into the Canadian Sport Hall of Fame but because he’s a people’s coach… he loves his players… the people that they are. People like Terry Fox and Rick Hansen too.
Yeah, he coached them and was a big part of their journeys. Now, he’s more than happy to take all of the winning and the wisdom he has gained and share it with us. So, we’re the lucky ones aren’t we? That is, if you listen. Go ahead and enjoy.
MORE THAN AN ATHLETE SERIES: Matt Bailey
Welcome to another episode of “Heroes in our Midst” and also, another in our partnership with ProPrep Academy. This episode is all about hockey. Actually, it’s all about a pretty incredible human whose goal was to play hockey at the highest level. No question – he was relentless and time and time again, he was in a position where the coaches said, “We have our ‘pen’ guys, you’re in ‘pencil’. We can easily erase you.”
His ability and resolve to take every situation and do the best he could in it, is incredible. In his words, “At the end of the day, you just gotta keep reminding yourself, like, what am I doing to get better today.”
So, how much better did he get? And what happened in the end? Listen to Matt Bailey’s story to find out.
Episode #56: Reid Carruthers
“We are Canada and we better win,”
If you think there isn’t pressure on our Canadian curlers to perform, think again. We are good at that game and someone like Reid Carruthers knows that as well as anyone. In today’s episode, we’re going to get to know Reid and I can hardly wait to share his story with you. Reid is a world champion, is pursuing his dream of representing Canada at the Olympics AND his passion for passing the love of the game of curling on to as many young curlers as he can translates into the running of an unbelievable junior curling camp every summer!
The conversation I had with Reid took place back in January 2021 and after naming his good friend Mike McEwan as the skip of the team HE created, they are poised to take on the rest of the “best in the country” at the Olympic trials in November - an event they just recently qualified for!
Reid’s is a story of determination and dedication to his sport, an unrelenting passion to be the very best he can be and to do whatever it takes to make it so… listen and enjoy.
Episode #55: Craig Brown
Today we are getting to know mental performance coach Craig Brown. Craig seems to be one of those guys who never wants to stop learning so that he can keep figuring out how to help others be better. He grew up in Jamaica, loves all sports, and has an even greater passion for the athletes who play them. He completed a Masters in Kinesiology and Recreation Management at the University of Manitoba, with a focus in Sport Psychology and to add to what he’s learned in the classroom, he has volunteered as a student sport psychology consultant with the Bison Women’s soccer team and with Valour FC.
Craig has a deep desire to give voice to the experiences of newcomer athletes and to make a difference in the lives of others. Listen as he shares his personal experience with moving to a brand-new country and finding his place in a field he gave up everything else to pursue.
Episode #54: Paul Dyck
When I think about the story we’re going to hear today, “love of the game” stands out for me. Paul Dyck grew up in Steinbach, Manitoba and started playing hockey when he was 9 and he begged his parents to sign him up and obviously, it was a good idea! Paul went beyond the borders of his small town to pursue the highest level in his sport that he could and has now, found his way back home and gives back every day to a community that he would tell you has given him so much!
He was drafted back in the 1991 NHL Entry Draft, spent a decade in the International Hockey League and it seems that everywhere he went a championship would follow and that’s both as a player and as a coach. He’s travelled the world to play and ultimately found his way home to give back, coach and lead.
How did he help turn an entire junior hockey program around? How does his story affect how he coaches now? What does he tell his players after all he has experienced? And what happens when you take every single opportunity you’ve been given and pour your whole self into them? You find success and joy in all that you do. Paul Dyck loves hockey and has a passion for passing that on to the young men that he spends every day with… and you will not only hear that, you’ll FEEL that when you listen.
MORE THAN AN ATHLETE SERIES: Glenn Bruce
“You own the key to the kingdom”.
That’s what Glenn Bruce tells his athletes all the time. It’s theirs to use and ProPrep Academy provides the team they need to reach excellence. Glenn is part of that team and he’s worked with the best of the best. We’re talking NFL, NHL, CFL, MLS, U-Sport and a whole lot more. Welcome to Episode #5 in our ProPrep series. Today we are in for a treat. Glenn Bruce is known as the “speed guru” and he has given so many athletes the opportunity to compete at the highest levels.
So, how did he become who he is today? How does he do what he does? How did he become SO good at not just being fast, but teaching others to be fast as well? Listen… and learn.
Episode #53: Corny Rempel
Well, here we go again, another great story to tell. Today’s episode is a really special one for me as I get to share the story of someone I work with every day in the Morning radio business. Someone who grew up in the same small town as I did… graduated from the same high school, the same year and lives here still… Steinbach, Manitoba. Now, for more than 20 years, Corny has performed as Elvis across Canada, the United States and Mexico. He’s competed as Elvis too and was named the Elvis Gospel champion at the 2015 Collingwood Elvis Festival in Ontario, came in 1st place as Grand Champion of the 2017 Penticton Elvis Festival in BC, and then, competed with the top 20 Elvis tribute artists in the world at the Ultimate Elvis Tribute Artist Competition at none other than Graceland in Memphis!!
Corny is talented, he’s accomplished many things, he’s funny and he truly cares for the people around him.
So, life’s pretty good for Corny Rempel isn’t it? Everyone loves him… but… it wasn’t always like that for Corny Rempel. In fact, for a long time, Corny didn’t even like himself.
Listen to his journey to self-acceptance and true joy in what he does – finding the heroes in HIS community.
Episode #52: Gord MacInnes
Today’s episode, takes us back to the front lines. Gord MacInnes has worked for the Winnipeg Fire Paramedic Service since 2006 and he’s a Senior Firefighter with the Winnipeg Fire Department. He’s seen things and arrived on scenes that most of us can’t even imagine. He also, like all fire fighters, runs INTO the burning buildings when the rest of us run away.
Away from the fire hall, Gord is married, has 4 children and 2 dogs. On top of all of that, he’s also a strength and conditioning coach on the side as well as a rugby development officer with Rugby Manitoba. Now, sports did play a role in his life, quite a large one actually as he played football at the University of Manitoba in the past and has also travelled the world playing rugby… so, the sports he played and the profession he chose are pretty challenging.
So challenging in fact, that Gord wants to share his story of struggle. He wants to share what it’s really like to put yourself on the line every day for the well-being and safety of others and how, sometimes, it just gets to be too much. And what do you do then? How did Gord find his way back from PTSD, to the work that he loves? How does he carry on and keep himself mentally well?
It’s all in his story.
Episode #51: Jeff Schirr
“For us, not being prepared or not being ready for that moment could mean someone gets hurt or even dies.”
Jeff Schirr said that. Constable Jeff Schirr. A member of the RCMP Emergency Response Team here in Manitoba and truly a hero. With every call that he answers, he puts his life on the line for us all. When situations are at their worst, Jeff and his team step in and do their best to resolve it.
Jeff started out as one of the youngest members in his RCMP troop and after years of preparation and a demanding selection process, his dream came true and he is now a full time part of the Emergency Response Team and he considers what he does an opportunity.
Jeff shares what the training was like, what his “day to day” looks like and HOW he continues to work at such a high level of stress for the good of others.
Once you hear Jeff’s story and his outlook on life, I have no doubt you will leave with optimism, encouragement and motivation to choose happiness and make life what you want it to be no matter what path you are on. Thank you, Jeff, for being a real-life hero and for joining us in this episode.
MORE THAN AN ATHLETE SERIES: Morgan Rackel
Today’s guest is one of our Canadian National Softball team’s pitchers, Morgan Rackel. No question, Morgan is an Olympic level athlete but as you will hear from Morgan herself, she is NOT an Olympian. Out of 15 players named to the 2020 Tokyo Olympic team roster, she was #16. Now, being named as the first alternate, Morgan even travelled to Japan with her team, until the day the team took their bus to the Athlete’s Village and her bus took her to the airport to come home. Not how the dream was supposed to end.
So, how does she move forward from here? If you listen, you’ll find out how she’s still working on doing that and we can ALL learn from the honest story she tells. Strong, resilient and a “hero in our midst” and excited to tell it like it is. Enjoy.
Episode #50: Matt Johnston
When you first meet Matt Johnston, today’s guest of course, I think you’ll be taken by his easy going nature, the humility surrounding everything he’s done and has yet to do and his laugh. The way he talks about his golf, you’d think he wasn’t really that good, but he was! And his travels and journey through his sport and all of the challenges and successes that went along with that, have shaped who he is today and the wellness component he is exploring as we speak. There is a comfort level that you will feel invited to. I did.
So, presently, Matt works in the family business, Johnston Group. They provide insurance coverage to small businesses. He is working on a wellness startup within the company and truly works to keep people well. We’re going to learn about Matt’s athletic background and follow his sport story which, of course, leads far beyond sport. He is one of the most humble people I have come to know and he never ever wants to stop learning. In our chat, he mentions one of his favorite lines, “There is no THERE.” So, I hope you can take a listen and a lesson from Matt Johnston, no question one of the “heroes in our midst”. Enjoy.
Episode #49: Kathryn Dzikowicz
It is a distinct pleasure to introduce you to today’s guest. Kathryn Dzikowicz is a small business owner in the fitness industry right here in Manitoba and she has quite a story to tell. Kathryn has been involved in the fitness industry for the past 30 years. Kathryn began her career in Workplace Health and Wellness with Canadian National Railway, she has served on the Board of Directors for the Manitoba Runner’s Association, she’s a founding member of the Winnipeg Workplace Wellness Alliance and she currently donates to the Joy Smith Foundation annually through an International Women’s Day event. She has competed in the Manitoba Bodybuilding Championships in the past, completed 3 full marathons, managed the Urban Wellness Centre in Cityplace for years and was awarded Fitness Leader of the Year with the Manitoba Fitness Council as well. In January of 2017, Kathryn’s dream of opening her own fitness studio became a reality. Blue Sky Fitness and Health Coaching Studio opened it’s doors in January of 2017. Of course, in March of 2020 everything changed and during Covid, she has worked SO hard to continually adapt and adjust by moving online and continuing to create community.
I visited with Kathryn over Zoom in March of 2021, and when you listen – you’ll hear that her life’s journey goes far beyond sport. Kathryn Dzikowicz, is more than a physical trainer to her clients, she is a friend, a colleague, and someone who truly cares about the wellness of all those around her. That truly makes her a “hero in our midst”. What a story of perseverance, strength and putting the care of others first – in every area of her life. We hope you enjoy her story.
Episode #48: Ace Burpee
“There’s only one true success and that’s to live life in your own way.”
Ace Burpee’s sister said that, and he sure did take it to heart. Ace is as unapologetic and human as anyone I have ever met. He lives in Winnipeg, he’s the Morning Show GUY on Hot 103 Virgin Radio and is happy about it. I would consider Ace a return guest because he’s been here before. He helped us wrap up Season 1 by asking Dr. Adrienne Leslie-Toogood and I about all of our past guests. But that wasn’t about him… today… it is.
Today, we asked Ace to come back as our very special guest because he himself has a great life story to tell. In fact, at this time, when so many people are talking about mental health, there couldn’t be a better time for Ace to share. Not because he has it all figured out but because he too has been on a mental health journey among other things. We just love him. Ace Burpee truly is a difference maker and a “Hero in our Midst”. Enjoy.
MORE THAN AN ATHLETE SERIES: Rick Henkewich
Rick Henkewich has spent almost 60 years immersed in the sport of football. Whether as a player or coach, he’s been involved at every single level of the game, with a dedication to never stop learning.
He was the first commissioner of the Winnipeg High School Football League that wasn’t an educator and throughout his time, he’s continued to grow the game and mentor the next generation.
Episode #47: Kevin Geyson
In every episode of “Heroes in our Midst” I just know there’s something for each of us to take away, to learn from and to be inspired by. Many of our guests have been Olympians. Fitting since the 2021 Olympic Games is set to begin in just a few days.
Our guest’s dream was to be an Olympian and he almost met his goal.
Kevin Geyson was a world class diver. In fact, he spent 11 years on the Canadian senior national diving team mainly specializing on 10 meter platform. He had lots of success but not without lots of challenge. He’s a National champion, Pan Am Games and Commonwealth Games bronze medallist, and he was ranked top 8 in the world in 10 meter synchro as well.
So, what happened along the way and how is Kevin Geyson doing after all of that – as a human?
You have to hear his story about the coach/athlete relationship, the incredible come back from what should have been a career ending accident just months before trying to qualify, to know the difference between Kevin the robot and Kevin the person and then also to understand what was all part of his journey, the good and the bad.
Now, Kevin’s story doesn’t end with diving even though, diving did, indeed, come to an end without an Olympic trip. He continued into the world of cheerleading where he helped Team Canada win a world championship!
Kevin is now living in Montreal. He’s an athletic therapist and personal trainer and he is still journeying through his experience because as he puts it so well, “Being an athlete is only part of your life, you are a person for the rest of your life.”
Listen to this amazing person tell his story and be inspired.
Episode #46: Cristina Fink
Every week, I feel like I’m sharing the best episode yet. Well, here we go again. Dr. Cristina Fink is an Olympian AND now a performance psychologist that works with Olympic and professional athletes. Her involvement in sport from so many perspectives has given her a wisdom on performance and on the humans behind it that is beyond most of us. So, that’s why we invited her to share her story. She competed in 2 Olympic Games for her home country of Mexico in the sport of high jump and after that found her way into the world of performance psychology. Cristina’s approach as a psychologist is simple really and yet, unique in it’s simplicity. She really, truly listens and creates a safe space for her athletes to be heard. Perhaps the greatest gift she gives to the athletes she works with is the empowerment that comes from BEING heard… even in hearing yourself.
Seems to me, Dr. Cristina Fink embodies exactly what we are trying to get across with this podcast project… for us all to be unapologetically human, to be OK with our own uniqueness and to own it… whatever it is.
Enjoy your time listening to Dr. Cristina Fink but be prepared to be inspired and to hear things in a way you may not have heard them before. She said it herself, “You never know who you’re gonna impact, and you never know what you’re leaving behind”. I believe her impact is SO far reaching and when you listen – it will impact you as well.
Episode #45: Lorne Korol
At “Heroes in our Midst” our focus is to find the human behind every story we get to share. We recognize how essential it is to be OK with what IS on the inside. Today’s guest is Lorne Korol. Lorne is a man of faith first. He works as a chaplain with a Christ centered organization called “Athletes in Action” and I am excited for you to get to listen to him share, from the heart, the love and compassion he has for the athletes he spends time with. Not always the Christianity you have the pleasure to hear about. It’s not about religion – it’s about relationship and as chaplain for the Winnipeg Blue Bombers, the Winnipeg Jets and the Manitoba Moose at the moment, he speaks to and listens to the hearts of some of the top athletes in our province, our country and even in the world of professional sport. He has spent years building relationship and sharing faith.
But faith alone has not exempted Lorne from his own struggles with mental health. They are real and recent. And yet, he continues to be thankful to God for the position he believes that God has put him in to help the young men he works with become complete athletes and more importantly men of character.
Listen as Lorne shares what it’s like to be a chaplain in the professional sport world, what it’s like to rub shoulders with some of the biggest names in sport and how, in the intense world of sport, he helps his athletes find peace, hope and a faith of their own. Through the best times and the worst, it’s truly what’s in your heart, above all else, that matters.
Episode #44: Wade Gilbert
Today’s episode highlights a guy they call “The Coach Doc”. Dr. Wade Gilbert. He is an internationally renowned coaching consultant and award-winning professor in the Department of Kinesiology at California State University – Fresno. He has taught and studied coaching and talent development at the University of Ottawa, UCLA, and Fresno State and is the author of the highly acclaimed book “Coaching Better Every Season.” He is a long-time advisor to the United States Olympic and Paralympic Committee Coach Education Department and has counselled coaches and sport organizations around the world in every sport imaginable at the very highest levels. Currently, Wade is also serving as the mental performance coach for the Canadian Women’s Softball team that will be competing in Tokyo this summer!! And after hearing all of that – just think, YOU have the opportunity to listen and learn what he has shared with many coaches, teams and organizations already – right here -- and even more as he shares his personal story too.
Dr. Wade Gilbert certainly leads by example and is relentless in sharing what he has learned along the way with others. If you are a coach of any kind, you WANT to hear this conversation. Enjoy!!
Episode #43: Ron Maclean
We couldn’t be happier to introduce our guest for today’s episode, broadcasting great, Ron Maclean! Yep – Canadian sportscaster extraordinaire and yet, the guy we all feel like we know. Ron interviews, Ron collects stories, and Ron digs into the background of extraordinary humans himself but now, it’s OUR turn to find out all about HIM!
Ron also sat next to Don Cherry on “Coach’s Corner” for over 3 decades, he’s known for hosting CBC’s Hockey Night in Canada, he’s hosted at 12 Olympic Games – and he shares the “behind the scenes” of all of that with me and when we sat down, via Zoom, to chat – he was in his home office and I felt like he had literally invited me right into his home.
Now, Ron’s broadcasting career has not been without challenge or controversy and yet his willingness to be unapologetically human and admit that he is fallible has endeared him to us all and keeps us listening to all that he has to say. He’s still incredibly prepared for each day… he does his research and he cares so deeply to get it right – for his guests and for those of us who continue to watch and listen.
I truly feel that through our conversation, we found the human behind the performance – and you’re going to like what you find underneath it all. Ron Maclean is one of us for sure – and no question, that makes him a “Hero in our Midst”. So, enjoy listening to his incredible repertoire of stories – you will be glad you did!
MORE THAN AN ATHLETE SERIES: Tyler Hodgson
When Tyler Hodgson first enrolled at Grant Park in middle school, football wasn’t the first thing on his mind. Instead, he went there for the performing arts program.
Hodgson had no previous experience with the sport until grade nine when his buddies convinced him to try it out. The rest is history.
Originally a defensive back in grades nine and ten, a then 5’11” Hodgson shifted to playing both sides of the ball after hitting a massive growth spirt in grade 11.
It was impossible not to notice Hodgson during his senior year of high school in 2016. Now standing at 6’5″ he averaged a ridiculous 25 yards per catch, which drew the eyes of the Winnipeg Rifles who brought him into the fold after he graduated.
Through consistent work and a selfless attitude, he worked his way into a leadership role with the Rifles and is now set to play university football with UBC. This is his story.
Episode #42: James Bolton
Sometimes you know you need to talk about something as soon as possible and mental health seems to be top of mind right now. So, as we have shared the stories of some of our mainstream, frontline healthcare workers in the last 2 weeks, we thought it would be fitting to address mental health too.
A former volleyball teammate and very special personal friend of Michelle’s, Lorriann Ludwig works at the Manitoba Crisis Response Centre under the direction of Dr. James Bolton. Lorriann has become a good friend and follower of “Heroes in our Midst” and suggested that if we wanted to talk about mental health with anyone – it should be Dr. James Bolton, and no wonder. He is the Ruth Hurd Professor in Psychiatry at the University of Manitoba. He is cross appointed as a Professor in the Departments of Psychology and Community Health Sciences at the U of M and is a Scientist at the Manitoba Centre for Health Policy. As if that wasn’t enough, Dr. Bolton has spent the last 7 years as the Medical Director of the Shared Health Manitoba Crisis Response Centre in Winnipeg.
He has poured himself into the research of mental health, specifically, suicide prevention and he continues to, as part of the National Research Advisory Committee on Suicide and its Prevention.
So, enjoy your chance to learn, by listening to him talk about the incredible challenges that Covid has placed on mental health and so much more.
Enjoy, Dr. James Bolton, another hero in our midst.
Episode #41: Chau Pham
There was once a thought that by May of 2021 Covid would be a thing of the past. As we know, it is far from over and so it’s fitting that our focus in this episode is once again on our front-line medical workers in this challenging time. Now, the fact that Dr. Chau Pham is an Emergency Room Physician at the Health Sciences Centre during COVID alone, would make her a hero – add to that, she’s the Ultrasound Director, in the Department of Emergency Medicine, she’s an Assistant Professor, Max Rady College of Medicine and Rady Faculty of Health Sciences at the University of Manitoba – put that all together and she secures her place in the hero department… but if you ask me – her LIFE story and the person she is because of it, far outweighs her accomplishments in terms of what makes her an incredible human. She does not apologize for being real… she’s not afraid to share the good times AND the bad… and I am sure that after spending this time with us – you’ll feel inspired. You don’t hear a story like Dr. Chau Pham’s very often – I would venture to say maybe never and I am honored that she chose to share it with us from her beginnings as a small child in Vietnam, just 5 years old, put on a boat by her parents, alone, in hopes of reaching a land of more opportunity and a better life for their daughter. What a choice and what a journey to reconcile that choice – from both sides. Chau is now making the most of every single opportunity she has been given and has chosen a life of gratitude and what a difference she is making.
What a story and what a message for us all especially in this time, “We are all in this together”. Let’s continue to strive for that togetherness and not forget it, when we reach the other side of this pandemic and all that it’s brought to our lives.
Dr. Chau Pham – enjoy the journey with us.
Episode#40: Faisal Siddiqui
Episode 3 of Season 2 of “Heroes in our Midst” takes us into the world of medicine. Today’s story is special, not only because of his extraordinary accomplishments but because of the incredible human that is behind it. We thought it would be especially fitting to share today’s story with you in that our Manitoba medical system is being stretched beyond its limits right now. Most of us have no idea what it looks like on the inside of all of that. We thank our front-line medical workers but we can’t really even imagine how hard it’s been. We hear stories but we also have no idea what or who to believe. So, instead of listening to others telling their stories, we thought we’d just talk to one of our incredible Manitoba doctors himself, Dr. Faisal Siddiqui. Faisal was part of Dr. Cal Botterill’s first High-Performance Physician curriculum and you will hear the impact of that as he shares his story.
Presently, Faisal is an Assistant Professor at the University of Manitoba in the Departments of Anesthesia and Medicine in the Section of Critical Care. He is also the Medical Director for the Surgical ICU at Winnipeg’s Health Sciences Centre. So, if anyone has seen the effect COVID has had on our medical system it’s him. I couldn’t be more grateful that he was willing to sit down with me via Zoom and show us all, the human side of those who truly are our present-day heroes. Of course, the best way to get to know anyone is to hear their story and that’s where I started my conversation with him. Get a tissue.
Episode #39: Troy Scott
Troy Scott’s story is SO relevant to the times we are living in. Troy has worked as a teacher and a Vice-Principal in Manitoba’s education system for 20 years and now, is the principal at Oak Park High School in Winnipeg. It’s his first year as principal at Oak Park and it is COVID. Troy is also very closely connected to one of our Season 1 heroes, he’s married to Canadian National Team Diving coach, Dallas Ludwick (Episode 28)… turns out she’s had quite the impact on him and he talks about that in our conversation.
I chatted with Troy in January of 2021, over Zoom of course, and fittingly, I caught up to him in his office… where it all happens. Now, even by the time we dropped this episode, restrictions had changed, and most likely they have already changed again, but you know, even in Pre-Covid times I would say that teaching is one of the noblest of professions. Troy is certainly a “hero in our midst” and represents a lot of people in a similar position who are in the education system in these incredibly tough times. And somehow, they are still finding a way to teach our children but even more importantly – to truly connect with them when they need it the most.
Learn what it’s really like for those in our schools every single day. Hear what it takes to lead a team of teachers through a year like we’ve never experienced before and be inspired by Troy Scott’s unending passion to make an impact on the young people in his care.
MORE THAN AN ATHLETE series: Desiree Scott
Midfielder Desiree Scott’s motto in life is “if you love what you’re doing and you’re willing to work, the sky is the limit.”
Known as “The Destroyer,” to many on the pitch, Scott’s work ethic has propelled her to stardom over the years. A Manitoba grown athlete, she chose to stay home for university, helping the newly-formed U of M soccer team to its best-ever record in 2007 while being named a conference all-star four times.
In 2010, Scott debuted for Team Canada’s senior national team. Just two years later, she helped the squad win a bronze medal at the Olympics, repeating the feat four years later.
Throughout the process, she stayed level, focusing on visualization and doing the little things right to succeed.
“I visualize myself making the first big tackle and connecting with my passes. Just the simple things. My game is very simple. If I do the little things well, the rest will come.”
Scott continues to show out for the middle province to this day. She’s helping develop the next generation of student athletes as the Director of Soccer Operations for Pro Prep Academy, a role she has immense pride in.
“To lay my hand on the soccer landscape is a no-brainer. To do it with like-minded people, I’m incredibly grateful for the opportunity.”
Episode #38: Mike O'Shea
Winnipeg Blue Bomber Head Coach Mike O’Shea kicks off Season 2 of “Heroes in our Midst” but not only because he was a standout football player, as is proven by the fact that he played for 16 seasons and was inducted into the Canadian Football Hall of Fame in 2017. Yes, he was named the CFL’s Most Outstanding Canadian in 1999 and he knows what winning the Grey Cup is all about it. He’s done it as a player – 3 times, as a Special Teams Coordinator AND as a head coach! But to us, he is more of a hero because he is a TEAM guy through and through. He’s not afraid to make the tough decisions, he is a true leader and he’s human along with the incredible athletes he coaches. You will hear that in his story.
We hope you enjoy the story of Mike O’Shea from the inside out. A guy we all consider OUR coach and a hero in our midst.
HUMAN series: Episode 6 Outreach
Ryan Karhut has been involved in football, either as a player or coach, for over 30 years. An offensive lineman in his playing days, he was a three-year starter for the Manitoba Bisons, and a captain when they won their first Vanier Cup in close to 40 years in 2007.
When he was in high school, he started his coaching career at the peewee level, which taught him a tonne about the game. Currently the OL coach and special teams coordinator for the Bisons, Karhut has been a mentor at all levels, and in a variety of positions. He’s in constant communication with his athletes, and is one of the most “in the know” coaches when it comes to player wellbeing, which is particularly important during COVID.
Episode #37: Season Recap with Ace Burpee
Join Michelle and Adrienne as they re-cap Season 1 with Ace Burpee. The tables get turned and Ace Burpee helps them reflect on where they started, what they learned and what impacted them most from listening to these amazing heroes.
HUMAN series: Episode 5 Building Your Brand
Riley Harrison was recruited to play receiver for the Manitoba Bisons beginning in 2014. A self-described “humble and hard-working guy,” he played for his teammates and enjoyed every second of his journey. He had his breakout season in 2016, recording 535 yards – good for seventh in the conference – from the slotback position.
Entering the 2020 season, Harrison had 1,199 career receiving yards, placing him just outside the top ten in program history. Had there been a season, he would’ve had the chance to break the program record of 2,092 while also setting himself up in a better position to get drafted.
That didn’t happen. The COVID-19 pandemic derailed the season, and Harrison’s career was cut short right at its peak, as he was preparing for the CFL Draft.
“COVID shut everything down, and along with it my shot at the CFL,” said Harrison.
“After that, I went to work as a painter for a company. I started hating it and didn’t enjoy going to work. I realized I needed to make a change. I took a gamble and quit my job to start my own company. In doing so, I fell back in love with painting and found a new passion as an entrepreneur.”
Harrison started doing gigs last March, so he’s coming up on one year of successfully running a business (Prodigy Paint and Design). He is passionate about sharing his experiences as an entrepreneur with others, and how his time with the Bisons has helped him succeed.
HUMAN series: Episode 4 Making the most of your resources
In episode four, Michelle Sawatzky-Koop, host of the Heroes in our Midst podcast and 1996 Olympian, sits down with Sturgeon Heights teacher and coach Eric Vincent to discuss resources.
Eric has dedicated his life to being a servant leader. For the past 15 years, he’s coached anywhere between one to eight sports teams a year, lending his tutelage as a former Winnipeg Rifle and Manitoba Bisons football player. He preaches communication, reminding his players that it’s okay to ask for help.
Eric embraces being a life-long learner. As a teacher, he’s helped many student-athletes see their value beyond the field. His message is that we’re all human, and each one of us has something special to bring to the table.
HUMAN series: Episode 3 Resiliency
In episode three, Michelle Sawatzky-Koop, host of the heroes in our midst podcast and 1996 Olympian, sits down the Bisons football players Des Catellier and AK Gassama to discuss resiliency.
The fifth-year Catellier has been the team’s starting quarterback since midway through his second season. One of the hardest-working players in program history, he endured a partially torn MCL and a few losing seasons early on, but continued to get better every day. His work ethic and attitude motivate those around him, and that hasn’t changed during COVID.
Both on and off the field, AK Gassama has dedicated his life to getting one percent better every day. He knows all about resiliency, as his family moved from warn torn Sierra Leone to Gambia, and eventually Canada as refugees. As an athlete, he’s a student of the game, and that didn’t change when he tore his ACL early into his university career. His consistency and dedication in training paid off when he returned to the field in 2019, and he has a bright future ahead.