The road to the Olympics
While Marauders fans and media usually focus their attention on sports like football and basketball, the athletic community at McMaster extends far beyond these team sports or even Ontario University Athletics.
This year, a McMaster student was awarded a $10,000 grant to help her pursue Olympic trapshooting.
Elizabeth Longley, a third-year earth and environmental science student, was named as one of 55 young Canadian athletes selected by Petro-Canada for the Fuelling Athletes and Coaching Excellence Program.
Originally from Waterdown, Longley is an Olympic trapshooter, using a shotgun to shoot clay targets that are launched from a bunker. The targets are 110 mm wide and are launched at speeds of up to 100 km/h in a 90-degree arc in front of the shooter.
Being such a small sport, trapshooting does not always garner the attention that bigger sports like hockey, sprinting or soccer get in the Olympics. Many kids are never exposed to trapshooting and do not have a chance to even try the sport.
“I was in scouts when I was little,” said Longley. “Our leaders were duck hunters. They took us out to shoot trap and it was my first time holding a gun. I was pretty good at it. I got contacted by the head coach of the club there and he invited me to try out for his personal club team. I did and he offered me a spot. I didn’t take it at first, I thought I would wait and think about it.”
Longley did not take long to think about it and has not regretted her involvement with the sport. Not only has she progressed greatly among trap shooters, but has done so on such a level to earn her this prestigious grant opportunity.
Since 1988, there have been over 2,700 athletes supported by FACE grants, including Olympic medalists Patrick Chan, Hayley Wickenheiser and Rosie MacLennan.
In addition to the funding, there is an annual summit held for the recipients to learn from Olympic and Paralympic athletes, receive advice on media training, public speaking and personal-brand development.
“It’s really important for me as an athlete because the grant is for athletes who don’t yet meet the requirements to be funded by the Athlete Assistance Program,” said Longley. “I’m close, but not quite there. Especially within my sport, there’s not a lot of funding opportunities because it is such a small sport. To be able to get this is really beneficial for me as an athlete in training and competition.”
Developed in a joint effort by Petro-Canada, the Canadian Olympic Committee and the Canadian Paralympic Committee, and facilitated by National Sport, the FACE Program supports up-and-coming athletes as they strive to represent Canada at the Olympic or Paralympic Games but do not qualify for government funding. The program also works to help athletes and coaches beyond simple things like more expensive equipment or training opportunities.
“This weekend I’m going to get my coaching certification in Calgary, so that’s what I’m putting some of the money towards,” Longley added. “After that, I’ll be the youngest certified coach in Canada for the International Shooting Sport Federation Level D. I was also able to buy new sporting equipment that I really needed.”
In addition to dedicating the training time to an Olympic-level sport, Longley also has to spend sufficient time studying as a full-time student. Luckily, she has found professors who have been understanding and accommodating in her pursuit of her Olympic dream. With a supportive community around her, it makes things a lot easier for Longley to make the sacrifices necessary to excel in trapshooting.
"Sports helped me find who I am as a person. The skill set you learn within sport, you can apply to your everyday life; you're disciplined, you're dedicated, you're passionate about something, it helps you just be better all around."
In March 2017, the International Olympic Committee launched a major review to increase gender equality in their sports. Being a woman in a male-dominated sport is not easy, as Longley can attest to.
“The IOC has all of their gender equality goals for the 2020 Games,” said Longley. “Balancing the number of male and female competitors, reducing the number of sports who only have men who compete in them and also introducing mixed events where men and women compete together for the same country. We dropped one of the men-only events and we now have a new mixed team event. So we are definitely making progress but there is still a lot to do. [Women are] definitely underrepresented in the sport, but it’s looking up.”
The goal to bring gender equality to sports means much more than having women and men share the international stage during the Olympics. Sports is a unifying phenomenon that brings people from different backgrounds together, and on an individual level, it makes a difference to athletes that goes beyond points scored.
“Sports [when I was] growing up was always important to me,” Longley said. “I swam competitively, I did karate and then I finally found what I think is the sport I was meant to do — the other sports didn’t really compare in my level of enjoyment.”
“Also through sports, it helped me find who I am as a person,” Longley added. “The skill set you learn within sport you can apply to your everyday life: you’re disciplined, you’re dedicated, you’re passionate about something, and an overall confidence. It helps you just be better all around.”
Splitting time between practicing and studying, Longley will be one of several Canadian athletes to watch as we approach the 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo. Among the heart-warming stories of hometown athletes reaching the podium, there could very well be one with a special connection to the McMaster community.