"Welcome to our new Legacy Link series, where we periodically profile former CSI Calgary supported athletes and the impact they continue to have in their communities, across the country and around the globe.”
Legacy Link: Beckie Scott’s Great Spirit
Her story is well known to Canadians – the outspoken anti-doping crusader and eventual* Olympic Champion in cross-country skiing cemented her legacy as a clean sport leader at a time when doping in Olympic sport was just bubbling below the surface.
Hailing from Vermillion, Alberta, where she established the grit and desire to become a Canadian legend in her sport, Scott found the courage to speak out against the doping she knew was so prevalent, something which, until then, athletes simply didn’t do. In doing so, the book has been re-written on clean sport.
Scott’s career is a testament not only to her strength as an athlete but to her strength of character, too. Her countless medals pale in comparison to the impact she has had within the sphere of anti-doping and clean sport. Her roles include sitting on the IOC Athlete’s Commission and WADA (World Anti-Doping Agency), where she has fought for tougher anti-doping rules and sanctions. She has also supported Right To Play and unicef, working to empower disadvantaged youth around the world.
Had she stopped there, for it certainly would have been enough, she could easily be forgiven for fading leisurely into the sunset. But that would be a major underestimation of her potential, despite her own misgivings about the future.
While retirement from sport in 2006 was forthcoming, what came next for Scott was not always clear or easy, especially as a mother of two young children. “I did spend years in a real search for the next big thing,” recounts Scott. “I worried about it a lot, about what I was going to do. I didn’t know what I wanted to do and it was really hard for a long time.”
So, in addition to her ongoing work with WADA, she said yes to other opportunities that came her way, including an ambassador role for a cross-country ski program for Indigenous youth in Alberta, then called Ski Fit North. After many years of being involved, she saw how profound the impact on Indigenous youth could be and was inspired by the idea that it could be something bigger than it was.
“When I saw the impact it could have, I wanted to build it, grow it,” says Scott. That determination led to her eventually taking the reins, renaming, rebranding and rebuilding the organization, which has recently relaunched as Spirit North. With Scott as CEO, Spirit North strives to improve the health and well-being of Indigenous children and youth through the transformative power of sport and play.
“It’s about sport for development,” explains Scott. “But also sport for justice, something that I have come to be very aware of in light of the recent Truth and Reconciliation Commission and issues facing the education of Indigenous youth in Canada.”
Unbeknownst to her, Scott’s Spirit North path retraces footsteps left decades ago by her father, Walter Scott, who passed away from Parkinson’s disease in December last year. Shortly before his death he published his life story, chronicling his life in Canada after immigrating from East Germany in 1956.
One of Walter’s first jobs was teaching swimming and water skills to the Inuit in communities throughout the Northwest Territories, which had a significant impact on their lives. Scott says reading new details about her father’s life was illuminating and resonates strongly with the work she is now doing with Spirit North.
What is clearly woven amid that work is an unyielding resolve to make things right, in sport and through sport. Her great spirit endures the endless challenges that must be overcome in order to achieve such heights as clean sport and brighter futures for Indigenous youth.
The strength behind Scott’s impenetrable optimism cannot be overstated. In light of the recent Russian doping crisis, which is enough to make even the most ardent advocate lose faith, Scott has instead doubled-down, dug in her heels and fought back even harder.
In response to the scandal, the WADA Athlete’s Commission, chaired by Scott, is now working to establish a Charter of Athlete Rights, a document that will outline the rights of the athlete and be legally defensible, aspirational and embedded into the anti-doping code.
“We heard from a lot of athletes who were so upset and disillusioned,” recalls Scott. “And rightfully so. We wanted to respond to that and say, ‘we hear you.’” Scott says the charter will give athletes more power to their voice, to speak up, stand tall and say, ‘I do have a right to clean sport.’
Even when it seems like there is no hope, Scott’s vast supply of sanguinity keeps her afloat. “There are formidable forces working against fair sport these days,” she laments. “Like the danger of the politicization of sport and the level of corruption, which is at an all-time high.”
And yet, she soldiers on. “I know for a fact that there are still a lot of good people on the inside fighting the good fight,” says Scott. “I still have contact with a lot of athletes who believe in the power of the Olympics and clean sport. That’s worth fighting for and protecting.”
It is through hard fought battles against immorality and injustice, through the experience of motherhood and loss, that Scott has come full circle – from the end to a new beginning, on a path that has unraveled before her. She is driven by the knowledge, and hope, that there is a better way, that change is possible – for athletes, clean sport is possible; for Indigenous youth, a brighter future is possible.
Finally, Scott has found what she was seeking for so long, or rather, she says, it found her. It is not so different from the work she has been doing all along – those passions for clean sport and sport for justice run deep – but now, it is of her own making and conviction. Great Scott, her legacy blooms anew.
*At the 2002 Olympic Games in Salt Lake City, Beckie Scott originally finished third in the five-kilometre pursuit, but she was upgraded to the gold medal when winner and runner-up were eventually disqualified for using a performance-enhancing drug.
Canadian Sport Institute Calgary: @csicalgary
Written by Kristina Groves: @kngrover