The Canmore cross-country skier wants the debut of the Canadian Winter Games to inspire young girls
A 17-year-old cross-country skier from Canmore is on her way to her first-ever Canada Winter Games, a national competition held every four years.
Sabine Comeau will join more than 3,000 athletes from across the country on Team Alberta later this month.
It’s a major accomplishment for Comeau, who fell in love with the sport at a young age and is slowly rising through the ranks. But unfortunately, Comeau said, many of her friends and fellow cross-country skiers who started her years ago won’t be by her side.
“When I was very young, we were probably about 15, and then as we got older, more and more people just left,” she said.
“I was slowly losing my fellowship.”
Losing friends is tough on training, Comeau said, as it’s much easier to get through tough days when you have a companion by your side.
But she said the loss of women in sport in general is worrying.
“I’m just thinking about the next young me who loses fellowship as we speak and just feels lost and lonely and wonders if they should just follow that path and quit as well.”
According to a 2020 report by Canadian Women and Sport — a federally funded advocacy group dedicated to promoting fair and inclusive sport in Canada — one in three girls drop out of sport during adolescence, compared to one in ten boys.
The number of boys participating in sports also decreases with age, the report shows, but not as much as girls and not as quickly through her teenage years.
Comeau wants to use her position on Team Alberta to inspire young women to stay in the sport. She also wants to raise awareness of what participation can bring to her life.
For her, these are balance, resilience, and appreciation for hard work.
“If you’re done with the competition aspect, that’s totally fine and totally understandable,” she said.
“But I would urge everyone to continue to stay in any sport because I think the social, mental and physical benefits are great.”
importance of role models
Another athlete, Chandra Crawford, helped spark Comeau’s love of cross-country skiing.
Among her career highlights, Crawford, who is from Canmore but now lives in Calgary, won a gold medal in cross-country skiing and two World Cup gold medals at the 2006 Olympic Games in Turin, Italy.
She is also the founder of Fast and Female, a Canadian charity that aims to keep young girls in sport. She started it 17 years ago after realizing, much like Comeau, that girls were going to the sidelines.
“Ever since girls were little … you’ve just been riddled with stereotypes and everyone says you’re pretty and nice and everyone says to boys you’re wild and tough,” she said.
“It just translates over millions upon billions of messages to understand what’s for girls and what’s not.”
A key to inspiring girls is role models, Crawford said. For her, it was Sara Renner, another Canadian cross-country skier and Olympic silver medalist.
“A relatable role model, someone who has a circumstance like yours,” she said. “Women from her community, from all walks of life, who can show what it means to be strong, that there aren’t these narrow stereotypes that we have to adhere to.”
feelings of belonging
The Canada Women and Sport Report also cites ethnicity, income and parental involvement as some of the factors influencing girls’ participation in sport.
Many also deal with low self-esteem and feelings that don’t belong to them. Crawford says there are ways to combat these factors.
“We focus on safe sport. We’re looking at sports systems that aren’t diverse, equitable and inclusive,” she said.
“Girls are different from boys. We have to know we belong to try… So that’s really the message for us parents. Social, belonging, friends, fun.”
CLOCK | Chandra Crawford’s journey in creating Fast and Female:
Today, Crawford does not play an active role in the Fast and Female organization.
She made the decision to step down to raise her four young children. She’s still a fierce advocate for the cause, and she takes many of those lessons to heart while raising two daughters of her own.
The benefits of participating in sports are too important to ignore, she said.
“Exercise gives so much resilience, so much ability to learn, how to recover from failure. Be part of a team,” she said.
But while Crawford takes a step back, Comeau takes a step forward.
She is now a member of the Fast and Female Youth Advisory Board, which allows her to meet women from across the country who are active in sports. It has helped her overcome some of her loneliness and find other like-minded women who want to lift young girls up.
After all, Comeau hopes to be a role model for someone else.
“I would tell them that they can find a community in other ways and that it’s worth pursuing.”
The Canada Winter Games will be held on Prince Edward Island from February 18th to March 5th. Comeau starts her competitions on February 28th.
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