WinSport supports Mental Health Awareness Week

At the beginning of the COVID-19 self-isolation, I was pretty pumped to work from home. Images of productivity and focus swirled through my head and I was excited about the opportunity to hunker down at home and wait out the storm so to speak. But it didn’t take long for the social isolation and each cold, cloudy day seems like the last for it to start to affect my mental health.

The strategies I normally had in place to keep me physically active and mentally healthy (the gym, my friends, yoga, etc.) were no longer available and I began to lose my energy, positive attitude and overall motivation. I could feel myself slipping into a rut.

I thought I was doing alright until a co-worker noticed that I was “off” in a virtual meeting and that I didn’t seem like myself. After our Zoom call, she sent me a text asking if I was doing ok? That’s when it occurred to me that I may not be handling this as well as I thought I was.

So I decided to call Humancare. That’s what our WinSport Employee & Family Assistance Program is there for, right?  It’s funny though – despite always encouraging my co-workers to call – there was a part of me that hesitated. I thought to myself – I’m not that bad. I can handle this. This service is for people who are really struggling.

Despite my doubts, I called Humanacare anyway and they connected me with a fantastic counsellor. I spoke with her a few times and she was able to not only validate that how I was feeling was normal, but she also helped me identify that working out was an important mental health strategy that if I could just start small, would have me on my way to being myself again.

There is still a lot of stigma around mental health and while there has been lots of work done to normalize the conversation around it – we still have work to do! Remember that when our body is broken or not functioning at 100% we don’t hesitate to seek help from a doctor or physiotherapist. The same goes for our mental health. Sometimes we need support.

Here are my takeaways from this experience:

  1. Recognize your signs of distress. This is different for everyone. Mine looked like irritability, being impatient with my family, and being unmotivated to do the things I normally like to do.
  2. Admit you’re not doing well and tell someone. Whether that’s a friend or family member, co-worker, counsellor or a member of your company’s Wellness Team – tell someone.
  3. Notice when others aren’t doing ok and reach out. It’s because of my teammate that I realized I needed help. This time is hard for everyone and mental health challenges look different for each of us.
  4. Call your EFAP encourage your colleagues to do the same to restore our mental health.

Kristie Pshyk oversees WinSport’s Workplace Wellness Strategy

Joanne Powell driven by her love of sport

Part 6 of a six-part series profiling the Women of WinSport, in recognition of International Women’s Day on March 8th and the impact women have made on WinSport.

internationalwomensday_joannepowell_402x4703Joanne Powell
Years with WinSport: 5 years
Joanne Powell would just as soon converge around the water cooler to discuss the Calgary Flames roster than talk about the latest Bachelor episode.

Joanne’s role as WinSport’s controller allows her to be at the forefront of sport, something she’s always enjoyed. She previously spent seven years as a controller for Jersey City Canada. Having that link to sport was important to her and what drew her to WinSport.

WinSport prides itself on having a large number of women in the organization and in key roles within the organization. It turned out to be a perfect fit given Joanne’s love of sports.

“What I loved about Jersey City was that I was doing accounting, but I was also in the sports world talking about sports, being surrounded by sports, talking to people about sports. Yes, it was retail but we talked about sports all the time,” says Joanne. “My job at WinSport is more directly linked to supporting sport, which was the big draw to coming here. Being a not-for-profit makes it that much more valuable.”

The accounting world typically has a mixture of male and female staff. In WinSport’s case, Joanne leads an entire accounting team of female Team Members.

“There is a higher percentage of men in the accounting world, but there are obviously plenty of women in the industry, too,” says Joanne. “Given the controller roles I have been in, usually the Chief Financial Officer or the part-owner of the company tend to be male, so those would have to be my mentors over the years.”

As a female in such a critical role in the organization, Joanne hasn’t faced any hurdles other women in similar roles have faced in the past.

“I’m still young in my career, so there are challenges with that when it comes to accounting,” says Joanne. “But as a female, I haven’t had any setbacks or anything like that. As a whole, WinSport is very aware of growth and development. Not all companies are like that. I am just honoured to be given the opportunity to be in the role I am in.”

Bryna Trollope has had plenty of support to help prove she belongs

Part 5 of a six-part series profiling the Women of WinSport, in recognition of International Women’s Day on March 8th and the impact women have made on WinSport.

internationalwomensday_bryna-trollope_402x470Bryna Trollope
Heavy-duty mechanic apprentice
Years with WinSport: 7 years

Bryna Trollope is used to fitting in as one of the boys.

She started with WinSport back in 2011 working on the organization’s challenge course, and after a brief sojourn to manage a coffee shop for about a year, she returned in 2013.

Each winter since then, you could find her in the cozy comforts of a snowcat, grooming the hill at Canada Olympic Park, mostly under the cover of darkness on the overnight shift. Being a snowcat operator isn’t unusual or unique, but certainly, a majority of drivers in the industry are men.

“As a woman I have definitely struggled with feeling inferior to men in the past, especially in certain environments,” says Bryna. “In my case, I’ve always had male friends. I’m really lucky to know incredible guys who help me see that I was the only one who felt that way. I truly wouldn’t be who I am today if it weren’t for both the men and women in my life, equally.

“Under the right circumstances, I believe we stand to learn a lot from one another if we can remember we’re all human.”

Just last week, Bryna ducked out of the cab and into the shop in her new role as a heavy-duty mechanic apprentice. She learned a lot from her ‘family’ on the hill operations team and she learned a lot about herself, not just as a female in a male-centric role, but as a person in general.

“I lived a lot in my head and held myself to impossible standards where nothing I did was good enough,” says Bryna, who was a snowboarder as she was growing up, including some time riding competitively. “Being in a machine alone can be a dangerous place for getting stuck in negative mental loops. I’d wear myself down from the inside which then fired up the anxiety and sometimes ended in panic attacks. Thankfully I work with compassionate and caring guys who did their best to support me. Ultimately, I realized my biggest challenge was coming from within and I was the only one who could make amends.”

While Bryna knows a lot about how to drive a snowcat, she says it will be a learning curve to understand how to fix what is under the hood. Then again, all she’ll need to do is channel her mom, Mary, who she considers a mentor.

“My mom is mentally, physically and emotionally strong, independent, adaptable, fun-loving, athletic and in some ways fearless,” says Bryna. “She gives endlessly and selflessly; she is open, honest and authentic; she works hard, plays hard and still somehow finds time and energy to help anyone who needs it. Honestly, other than my mom, the people I surround myself with every day are mentors, both men and women. People who help me grow into this proud woman I am becoming, doing things I never thought I would, or could do.”


Davies proves she has the right stuff for millwright role

Part 4 of a six-part series profiling the Women of WinSport, in recognition of International Women’s Day on March 8th and the impact women have made on WinSport.

Taylor Daviesinternationalwomensday_taylor-davies_402x470
Industrial Mechanic (millwright) apprentice
Years with WinSport: 1.5 years

Taylor Davies knew somehow her career would take her in a direction where coveralls were the uniform of choice. She also knew she would likely end up in a male-dominated field.

“I’ve always had male-dominated interests, like snowboarding, mechanics and anything else really,” says Taylor, who is a first-year industrial mechanic (millwright) apprentice at WinSport. “I always was considering a trade, but I wasn’t really sure which one. I kind of bounced between mechanics and instrumentation and heavy-duty mechanics. I was pretty indecisive, and the opportunity came up for a millwright position, so that’s what I went with.”

Taylor is among WinSport’s 140 full-time staff, of which 39% are women. Prior to joining the organization, she was with an irrigation company installing residential and commercial irrigation systems.

“I have always had an interest using tools or working with my hands or any kind of mechanical job. I’ve always been relatively good at it, as well,” says Taylor.

She says she has never had difficultly fitting in with a mostly male crew. She’s the only female among five chairlift mechanics and a handful of women with the operations team at WinSport.

“I don’t take offence to a lot of things. If I am treated differently, I will prove otherwise,” says Taylor. “All the men I work with now treat me just like any other person. The fact that I am female doesn’t change anything.”

Taylor says her mom Janine has always been an inspiration to her. She’s also a hard worker, isn’t intimidated by anything and will jump into just about anything. And that’s the same message Taylor would have for any women looking to follow in her footsteps.

“Don’t let the fact that you are a female hold you back. Don’t let anyone tell you there is something wrong with it, because it’s not true,” says Taylor. “I think the trades could use a lot more females in it. We have the organizational skills and the determination that’s suitable for the trades.

“Now that the first generation of women have put their foot in the door, men are more accepting of having women in the workplace. So really for the next generation of women to start in the trades is a perfect time, it’s a lot less intimidating and easier to get into.”


Konopaki practices what she preaches: Be authentic!

internationalwomensday_jenkonopaki_402x4703Part 3 of a six-part series profiling the Women of WinSport, in recognition of International Women’s Day on March 8th and the impact women have made on WinSport.

Jennifer Konopaki
Executive Director, Sport Leadership
Years with WinSport: 8 years

Jennifer Konopaki knows first-hand what it is like to be the odd man out … or in her case, the odd woman out.

During the early part of her job as WinSport’s Director, Active Lives, was representing the organization at regular meetings. Because these meetings were with a male-dominated group, she started to wear collared shirts to the sessions. It wasn’t until her sister asked why she was dressing like a man that she realized that she wasn’t being authentic and that deep down, she wasn’t even aware that she was trying fit in.

In Jennifer’s case, that went against one of the major lessons she learned from her mentor, Cynthia Watson, about being a female leader. Jennifer worked for Cynthia at the Talisman Centre (now Repsol) and now Cynthia is the CEO – chief evolution officer – at Vivo Recreation Centre. She taught Jennifer the importance of being authentic.

“A younger version of myself struggled with consistently being the only woman in the room. Over the years, it became normal, and I became much more comfortable in that space,” says Jennifer, who has been with WinSport for eight years. “But I had to, over the years, mature, develop and grow to overcome that. It’s not a disadvantage. It can be an advantage, especially in a male-dominated sporting environment. I learned that from Cynthia years ago that there should equal representation at the table. That makes for a good team, and that makes for broad thinking.”

Back in 2002, Jennifer worked in the field for a few oil and gas companies as an oilfield crew supervisor. During her stint in Northern Alberta, not only were she and her sister the only women, she was not accepted and to say she was ridiculed would be an understatement. In a very short period, she earned others respect, learned a great deal about leadership and ended up being the boss responsible for setting the pace and the team’s safety and performance.

“You have to dig deep and know what you are capable of,” says Jennifer, who was recently elevated to the role of Executive Director of Sport. “You have to make your way at times. Honesty, it comes through the strength of character and knowing yourself. It’s about believing in yourself sometimes when nobody else does. That’s just part of the journey.”

Jennifer’s journey certainly started down the right path thanks to the mentorship of many wonderful women and men, who provided her with rich leadership opportunities along the way.

“It’s the process of not comparing yourself to others around you,” says Jennifer. “As soon as you start comparing yourself to the polo shirts around the board table … you’re not to be compared. It’s what Cynthia taught me years ago — be authentic. Feminine leadership is different. It looks different and shows up differently and has a role to play.”

Melanie followed her heart into the once male-dominated culinary field

internationalwomensday_melaniehennessey_402x4702Part 2 of a six-part series profiling the Women of WinSport, in recognition of International Women’s Day on March 8th and the impact women have made on WinSport.
Melanie Hennessey
Sous chef/pastry chef
Years with WinSport: 6.5 years

Many ingredients in professional kitchens have changed greatly over the past several decades. We’re not talking about the evolution of plant-based foods, we are talking in terms of the personnel.

WinSport’s sous chef/pastry chef Melanie Hennessey has seen it first-hand.

“The kitchen used to be big-time male dominated. When I first got into the industry 30 years ago, it was massive,” says Melanie, who joined WinSport six and a half years ago. “There were barely any women in the kitchen. I would say in the past 10 years, there are a lot more female forward-thinking, as far as women in the kitchen and in the top roles.”

While Melanie has had her share of male bosses over the years, her current leader is WinSport executive chef Liana Robberecht, who is one of the top female chefs in the business.

Melanie came to Canada from Manchester, England, in 1994. She was a chef at the Barley Mill, which once existed in south Calgary, and has owned her own cake decorating company, All Occasion Cakes, for more than 25 years.

She never faced any challenges being ‘one of the guys’ in the kitchen during the early part of her career, as she always found ways to fit in with her male counterparts. While the playing field has certainly evened out in recent years, that’s not always the case in all kitchens.

“My piece of advice for women considering a culinary career is to follow your heart. Don’t let anyone tell you that you cannot do it, especially in a male-dominated environment,” says Melanie.

Melanie was initially wanting to be WinSport’s contact for cake decorating. However, she was talked into taking on a staff role as a banquet chef, helping out for just one season. That was nearly seven seasons ago. She just fell in love with working at WinSport.

“I love creating new dishes and seeing the reaction people have and interacting with clients at events,” she says.

Larson has risen to the challenge of being a young female leader

Part 1 of a six-part series profiling the Women of WinSport, in recognition of International Women’s Day on March 8th and the impact women have made on WinSport.

internationalwomensday_amberlarson_402x470Amber Larson
Senior Manager, Guest Experience

Years with WinSport: 7.5 years

Amber Larson has not only faced the challenge of being a female in a leadership role, but also the challenges as a young female leader moving up within WinSport.

“Regardless of whether you are male or female, there are always going to be challenges” says Amber, who is just one of a significant number of women to leave their mark on WinSport. “As a woman in leadership, it’s becoming more normal. But combined with the fact that I am a young leader, you have to work harder to gain people’s trust. Once you do, it’s totally fine. But I feel like you have to be a strong-headed person to overcome some of those initial barriers.”

She started at WinSport as a Team Lead in guest services, before moving up to coordinator and manager role. Initially, she was planning to be at WinSport for a good time, not a long time, as her priority was getting her justice degree.

With a degree in hand, however, she just couldn’t bring herself to leave the job she loves so much.

She lists her mom, Cheryl, as having a big influence on her and teaching her the value of determination. As a single parent for eight years of Amber’s life, she had her share of challenges she overcame.

“It really showed me what hard work and determination gets you. She was able to give me the life that I could have had if she wasn’t single,” says Amber. “She showed me how important it was to be supportive of each other. She taught me what it took to become a strong, determined woman.”

She says she has witnessed first-hand about the role WinSport has played in the emergence of women in sport, where 39% of the full-time are women.

“It’s such a great opportunity and it really makes your heart feel good when you see camaraderie, efficiencies, and positive — sometimes complex or complicated — changes meld together for the greater good of the team, WinSport as a whole, and the sport community,” Amber says. “There’s never a dull moment – we all work so hard but have fun every day, and leading a team who truly rally for each other, the guests, sport, and the businesses is really humbling, exciting, and encouraging.”

WinSport is proud to have been named today as one of Alberta’s Top Employers, for the second straight year

img_8117WinSport is proud to have been named today as one of Alberta’s Top Employers, for the second straight year.

The winners were announced this morning by Mediacorp Canada Inc., organizers of the annual Canada’s Top 100 Employers competition.

WinSport is a not-for-profit community-based organization that owns and operates Canada Olympic Park. Our vision is to be a world-leading centre for athletic development. We inspire human potential through the spirit of sport by introducing people to winter and mountain sports, helping them develop their skills and thereby igniting a passion for sport and lifelong learning.

We also develop our people to be the best that they can be.

President and CEO Barry Heck says WinSport focuses on creating opportunities for employees to grow and take on leadership roles within the organization.

“We work very hard at ensuring our resources are marshalled so there are opportunities for those new leaders to emerge,” says Heck. “We have tremendous opportunities for Team Members of all levels to advance. That’s the foundation we’re built on. We call it the WinSport Way.”

WinSport has 140 full-time permanent Team Members, in addition to upwards of 700 seasonal Team Members in the summer and winter season. That’s in addition to more than 400 volunteers. Where else can you ski on your lunch break in winter months or take some mountain bike runs during your day?

“We do everything we can, so our team has a healthy work-life balance and all the tools that are needed to achieve that,” says Heck. “We’re passionate about what we do, committed to excellence in everything we do – and it’s just fun.”

WinSport’s longest-serving Team Member joined the organization prior to the 1988 Calgary Winter Olympics. WinSport is an organization with diverse business units, with opportunities in sport, food and beverage, operations and corporate areas, including human resources, accounting, marketing and communications.

For more on WinSport, including job opportunities, visit

The winning organizations of the Alberta’s Top Employers come from a range of industries, both private- and public-sector, representing nearly every area of Alberta’s economy.

Employers were evaluated by the editors at Canada’s Top 100 Employers using the same criteria as the national competition: (1) Physical Workplace; (2) Work Atmosphere & Social; (3) Health, Financial & Family Benefits; (4) Vacation & Time Off; (5) Employee Communications; (6) Performance Management; (7) Training & Skills Development; and (8) Community Involvement. Employers are compared to other organizations in their field to determine which offer the most progressive and forward-thinking programs. The annual competition is open to any employer with its head office in Alberta; employers of any size may apply, whether private- or public-sector.

The Swing: An Early Explorers Story


It all started the first week as we enjoyed relaxing and getting to know each other in our hammocks. So many of the children enjoyed the gentle rocking, and it reminded Arlow of an earlier project he had dreamed up before at Early Explorers — a swing!

Soon many of our friends were engaged in this idea, talking about what we would need to build it. Rope, wood, string, and tools were among many of the items we would need. The next week we drew pictures, dreaming up ideas of unicorn swings, flat swings, standing swings and more. We also found a couple of pieces of rope in our classroom and tried tying them to a tall tree branch. This worked well, but it was hard to hold ourselves up.

The next week we found a large piece of wood and a big bag of rope. We used the rope, wood, and with the help of our teacher, tied a big swing to the tree branch. The problem was this swing was wobbly, and hard to tie up! Ms. Brittany then proposed using a tire. We tried our third and final swing, a tire swing. It worked well and many of the children took turns pushing each other and laughing. Our swing became a source of joy, laughter, and imagination.

Watching the children collaborate on a meaningful project early in our time together showed the sense of community each of our Explorers felt immediately in our classroom. Following their interests, the children were supported in their creative undertaking through help, facilitation, and supplies. Most of all, we found a new and creative way to be outside! We had the privilege to engineer fun out of simple yet exciting materials.

Falling For Fall

ecd-blog-novemberWinSport’s Early Explorers program builds on our legacy of fostering resilient, confident, creative and self-directed individuals with some of our youngest of citizens aged 3-8 years old.

Elements critical to the Early Explorers program include a commitment to outdoor play; a deep interest in movement; emergent curriculum; and support risk-taking.

Earlier this semester on a crisp fall morning, our Friday class spent time experiencing the fall leaves. We discovered a large ash tree that had shed most of its leaves in our snowstorm. The children were immediately drawn to it, especially playing in its mountainous piles of leaves.

They started by shuffling around their feet. I saw their interest in the leaves as a perfect play opportunity and halted our plans for the final 45 minutes of the day. I sat amongst the leaves with them, while many of them went to retrieve shovels and rakes from mud kitchen. Soon, we were throwing, gathering, and rolling in the piles of leaves around us. The joy and laughter filled our space. Then we began to pile the leaves, some for jumping, and some for throwing. The children broke off into small groups, negotiating the rules of the piles and collaborating to build bigger and bigger piles. Some children built beds, others made piles for throwing and shoveling.

Abandoning our structure for a short time and just embracing the moment the natural world offered us, allowed us to create amazing memories outside together. Through our leaf play, we found laughter and collaboration. We also found we were learning about working together on common goals, setting boundaries with friends, and developing new creative ways to play with leaves which allowed us to grow. We developed creativity, teamwork and social-emotional skills, all while simply playing in the leaves. Just like when the forest floor is covered in its autumn blanket, in play, we are experiencing that there is always more happening then what appears on the surface.