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The Part-Time Jungle Podcast Episode 36: Behind the Scenes with Catriona Le May Doan

e036 – The Part-Time Jungle Podcast: Behind the Scenes with Catriona Le May Doan

Catriona Le May Doan has represented Canada in speed skating in 4 Olympic Games. She took her place in the Canadian Olympic history books at Salt Lake City 2002 where she became the first Canadian athlete to successfully defend an Olympic gold medal in an individual event. Catriona had been a double medallist four years earlier at Nagano 1998, winning 500m gold in Olympic record time and winning a bronze medal in the 1000m. She was also given the honour of carrying the Canadian flag at the Closing Ceremony.

Catriona was the world’s dominant female sprinter of the 1997-98 season. In November 1997 she became the first woman to break the 38-second barrier in the 500m, skating it in 37.90 seconds in Calgary. She lowered the mark five more times over the next four years, eventually setting the record at 37.22 seconds in December 2001, which stood until March 2007. At the 1998 World Single Distances Championships, she won gold in the 500m and silver in the 1000m. She was also crowned World Sprint Champion and was the overall World Cup champion in the 500m and 1000m.

That dominance continued as she won the 500m world title in 1999 and 2001 to go with a bronze medal in 2000.

With her impressive resume, Catriona was named Canadian flag bearer for the Opening Ceremony at Salt Lake City 2002, her fourth Olympic Games. She skated to another Olympic record – one that would not be broken until Sochi 2014 – to win her second straight gold medal in the 500m. She was named the 2002 recipient of the Lou Marsh Award as Canada’s Athlete of the Year and earned her third career (1998, 2001, 2002) Bobbie Rosenfeld Award as Canadian Female Athlete of the Year.

Since her retirement from speed skating, Catriona has been heavily involved in the community through such organizations as The Saskatoon Foundation and the Catriona Le May Doan Endowment for Children and Youth. She is also an ambassador for the Spina Bifida and Hydrocephalus Association of Canada, Right to Play and Special Olympics Canada. She served on the Board of Directors for the Vancouver Organizing Committee for the 2010 Olympic Winter Games and is a Board member of the Canada Games Council and the Canadian Sport Institute Calgary. Since 2019 she has been the President and CEO of Sport Calgary.

Catriona was part of the broadcast team at five Olympic Games, earning a Gemini for Best Sports Analyst for her speed skating work at Vancouver 2010. She has received three honorary degrees from the University of Calgary, the University of Saskatchewan and the University of Regina, giving the convocation speech to their graduating classes. Catriona was inducted to Canada’s Sports Hall of Fame in 2005 and the Canadian Olympic Hall of Fame in 2008 and appointed an Officer of the Order of Canada.

Catriona served as the Lead Athlete Mentor for Team Canada at PyeongChang 2018 and will be Team Canada’s Chef de Mission at the Beijing 2022 Olympic Winter Games. She is also a mom of two kids!

In this episode:

  • There are times for intense focus & times to stop, look around, & soak it all in.
  • Behind the scenes. There are the highlights & the successes & then, there is the rest of the story.
  • Be real with yourself so that you can be real with your kids.
  • Follow your own path. Love what you are doing. Do what is right for you.
  • Find out what gives you energy and allows you to recharge.

Connect with Catriona:


Catriona talks about how, as an athlete, it’s a bit of a do or die and it’s a little bit of life and death. You put that much pressure on yourself. People might not see it, but the nation puts pressure. The media puts pressure. There’s so much, but you don’t really acknowledge it at the time. For Catriona, it took almost 10 years for it to really sink in. You’re so focused as an athlete. When you’re a bit of a perfectionist, so literally just go forward.


Catriona tries to talk to athletes about stopping once in a while to take it in even just for a moment.  There were times that Catriona would do that but less so at a games because she would be so focused on her event.


For Catriona, there was no round robin. There was just one event. She says that she thinks it’s a bit different when you’re in a round robin, heats, or semis. She has talked to team athletes where they can have a bad shift. Catriona’s race was 37 seconds. She could not make a mistake. All she could do was focus, focus, focus. Catriona says that you have to be very selfish.


Within one year of retiring from competitive sport, Catriona had her daughter. What she realized was that it was not all about her. Catriona thinks that some people struggle with that. She loved being a mom but she also didn’t forget about herself. One of the big things was that she continued to do stuff that she was passionate about. Catriona continues with this approach today.


Catriona says that other people would say what they wanted about her choice. Not everybody liked it which was very difficult. From that, Catriona learned to have very thick skin and be tougher than she wanted to be.


Throughout Catriona’s entire life, her approach has been to work hard, be passionate, and drive towards things. However, for a moment, you need to have perspective and realize what is important and what you can put on hold. She now shares this approach with her two teenage children.


For Catriona, trying to choose a favourite memory from her time at the Olympics or at the World Championships is like having to say which one of your children is your favourite. She says that each of the four Olympics that she went to had a different spirit. There were things that she loved about the games and things that she disliked about the games.


Catriona’s best memories involve some of the places that she and her teammates got to see. For example, there was a tiny little town in Italy, on top of a mountain, with about five guest houses, some cafes, a church, and an oval. On the sunny days, they would be on the ice looking out at the Dolomite mountains. She would think that life does not get any better than this. Those moments were Catriona’s favorites. She says that they were probably also her team’s best moments because there was a little less stress. Everyone would be joking around. During Catriona’s competitive days, there were loves and hates to everything. The things that she really remembers are the places she got to see. The towns nobody will ever see, unless they’re a speed skater.


Catriona finds it interesting that people seem to know about the highlights and successes, but they don’t know the behind the scenes. This is why she loves to talk about them. She says that it’s taken her awhile to be okay with stuff. When she retired from sport, people always said that it would be a tough transition. That transition wasn’t hard for Catriona but there was a point that it was hard. For her, it was about 10 years later when her kids were old enough that if she wasn’t around, they would still survive


At this time, she was still doing broadcasting and public speaking. She actually stopped and wondered “What am I going to do when I grow up”? Catriona had put school on hold because of sport. She had worked incredibly hard to stay relevant and to do a number of different things. However, she says, at some point you need to have people open doors. As an athlete, she had been in charge and had done all the work.


In her mid-forties, Catriona had her first real job interview and put together a resume. It was pretty intimidating. She had tried out for broadcasting but that was more second nature. Catriona had already been public speaking and she was comfortable in front of the camera. She knew that she could handle stressful situations, but was she really qualified on paper?


What Catriona learned and what she always encourages people to remember, is that you have to sell yourself regardless of your age or the field that you are in. You have to almost fake it to a point.


Catriona says that no matter what your successes are in other places, at some point you’re sort of at the bottom of the totem pole. You have to be okay with that and work your butt off to make yourself relevant. For Catriona, this was intimidating but also kind of exhilarating at the same time.


Going through the interview process made Catriona feel anxious. She says that it was tough because she had to be ready for disappointment. Catriona had been asked to apply but she didn’t end up getting the position she applied for. She ended up with a different position and this ended up being a blessing in disguise because it really was what she needed.


New experiences are intimidating no matter what age you are. Catriona shared that she thinks that half of the CEOs of major companies get nervous about things. They’re just good actors. We have to remember that all these people, even in high up positions, don’t know everything either.


As a leader in her organization, Catriona has had to remind herself that it’s okay to not know everything. It’s okay to say that she doesn’t get something. For example, she’s not a finance person. She needs help with budgeting stuff. Catriona needs help from others. She is okay with this now, but she has had to learn to be okay with it.


Catriona says that you have to accept a village of support and she doesn’t always accept it. She just doesn’t tend to let people know if she is struggling. Catriona says that this is a strength but it’s a weakness as well. She has just always put her head down and done things.


For the first two years after her daughter was born, she and her daughter travelled everywhere together. She felt that her daughter became very adaptable. Catriona would go to Toronto once a week and she would have her daughter cared for by her friend’s nanny if she had to work in the evenings. Her son Easton was born when her daughter was three. It became more difficult to travel but Catriona was able to continue to do things.


Her parents were in Saskatoon and are older. As well, her mom had always said that she wanted to be a grandparent and not a caregiver. Catriona and her sisters weren’t in the same city at the time. She was able to find help sometimes but was never super open to having this village. Catriona was always doing it herself because she didn’t like to ask for help. This was something that she had to learn. When other people asked her for help she welcomed it but she just wouldn’t let herself go there.


Catriona has been in this role for about a year and a half. Sport Calgary is a team of four. She doesn’t know everything, she works hard to learn stuff, and she relies on her colleagues and asks lots of questions. Catriona would always assume beforehand, that the president and CEO should know everything and be able to do everything. That’s just not true. As a leader, Catriona is all about connection and people.That’s what she is passionate about.


Catriona is also passionate about community sports. She knows what sport has done for her. Catriona is still active, although she admits at times not as active as she should be. However, it’s something that will be with her for life. She just turned 50. In 20 years, she wants to be able to go outside and hike, walk her dogs, and cross country ski.


Catriona didn’t grow up in a sports family. She and her sisters are sporty. Her parents  came over from Scotland. Catriona’s mom grew up in Glasgow and smoked since she was 14. That’s what people did who were born in the thirties and grew up during the war. Catriona can see how that has taken a toll on her. Catriona knows that introducing sport at any stage in life and being active can really change a person’s life. As well, it changes our country because we have such a draw in the healthcare system.


During this pandemic, we have seen how in many ways we have lost the physical side of sport as well as the social connection and the mental health side. Catriona feels that some people believe that sport is an extra. For Catriona, sport should be at the top of the list because it checks all the boxes and is what keeps people healthy.


Catriona says that she kind of fell into speed skating. Her parents are Scottish and have never skated a day in their lives. Catriona’s middle sister discovered it and then, Catriona followed suit. They both grew up being a part of a Saskatoon club with a history of developing great skaters. She and her sister also competed at a Canada Games together. Catriona says that speed skating is a good individual and team sport.


Catriona continued on with speed skating. She says that she is very different from her family because she is the only one who doesn’t have a double degree. Her  parents have always been academics. Catriona’s dad was a prof and her mom was a pharmacist. Speed skating wasn’t a normal sport to do in the late seventies and early eighties. Her parents never pushed her. Catriona says that she is the type that if somebody pushed her, she would just go the other way.


Catriona has never wanted to push her kids, especially her daughter who Catriona describes as a “mini me”. She has introduced her kids to things, such as ringette, which her daughter continues to play. However, Catriona says that, at the core, her daughter is more of an individual sport athlete. Her daughter loves track and field. Catriona actually did heptathlon at the Canada Games even as an Olympic speed skater. She likes heptathlon and multi events where you don’t have to be the best at a particular event. Instead, you just have to be kind of good all round. Greta is similar in this way.


Catriona’s son Easton loves hockey. She says that it is tough watching from the sideline when stuff happens. All you want for your kids is for them to live out their dreams. As a parent, it’s tough because there is so much out of your control. Catriona doesn’t know how her mom survived four Olympics. She realizes why her mom drinks wine and why she drinks wine now! Catriona’s parents were never ones to cheer loudly and neither is she. When parents yell things, it freaks her out and she is the type of parent that might say something to them. Catriona just wants her kids to love what they’re doing.


Especially with social media, Catriona says that some people feel that they can hide behind that and say whatever they want. She remembers when her kids were really little, she was traveling a lot doing public speaking and broadcasting. Somebody came up to her at a conference and said, “You’ve had your time. Now, your time is to be at home with your kids.” This really bothered Catriona. She realized afterwards that they were likely saying this out of jealousy. Catriona was still with her kids a ton but she was also doing what she loved. She realizes that not everybody has that opportunity. She doesn’t like to use the word sacrifice, but just different choices.


Catriona didn’t follow a normal path. She has never followed a normal path. This has its perks, its stresses, and bad things as well. Catriona has had to learn to deal with this. She says that with people who have been successful at the Olympic level, people sort of put them in a little bit of a different category. If you take pro sport be it basketball, hockey, football, or baseball, which is largely male oriented, when there is some sort of scandal in the media, people kind of shake their heads and then move on. When there’s anything to do with an Olympic athlete, people are in shock.


When Catriona separated from her husband, people were shocked because they felt that she lived this perfect life. Olympic champions get put on a different level. Some people might not agree with this sentiment but Catriona has lived it. She has also seen others live it. It’s difficult because it feels that other people sometimes don’t seem to understand that amateur athletes or Olympic and Paralympic athletes, go through things too. They are real people that go through financial challenges, relationships challenges, and all of the stuff. They don’t allow you to be real.


Catriona thinks what’s been great about social media is that it has allowed people to be a bit more real. She considers being real to be a little bit of her role and the role of those who are part of her era. This will allow the next generation of athletes to be  prepared for it. Also, this will allow society to understand that athletes are going to mess up. They are not perfect. Nobody is perfect.


Catriona doesn’t have her kids all the time. Prepandemic, though, she would see them pretty much everyday because she was either helping coach her daughter’s team or supporting the logistics of having her kids going in two different directions for their sports. For her health and wellness, Catriona embraces the time that she has available to her. If she has a few hours, she will go out cross country skiing, for a hike, or take her dogs out.


Catriona has a condo in Invermere, B.C and sometimes she will head out there to work for the day. She has learned that as long as she gets her work done and gets everything done that she needs to, that she needs to take a little bit of time for herself. Catriona has figured out that this is what gives her energy. For some people, it’s other people that give them energy. For Catriona, she gets energy by being on her own. Doing this allows her to recharge and to not stress about everything.


Catriona says that figuring out what gives you energy is important. There’s no right or wrong answer. Sometimes there is a period of trial and error. Don’t let other people dictate what it might be. Catriona says that there are some strong personalities out there who might say that certain things aren’t good for you. How do they know? The most difficult thing is for people to figure this out for themselves.


Catriona’s daughter Greta, who is 16 years old, knows how exercise makes her feel and she knows that it makes her feel better and gives her energy. She can get stressed about not doing a run in a couple of days or when it is more difficult to get out and be active during a cold spell. Catriona can relate to her because she sees so much of herself in her daughter. The worst thing that people can say is not to stress about it. She does stress about it. She reminds her daughter to accept that she will feel stressed and then, figure out the coping mechanisms on how to deal with that.


With Catriona’s son, Easton, it is different. Catriona is one of three girls. For her son, during the pandemic, he’s been gaming more. This is how he connects socially with his friends.  Catriona monitors this but doesn’t want to pull it away because then he’ll lose that connection with his friends. On a Saturday, if she suggests going for a hike, he doesn’t want to go. However, once he is out in the mountains he loves it and even tells her this. For Catriona, she is the opposite. She wants to go hiking but once she is out there she questions the decision. Catriona is not a hiker but she still embraces it.


Despite Catriona and her son having opposite personalities, she says that he really wants to take care of her and is always checking in to see how she is doing. She says that all we can do is model what we know is right for us. Hopefully, our kids will watch that and figure out what they need to do for themselves as well.


When Catriona’s kids figured out that in this role she would be away longer, that she would have to take a month off of work, that she would not be on TV, and that she would not make any money in this volunteer role, they thought that she was crazy! However, they knew that she was passionate about it and they were very excited when they found out that she had been named Chef de Mission.


Chef de Mission is a spokesperson and leadership role. You put on the armor and take on all the stuff that you don’t want the athletes to be facing when you get to the games. This way the athletes can just focus on preparation. At the games, Catriona will attend Chef meetings and with the support of the Canadian Olympic Committee, she will deal with any bad or negative situations. The Canadian Olympic Committee has been prepping for years setting up for this.


Catriona gets what the games are about. She has seen and experienced tham from both the athlete side and the media side. Catriona just wants to help the athletes be as prepared as they can and to be able to do what they need to do. She sees Beijing as an indication of how sport will be our recovery in coming out of the pandemic. Catriona thinks that the athletes are going to embrace their performances regardless of results. They have had to demonstrate incredible resilience with their training through these weird times in order to be able to go and represent our country.


Catriona’s family enjoys a really easy, super healthy, and delicious chicken pasta. She grills the chicken in a fry pan with some spices and then adds in red pepper, yellow pepper, sun-dried tomatoes, garlic, and broccoli. Catriona serves it with penne and some Greek feta. Her son Easton doesn’t have the peppers and only Catriona has the sundried tomatoes.


Catriona and her kids like to play ping pong, pool, and the classic board game classic, Sorry. One of their favorite games is a card game called Dutch Blitz. She says that the game is super intense and fast!


Catriona’s favourite book is Tuesdays with Morrie by Mitch Albom. She says that it is based on a true story, is a quick read, and is a reflection and perspective book that she loves.


Catriona doesn’t know if she would ever say that anything is a mistake because it’s all part of the journey. She shared a story about her daughter Gretta who was 8 weeks old at the time. Prior to heading off to work at the 2004 Olympics, she took her daughter to her cousin’s wedding in Scotland which is where all of her extended family lives. Gretta had just started sleeping through the night and there was a 7 hour time difference in Scotland.


Her daughter got her days and nights mixed up and was screaming at night. Catriona remembers being in a bed and breakfast trying to go to the bathroom, rocking her daughter in her car seat as fast as she could, trying to keep her daughter  from waking everyone else up. At that moment, she wondered why she had brought an eight week old to Scotland for one week. However, they made it through it. They all survived. Afterwards, Catriona had to get back to Canada and leave Gretta with her Dad as she was heading to the Olympics for a few weeks. It was tough.


Catriona says to embrace what people try to help you with, but take everything with a grain of salt. Everybody’s different and every child is different. Be real. Catriona feels that this is what she has been like with her kids, especially the last few years. They see that she is strong in certain things and weak at others. That’s okay. There’s always a fine balance. With Catriona’s kids now being teenagers, she is friends with them but she is also their mom. She has tried to be open enough without being weird. Catriona sees them doing that in return.


Catriona’s kids are honest with her. Her biggest thing is that she won’t breach their confidence when they say something in confidence. Obviously, this wouldn’t apply if they were in danger. Catriona says that sometimes people have a hard time with being real with their kids because they’re not real with themselves. However, kids see more than we think. Her biggest thing is just to be real with yourself so that you can be real with your kids.

Thanks so much to Catriona for this fantastic conversation and thank YOU for tuning in!




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