By: David Grossman
Canadian Sport Institute Ontario believes in the power of sport and the importance of positive, inspiring role models and mentors at all levels of sport. This 5-part article series, written by award-winning sport journalist David Grossman, was designed to showcase how these remarkable women in the industry have used sport, and the many transferable skills learned through sport, as a pathway to professional opportunities and leadership positions.
In partnership with Sport Canada and their funding support for Gender Equity in Sport and Safety in Sport initiatives, CSIO strives to be a leader in advocating for a more inclusive, gender equitable sport system.
There has always been a winning mentality for Erica Gavel and Heather Logan-Sprenger.
Intense challenges at times, these two women, being incredible athletes, simply would not give up in their quest to excel in sport. The same is true for their specialty field of employment.
Watching them, Gavel in basketball and Logan-Sprenger in cycling and women’s hockey, some would say was sheer ebullient determination.
With many personal sports achievements in the history books, both owners of phenomenal stories to share, their challenges and opportunities now focus on lots of interest in research and education.
For Gavel, her dream as a teen was to work at becoming a basketball all-Canadian while at the University of Saskatchewan, and play for Canada at the World University Games.
Something called osteoarthritis, a disorder with her knees and worn cartilage often caused by injuries, got in the way, leaving her dealing with a different kind of pain than the one associated with training. That star on the rise suddenly had very little shine.
“I was depressed for months, it was about functionality,” recalled Gavel about her horrible times of 2012. “When it came to playing basketball, it appeared to be all over.”
Ostensibly, a promising basketball career appeared to be cut short. One, she thought at the time, would transform from player to spectator.
Then, one chat led to another, discussions and conversations with contacts. Suggestions and ideas started to roll in, and Gavel recalls a university class conversation that led to her trying out for the Canadian Paralympic wheelchair basketball squad.
“It’s crazy how things happen, I was sad for so long and I still can’t believe how I was able to continue the exciting journey – and went on to help Canada win a gold medal at the 2019 Parapan Games in Lima and a silver in Toronto (2015). All of this has been a dream come true,” said Gavel, who was also on the team that placed fifth at the 2018 World Championship.
“Even though there was doubt, I can look back and say that I reached my goal.”
Gavel isn’t finished with her competitive basketball days as she continues to train with the wheelchair basketball team hoping for an opportunity to compete at the 2020 Paralympic Games in Tokyo.
Erica Gavel competing internationally with the National Women’s Wheelchair Basketball Team. (Photo: Erica Gavel)
While Gavel knows a few things about transition, and after earning a scholarship to the University of Alabama, she’s focussed on career aspirations in research.
Enthusiastic about her studies, now she’s that close to a Doctorate – and is studying under the tutelage of Logan-Sprenger, a Professor at Ontario Tech University in Oshawa and an Adjunct Professor at the University of Toronto.
Erica Gavel at her graduation ceremony for her master’s degree in exercise science at the University of Toronto’s Faculty of Kinesiology & Physical Education. (Photo: Erica Gavel)
Looking back at the rough road, Gavel said staff at Canadian Sport Institute Ontario helped her achieve an incredible opportunity.
“No doubt about it, (CSIO) was there for me as an athlete, provided additional resources, different training opportunities and knowledgeable staff who have played a huge role in my success and been nothing but supportive,” said Gavel.
“Being a high performance athlete, having a National Training Centre for wheelchair basketball and access to CSIO, it has given me an opportunity to chase two dreams, basketball and research, in one place.”
Erica Gavel (l) and Heather Logan-Sprenger (r) at Own the Podium’s SPIN Summit in Toronto in October 2019. Erica was the runner-up for the Dr. Gord Sleivert Young Investigator Award for her research. (Photo: Erica Gavel)
For Logan-Sprenger, she is one of those rare individuals who became a dual sport National team athlete in both winter and summer sports.
Originally from Northern Ontario and having played triple-A boys hockey in Sault Ste. Marie, she had her own wish list – and it included playing women’s hockey for Canada.
She initially chose the University of Toronto, over several NCAA schools that actively recruited her, for her studies. Later, she earned a doctoral degree in Human Health and Nutritional Sciences with a focus on skeletal muscle metabolism from the University of Guelph.
Logan-Sprenger also played for the Toronto Aeros, a team that won four Canadian championships. The Aeros were also one of the premier women’s hockey teams in the world. For 10 seasons, she competed in the National Women’s Hockey League and was a former MVP at the Air Canada Cup Junior World championship in 2004.
“Staying in Canada was the best move for me because that opportunity helped me become a more balanced athlete and also prepare for the future,” said Logan-Sprenger. “With there eventually being limitations in sport, it also gave me a chance to merge my passion for physiology and sport, and creating research evidence to guide best practice.”
Intuitive and serious about inspiring and encouraging others, working in elite sport science and higher education became a big priority.
“I always had this love for cycling but I really was better in hockey,” she said. “When I was released from the National Hockey Team Program it was quite upsetting, but deep down I knew it was time to move on and I wanted to be a specialist and work in a special area.”
Heather Logan-Sprenger during her time with the Women’s National Hockey Team Program. (Photo: Heather Logan-Sprenger)
After those hockey days, she became a professional road cyclist and competed for Canada at both World and Pan Am championships.
Logan-Sprenger also competed in the Union Cycliste Internationale (UCI) women’s world tour races, including Fleche Wallome and the European Spring Classics and the prestigious Giro D’Itali.
Heather Logan-Sprenger during her international road cycling career. (Photo: Heather Logan-Sprenger)
A physiologist and extremely skilled in clinical analysis and exploration, Logan-Sprenger now is in a leadership role in research and innovation at CSIO.
“As an athlete, I was very fortunate to have learned a great deal and benefited immensely from the CSIO,” said Logan-Sprenger.
“Having so many talented, exceptional and knowledgeable people around to help you reach that high performance level was very special. For me, I now have the opportunity, as a member of the CSIO team, to give back and do what I can to help athletes succeed as a vocation.”
David Grossman is a multi award-winning communicator and storyteller with a distinguished career in Broadcasting, Journalism and Public Relations in Sport and Government Relations. In 2018, he was the recipient of Ontario University Athletics (OUA) Media Member of Distinction.