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.
Jennifer Ferris and Meghan Buttle are never more at home than when they are illustrating the important role that sport has, and continues to play, in their lives.
But, as with everything in life, things can, at times, go in a slightly different direction.
Ferris grew up in the Northern Ontario city of Sault Ste. Marie, and Buttle spent a good part of her younger years about seven hours further northeast, in Smooth Rock Falls.
As Ferris saw it, the thing to do in the winter months was play curling or hockey. She chose the rock and broom over the puck and skates.
For her, the initiation to curling started around the days of Parkland Public School. Ferris became hooked on the sport, often playing after classes.
Buttle, a talented figure skater left home at age 14 and pursued education in Barrie at Innisdale Secondary School while training at the Mariposa School of Skating. She liked the full-service international training centre that focused on elite year-round programs.
Curling and Ferris, figure skating and Buttle.
“For me, that was the thing to do, I was good at (curling) and gone went the days of piano and other sports,” said Ferris who, in her high school days, would be chosen Curler of the Year at White Pines Collegiate. “I was very lucky in that my first positive experience in curling came from a coach who went on to help Canadians at the World Championships and Olympics.”
That man, one of the most respected curling coaches in Canada, happened to be Tom Coulterman, who was also a chemistry teacher at White Pines. Ferris ended up with the best of both: school and curling.
With curling being a part of her lifeline, Ferris also pursued a teenage ambition of working in respiratory therapy. Entrenched in that profession for 16 years, Ferris would have an opportunity to work, as a consultant, for Curling Canada.
In 2014, conversations and connections progressed, and Ferris was appointed Manager of Programs and Operations for the Ontario Curling Council, a delivery arm for the sport in the province.
“We are the biggest regional curling association in the world, some 55,000 curlers in 240 clubs, and one of the major objectives was to figure out an effective way to develop curlers and coaches – make them that much better,” said Ferris.
The link to Canadian Sport Institute Ontario (CSIO) was about to happen.
Now running an efficient and impressive high performance program, Ferris points to CSIO for the huge role it has made in helping to shape and improve curling at the provincial level.
“We are trending upwards in results since 2015 and continue to show significant improvement,” said Ferris, who had earlier parted with her competitive days to focus on an important role in coaching. “CSIO has top notch people, great advisers with a wealth of knowledge that have contributed immensely in our success. If I was to summarize (CSIO) in one word, and the role they play, it would be - professional.”
Jennifer Ferris, coach (far right) pictured with Curling Canada’s 2019-2020 National Next Gen Athletes (Photo: Curling Canada)
Buttle, a former high school Athlete of the Year, thrived on figure skating, but was fixated with a future in physiotherapy after being well educated with degrees from universities in Toronto and Waterloo.
“As a kid, I loved being out and in front of everyone,” said Buttle, now a physiotherapist at CSIO. “I was four years old when I earned my learn to skate badge. Then, four years later, my first competition and remember flying to Timmins, then driving to Kapuskasing - and falling.”
Better times would prevail for Buttle who, at age 14, qualified for her first National figure skating championship held in Ottawa. She would thrive on training and benefit from superb coaching. Figure skating being a passion, Buttle also knew she couldn’t make a living off the sport.
A sound education led to 13 years of work in sport medicine and Buttle recalls the days when few women worked full-time in strength and conditioning or physiotherapy with high performance athletes. Times have changed, improvements made, and now many of CSIO’s new staff in these fields, are women with a staff gender ratio that is now equal.
With experience as a competitor, coach, educator and practitioner, Buttle also has expertise in managing sport injuries.
“Sport always empowered me and I was lucky to surround myself with great mentors,” said Buttle, involved in figure skating for some 25 years and now using her sport specialty experience in an important role working at CSIO.
“I see CSIO as being a place loaded with opportunities and I get to oversee aspects of health and wellness and work towards improving performance in provincially and nationally targeted athletes (who are) hoping to be in the Olympic and World Championship spotlight.”
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