Olympian Beckie Scott helping Indigenous kids through sports

Scott has a gold medal from the 2002 Olympics in Salt Lake City and a silver from the 2006 Turin Games. (Chris Bolin/CP)

Olympic champion Beckie Scott never imagined herself running a non-profit after retiring from competitive cross-country skiing.

As Canada's most-decorated cross-country skier, she simply knew firsthand the power and value that sports hold.

"I have the lived feel of coming out on the other side of sport with life feel and skill sets and connections to opportunities I would never have access to otherwise,'' said Scott, who has a gold medal from the 2002 Olympics in Salt Lake City and a silver from the 2006 Turin Games.

"I just think it's such a beautiful platform to share, especially or particularly with young people who are marginalized or vulnerable.''

Scott has been doing just that, helping Indigenous kids across Canada experience sports and outdoor activities as the founder and CEO of Spirit North.

Her journey began after she retired in 2006 and was invited to be an ambassador for a program working with Indigenous communities in Northern Alberta. When she visited for the first time, Scott was struck by what she saw.

"I was really moved by the inequality and the disparity of opportunity that I saw there while, in parallel, being really inspired by the feel of watching and being with the kids while they learned the sport and were given the opportunity to take part in sport and activities,'' she explained.

Scott took on her current role at Spirit North in 2017 and has since helped the organization balloon from serving about 400 children in four locations to more than 6,000 kids in 63 locations.

The program is set to grow yet again after receiving a $5,000 OLY Canada legacy grant on Friday. OLY is the status the World Olympians Association gives to athletes who have competed in the Games.

Spirit North is one of 10 projects awarded grants this year, each championed by a former Olympian. The awards are doled out annually and the number of recipients was doubled this year, with more than half of the selected projects working with the Black, Indigenous and People of Colour communities.

Another grant is going to a project backed by figure skaters Patrick Chan and Kaitlyn Weaver that is using virtual panels to encourage conversations about race and figure skating. Freestyle skier Maxime Dufour-Lapointe is behind an all-girls ski camp that also received funding.

The money Scott's organization will receive is going toward increasing capacity for a program at the elementary and middle schools on the Tsuut'ina reserve southwest of Calgary. In the winter, the program allows kids to cross-country ski. In the spring, they mountain bike and do cross-country running.

Other Spirit North locations offer outdoor activities like canoeing and archery.

The impact is about much more than physical health, Scott said. Teachers report that kids come back into the classroom invigorated and confident, helping them learn. Spirit North also tries to hire community members whenever possible, and, when it's not possible, they offer members of the community training opportunities.

"It's really gone so much further than I think we could ever have imagined,'' Scott said.

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