Teaching Gold Medalists: Three Olympic Women’s Hockey Team Champions Talk about Their Favourite Teachers

By Xanthe Couture
Release Date: August 16, 2010

Making the Canadian Olympic women’s hockey team involves more than just skills on the ice.

Olympic gold medalists Meaghan Mikkelson, Shannon Szabados and Carla MacLeod say the skills they honed in school, like focus, drive and determination, are an integral part of their success as athletes.

“Almost 100 percent of us went to university,” says MacLeod of the 2010 Women’s Canadian Olympic Hockey Team. “No matter what your passion is, if you do well in school it gives you a pretty strong safety net.”

Mikkelson, Szabados and MacLeod each took great pride in their schoolwork from elementary school through university and all say their teachers supported their sporting endeavours. But each athlete also had a teacher (or several teachers in MacLeod’s case) who left them with a lasting life lesson.

MacLeod, who attended Our Lady of Peace Junior High School and Bishop Carroll High School in Calgary, explains, “I could ramble on about my teachers for hours. I could name drop ten. I think that it’s really cool. I have a problem narrowing it down. I missed a lot of school both in junior high and high school. The teachers worked with me and made it work. My Grade 9 homeroom teacher, Diane Golldade, really encouraged me to pursue my dreams. There were no specific instances, but I just always knew I was supported and encouraged.”

For Szabados, it was her chemistry teacher at M E LaZerte High School in Edmonton, Seth Gregory, who showed her how to balance her student life with her passion and talent for hockey—a balancing act she is still managing today. And he also helped her with a subject that had never been her strong suit.

“As a full time university student and Olympic gold medalist, sport and school are still obviously the two big parts of my life. Mr Gregory taught me how to balance the two and showed me that one doesn't have to be separate from the other. I wasn’t very good at chemistry so he would spend (and still does spend) every lunch hour in his classroom helping students. The one-on-one teaching really helped me grasp concepts better,” she says. “He was successful in teaching me because he did a good job relating to students and for me that was through hockey. And there were times during class when we took our minds off work for five minutes to talk about hockey. It made class fun and it’s so much easier to learn in that type of environment,” she says.

Mikkelson’s favourite teacher also happens to be her mother. Betsy Mikkelson taught her daughter Grade 7 English Language Arts at Marguerite d’Youville School in St Albert.

“She’s a great teacher and I always loved her classes. It was great that we could be in the same classroom. I could understand her job and it made our bond stronger.” Mikkelson adds, “I could not have gotten where I am today without her help. She always said to me, 'If you think you can, if you think can’t, you’re probably right.'”

This advice helped Mikkelson on her path to the women’s Olympic hockey team. “She always said never give up; believe in yourself. Don’t give up just because it’s tough.”

And the lucky—or unlucky—part of having a teacher as a parent? Mikkelson notes that her mother still corrects her grammar.

All three women agree that getting along with their teachers is a two-way street.

Szabados offers this advice: “Give your teacher a chance to get to know you. The better they know you, the easier it will be for them to teach you in a way that you can relate to. The more you respect and trust your teacher, the easier it will be to learn and have fun doing it!”

Mikkelson adds, “It’s important for teachers to take the time to get to know their students and to recognize what kind of individuals they are, and that they are all different and get things done in a different way.”

MacLeod says it's about making students feel unique: “So many of my teachers cared. I wasn’t a number, I was Carla.”