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"I had a lot of success toward the end of my career, but it came as a result of facing a lot of failure. It was failure that taught me the most. I have learned more from failure about persistence, resilience and staying committed to something than I ever could have if I’d started at the top."
Beckie Scott is an inspirational Olympian and Canada's most decorated cross-country ski racer. Her influence extends beyond the ski track and into the realms of fair play, anti-doping and empowerment of Indigenous youth through sports.
Rebecca Ann "Beckie" Scott was born in 1974 in Vegreville, Alberta, and grew up in Vermilion. Her introduction to the world of skiing was through her parents who founded the Vermilion Nordic Ski Club. The family's home bordered Vermilion Provincial Park, which meant they could ski out the back door, making it easy for young Beckie to begin cross-country skiing, also known as Nordic skiing, at the age of seven.
Beckie knew early on that she wanted to race for Canada and become an Olympian. Racing the Alberta Cup circuit, she developed a love of competition, a love of the atmosphere around races, and a love of the community of people involved in sport.
"Throughout my ski career and beyond, being an Albertan has afforded tremendous opportunities for me to grow and expand in any direction I wanted. It has also meant a level of support and community that I think are second to none. Being from Vermilion was wonderful. The community was so supportive and so encouraging, even when things didn't go well. I always felt like I had an amazing community behind me," says Beckie.
During her 11 years on the Canadian Cross Country National Ski Team, Beckie raced the World Cup Circuit, which included World Championships every two years, and three Olympic games: Nagano in 1998, Salt Lake City in 2002, and Turin in 2006. By the time she retired in 2006, Beckie had re-written the Canadian record books and was one of the world's best all-round cross-country ski racers. She won a record 17 medals in World Cup competitions.
Beckie's retirement didn't end her involvement with sport. In fact, her career since then is an equally important part of her legacy. She was elected by her peers to the International Olympic Committee's Athletes' Commission in 2006 and with that came roles on the Canadian Olympic Committee, the Vancouver Olympic Organizing Committee, and the Canadian Centre for Ethics in Sport. She also chaired the Women's Committee for Cross Country Canada.
Perhaps more importantly, Beckie has stood courageously and argued passionately on behalf of clean, drug-free athletic competition, and against those nations and their athletes who cheat. Her actions are hailed worldwide for being a consistent voice speaking out against doping in sport. When the perspective of clean athletes is sought on the issue, the world turns to Beckie as the acknowledged authority.
Always a believer in clean sport and fair play, Beckie became an ardent anti-doping advocate as the result of a race at the 2002 Olympics. Beckie finished third behind two Russian skiers who were subsequently disqualified for using banned performance-enhancing drugs. As a result, her bronze medal was first upgraded to silver, then gold in 2004.
"It was about way more than me, and about way more than an Olympic ski race or a medal. It was about integrity in sport. It was about standing up for clean sport and the right of every athlete to play on an even playing field, no matter where they're from, or what their sport is," Beckie says of the experience. "More than anything though, it was about raising your voice for what you believe, and taking a stand, and trying to be a part of the greater good."
Fighting for what's right comes naturally to Beckie, thanks to growing up in a socially conscious home. Her parents, Jan and Walter, made sure she learned to stick up for what's right, to be active in change that she wants to see and to fight for fairness. And she's good at it. She has demonstrated, time and again, that her athletic strength mirrors the strength of her convictions as she advocates for fair play and drug-free sport.
In 2001, she spearheaded an athletes' petition asking the International Ski Federation to be more aggressive in its efforts to catch cheating athletes who use performance-enhancing drugs. Since 2005, Beckie has been closely involved in the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA). As chair of the Athlete Committee, she helped develop the Anti-Doping Charter of Athlete Rights. She resigned from the agency's Compliance Review Committee after WADA reinstated the Russian Anti-Doping Agency, despite the failure of the Russian agency to meet conditions previously set by WADA.
As Beckie continues to advocate for clean sport and fair play, her work is being noticed at the highest levels. A member of the Alberta Sports Hall of Fame, Canadian Sports Hall of Fame, Canadian Olympic Hall of Fame and the Canadian Ski Hall of Fame, Beckie holds Honourary Doctor of Laws from the University of Alberta and the University of British Columbia. She has received the Queen Elizabeth II's Golden and Diamond Jubilee Medals, and the Meritorious Service Medal. In 2018, Beckie was made an Officer of the Order of Canada.
Beckie has inspired athletes from local cross-country ski clubs to international competitions, and has put her home town of Vermilion on the map in the Nordic ski world.
As the CEO of Spirit North — a national organization working to improve the lives of Indigenous children and youth through sport and play — Beckie is passionate about ensuring equality and fairness of opportunity for all.
"I first set foot on a First Nations reserve when Spirit North invited me to join them as an ambassador. That's when I saw for the first time the true realities of the socio-economic, health and education disparity that exists for Indigenous people in this country. I was particularly distressed by the lack of opportunity that appeared to exist for children and youth," explains Beckie. "After the Truth and Reconciliation Report was published in 2015, I felt that as a Canadian, I had a responsibility to contribute to the healing and, because several calls to action were about sport and sport for development, I saw that as the most fitting way forward. Spirit North is about equality of opportunity — about providing experiences that are positive and hopeful — to make change in a positive way through sport. That to me is what we can do to progress and advance reconciliation."
Spirit North is recognized as one of Canada's leading sport-for-social-development organizations. Based in Alberta, Spirit North has expanded to include five provinces, engaging about 6,000 children and youth each year.
"Our experiences with Spirit North have been tremendously rewarding, because we have seen a difference being made and lives changing and young people growing and experiencing confidence and building self-esteem and leadership skills — all the great things that sport can do for a young person. It's been so meaningful and inspiring," she says.
At home, Beckie shares skiing and an active lifestyle with her husband, former Olympian Justin Wadsworth, and their two children who have also taken up the sport. Beckie hopes that no matter what path they take, sport and activity will have given them a foundation for health and wellness for the rest of their lives.
"The best advice I ever got was prior to the Salt Lake City Olympics from my sport psychologist at the time. I asked him, 'How do I know that all this work and investment and time and energy put into achieving this result that I want will pay off? How do I know I can do it?' And his answer was, 'You don't know. You don't know that you can do it, but you don't know that you can't.' Since then, I think I've approached everything that way. None of us know what we can't do."