Award-winning speed skater, Olympic medalist, environmentalist and Bullfrog Founders Club member
A four-time Olympic medalist, Kristina Groves is one of Canada’s most respected and accomplished athletes. Picking up two silver medals at the 2006 Winter Olympics in Turin, Italy, she went on to qualify for five speed skating events at the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver. In Vancouver, she took home the silver medal in the 1500 m and the bronze in the 3000 m.
Of all Canadian speed skaters, Groves holds the highest medal count (13) in the World Single Distances Championships. For the last three years, she has been the overall World Cup winner for the 1500 m. She also holds the world record, with her teammates Christine Nesbitt and Brittany Schussler, for the Team Pursuit; their team set the world record in 2009.
When Groves is not training or skating for her country, she is actively involved in advocating on behalf of many social issues. A public speaker for the Canadian Sport Centre’s Youth Education Through Sport program, Groves is also an athlete ambassador for Right to Play. The environment is one of her passions, and Groves helps raise awareness of environmental issues as an athlete speaker for Clean Air Champions and the David Suzuki Foundation’s Play It Cool program.
Bullfrog Power recently caught up with Groves to chat with her on the topics of speed skating, the 2010 Olympics and her environmentalism.
How did you first develop an interest in speed skating?
It was the 1988 Winter Olympics in Calgary that originally piqued my interest in the sport. I remember being glued to the television watching Canadian skater Gaétan Boucher’s race. There was something about Gaétan in particular and the sport in general that made me want to try it. The inspiration lasted long enough for me to join the speed skating club in Ottawa that fall.
What is your biggest challenge when it comes to racing?
I love the challenge of trying to get better and figuring out how I can create the focus and mindset I need to have the best race on any given day. It took me so many years to figure out that I can even create this environment or feeling for myself. At the highest level everyone is incredibly fit and technically strong but what sets a winning performance apart is a skater’s ability to mentally prepare to optimize his or her performance during that race. In the last few years, the challenge for me has been learning how to make this happen.
How was competing in the Vancouver Olympics different from other races?
It was different for a number of reasons. First, having the opportunity to compete at a home Olympics is such a wonderful gift for an athlete. It is so rare to have the opportunity to compete at the Olympics in your home country and that makes it pretty special.
At the same time, athletes from the host country are typically under the microscope much more during a home Olympics than they would be otherwise. For me personally, because of the point I was at in my career—I had already competed at the Olympics in Salt Lake City and Turin—there were a lot of expectations and high hopes riding on my performance. This led to an increase in external pressure for me, which was new and challenging.
The other component that is different is that crazy and unusual things are known to happen at the Olympics. That’s partly why they are so fun and engaging; the competition is completely unpredictable. For example, it was anticipated we would win the gold medal in the Team Pursuit in Vancouver and we didn’t even make it past the first round. It was absolutely devastating. Also, I wasn’t expected to place in the 3000 m and I took bronze, which was really exciting.
At the end, how did it feel to take home two medals?
I am thrilled I won two medals and was able to contribute to the success of the Games for Canada. I experienced every possible emotion in my races throughout the Games, having finished second, third, fourth, fifth and sixth. Racing at the Games was a very human experience that I could never have totally prepared for and it had a profound effect on my life. I learned a lot about myself and my racing, but I learned a lot about Canada too; how wonderful the Canadian spirit really is.
How did you first develop an interest in the environment and protecting it?
From a very young age, I developed a great care and concern for the environment and it became a big part of who I am and the choices I make. Growing up, our family vacations usually involved camping, hiking or canoeing trips. I learned early on to value the natural and fragile beauty that surrounds us. Also, growing up as an athlete, air quality and the state of the environment were—and continue to be—of utmost importance to me.
I have also learned how profoundly inspiration, either from the things we see, do or read about, can affect our attitudes. If the inspiration is strong enough, we will act on it and make changes in our lives. One common theme that has continually inspired me over the years is environmental protection and sustainability.
What is your perspective on climate change and air pollution?
I am very concerned about climate change and the impact our lifestyle is having on the planet. As an athlete, I am more and more aware of how air pollution is affecting me personally. I do a lot of road riding around Calgary and these days when I ride back into town I can see a cloud of smog over the downtown core that I didn’t see 15 years ago. I am deeply concerned that I breathe in this pollution every day, and that it could be having an impact on my health.
Where did you hear about Bullfrog Power and why did you decide to sign on?
I learned about Bullfrog Power from one of my teammates and from bullfrogpowered stickers on some of the local businesses here in Calgary. I chose to sign on because I want to take personal responsibility for the impact I’m having on the planet—both at home and in my career. I’m ok with paying a little more for green electricity because I know it is coming from clean sources. It really is a nominal cost, and if enough people sign up we can make a huge difference.
What other things have you done in your personal life to reduce your environmental footprint and promote sustainability?
We hang all of our clothes to dry and use a front load washing machine. We also recently installed low flush toilets and a high efficiency furnace. We compost everything we can, recycle and try to buy products with minimal packaging. With regard to transportation, I bike to the rink and avoid driving when possible.
With a few other skaters and a board member of Speed Skating Canada (SSC), I helped to establish a Sustainability Committee for SSC. We have audited the impacts of the organization’s activities and are making recommendations to SSC on ways we can reduce our collective footprint.
If you had one message for all Canadians about taking action on the environment, what would that message be?
It’s hard for a lot of people to connect the small actions they take every day to this larger problem of climate change. However, I believe we can make a difference and that by working together, we will turn the tides. I encourage people to first be mindful and think about the impact their behaviour is having on the planet. Then, take small, simple steps to conserve, minimize what you do use, and find greener ways of doing things where you can. Like most things, it will get easier as you go.
>> Ms. Groves’ interview was originally published in the Winter 2010 issue of the Bullfrog Buzz.