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Heroes in Our Midst

Heroes walk among us; they are in our midst everyday. 

Heroes in our midst is a podcast about the power inside the heart, the human behind the story, and the collection of idiosyncrasies that both make us unique and bond us together through a common humanity. 

Join us as we are inspired, as we learn and as we are challenged to be better by the heroes in our midst and the stories that they tell.

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Episode #9: Joey Johnson

Joey Johnson has played wheelchair basketball for Canada at the Paralympic Games five times and has 3 gold medals and 1 silver from those competitions.  For 20 years he competed at the highest level and was in love with the sport.  Initially though, basketball and Joey were not friends.  He hated basketball.  He did not like the game and did not want to play.  A diagnosis of Legg-Calve-Perthes Disease before the age of 10 changed his life and ultimately his relationship with basketball.  Joey’s parents enrolled him in a youth program offered by Manitoba Wheelchair Sport Association and this program exposed Joey to a wide range of sport activities in an adapted form.  It was through this program he was exposed again to basketball and found that he loved it.

Joey would go on to play in the NCAA, to play professionally in Australia and Europe and, as noted above to win gold medals at the Paralympic Games.  Now retired from playing, Joey is transferring his wealth of experience to the next generation of players in his role as a national team coach.  His story speaks to the power of family, the knowledge that there is always an opportunity to win and an understanding of the hours of work it takes to achieve success at the highest level (i.e., the work one does when no one is watching).

Please enjoy our conversation with Joey Johnson.

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Episode #8: Vlastic Cerny

Vlastimil (Vlastic) Cerny has represented two countries in international swimming. Czechoslovakia (now the Czech Republic) and Canada.  However, in grade three he was also identified as a talented hockey player through the extensive Czechoslovakia athlete search program, but he had already started swimming, so swimming was it.  Now the head coach with Bison Swimming at the University of Manitoba, Vlastic’s road to international competition and coaching did not come without some bumps.

He made the Czechoslovakian Olympic team as an alternate in 1980, he defected in 1982 and was not able to compete in 1984. Of his decision to defect he notes “As soon as I started travel to the Western world, you know, you see different countries. I just knew that the system that we were in, this was not for me . . . for me it was an easy decision [at the time, but] not an easy decision to rationalize after and particularly as I got older, for sure.” He was finally able to compete at the 1988 Olympics for Canada. At the conclusion of his athletic career he transitioned into coaching and has since put athletes on national teams including the 2000 Canadian Olympic team.  Currently he coaches Kelsey Wog, who shows great potential in qualifying for the next Olympic summer games.

To hear more about Vlastic’s journey, please listen to Heroes in our Midst, podcast #8.

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Episode #7: Kelsey Wog

“She who has a large enough why can bear any how” is Kelsey’s favorite quote.    The “how” that carries Kelsey into the future will likely look quite different than what she expected a few months ago, but given her commitment to process and her unwillingness to give up, we have no doubt she will get it done.

Early in the month of March 2020 Kelsey Wog posted the fastest time in the world in the 200m breaststroke and was ready and excited for Swimming Canada’s Olympic trials.  However, ten days before the trials were scheduled to begin, COVID-19 hit Canada and the world she knew was paused.  After that, the 2020 Olympic games were postponed and following that her training facility was closed.  Was this a roadblock?  Yes.  Has it stopped her?  No.  Although she is just 21, she is no stranger to overcoming challenges – be it the cold water she associates with her early swimming experiences, or hating the breast stroke at first, to confronting anxiety and emotions that threatened her performance internationally or courageously confronting her coach about what she needed from him.  Kelsey has learned to lean into the journey, to trust the process and to keep moving forward.

To hear our conversation with Kelsey and to learn more about her story check out Heroes in Our Midst Podcast #7.

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Episode #6: Master Jae Park

Master Jae Park is the third generation of his family to be involved with Taekwondo. His father is a Grandmaster, he achieved his black belt at age 6, he coaches his daughter Skylar who has qualified for the Olympic Games in Taekwondo. But would you believe that a fall in his last speedskating race (a 400m short track event) changed the course of his life? If he had won, he would have stuck with speedskating, but he fell and finished last. He left that sport and, over time, returned to the sport of Taekwondo.
Master Jae Park was born in Korea, he immigrated to Canada in 1977 when he was almost eight years old. His family settled in Winnipeg. He had planned on going to law school but on a whim, and after years of discussion, he opted out of mailing in his application in 1993 and instead, partnered with his Dad to open TRP Academy. What was supposed to be a six-month trial turned into a successful Academy. Named for Master Jae’s grandfather, Tae Ryong Park is a thriving gym and Taekwondo Academy that trains hundreds of students and has produced an Olympic athlete and an Olympic coach. The Olympians in question are Master Jae (coach) and his daughter Skylar (athlete).
Master Jae’s journey includes a black belt at age 6 in Korea, speedskating in Winnipeg in -30 and now blending his role of being a Dad and an Olympic coach to his daughter Skylar. Please join us to listen to his full story as we continue to uncover the Heroes in our Midst.
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Episode #5: Skylar Park

Skylar Park prefers to land hits to the head.  A hit to the head gives you more points in a Taekwondo fight than a hit to other parts of the body.  Funny thing though, she doesn’t see a hit to the head as violent.  She explains, I’ll be talking to my friends and if we’re talking about, say UFC or sports like football or rugby, I’m like, Oh my god, I would never do that. It’s so violent. And my friends are like Skylar, do you know what you do? And I’m like, right, but I guess it was, second nature to me. So I don’t even think about it. But they’re like watch a video of you fighting, people are trying to kick you in the head.”

Born into the sport of Taekwondo, Skylar entered the sport at age two and had her black belt and the first of 14 consecutive national championship titles at age 7.  Her Dad is her coach, her brothers are her training partners.  She spars with her cousins.  In 2016 she won the World Junior Championships and earlier this year she qualified for the 2020 Olympics, but that event, as we all know, has been postponed.  The strong family connection has its pros and cons.  Skylar reports that she probably spends way more time with her Dad and her brothers than the average 21-year-old, but, she says of having her Dad as her coach, “I know he is in my chair and he will never give up on me when I am fighting.”

When she started down the path of Olympic qualification she felt that it was her and her Dad against the world, now she says, “It is me and my Dad and we are going take on the world.”

To hear the complete conversation with this remarkable young woman, please listen to Podcast #5, Skylar Park.

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Episode #4: Leah Ferguson

“I had a very tough practice in 2017 getting ready for the senior nationals and I remember running the sprints and doing the overload . . . and then laying on the mat in complete stillness, in my mind and in my body.  It was then that it hit me, “This is why I do it.”  I think a lot, I’m very cerebral and wrestling gave me stillness in a way that I didn’t know how to get without it.  It was [during] one of my favorite training moments when I was laying on the mat and realizing, oh, this is why I do it. Like not for performance, not for the Olympics. But this is why I play as hard as I play, so that I can sit in the stillness and enjoy just being no one else. Got it.”

Leah’s journey back to a place of stillness required the courage to stand up to a bully and a broken system, the strength to fight for her dream and the willingness to be brave and create a training environment that allowed her to heal, to flourish and to define success on her own terms.

A three-time CIS (USport) Champion, Olympic team member in 2012 and an Olympic alternate in 2016, Leah is now committed to giving all her knowledge and understanding of excellence to Indigenous athletes; a community she is passionate about and where she believes there is much resilience, talent, heart and opportunity.

Leah Ferguson is without question a Hero in Our Midst.  We are so grateful she agreed to join us.


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Episode #3: Justin Duff

Justin Duff played volleyball for Canada, but he did not get there without being cut and spending time on the bench.  He was cut from his JV volleyball team (he had never played before), he was cut from the Team Manitoba Canada Games Basketball team (when he was 6’6” with a 40 inch vertical) and he was not a starter in his first year of university volleyball with the University of Winnipeg.  His volleyball development started when a coach at his school said to him, “Hey Justin, you could be good at this if you try.  I am going to help you try.”  When he was cut from the Canada Games basketball team, the staff at Volleyball Manitoba encouraged him to play volleyball telling him,  “they would help him become the player he needed to be.”  That player went on to represent Canada in volleyball at the 2016 Olympics in Rio as well as several other national team events.

Reflecting on his career, Justin is most proud of the shift he made from a talented, entitled kid to someone who was just willing to give his all and support the development squad.  Recently retired, Justin is a now a Dad and MBA student.  When asked for one piece of advice he would share he told us, “try to understand things that you have an issue with and don’t just dismiss them, you can learn something.”

We hope you enjoy our conversation with Justin Duff.

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Episode #2: Janine Stephens

Janine planned on playing basketball at the University of Manitoba, but a chance meeting at a Karate class in the summer of 2000 changed all that when someone suggested she try rowing.  After a rough few days that included a few bruises and some unplanned swimming when her boat flipped, Janine found her rhythm and made the 2001 Canada Games team for Manitoba on her way an 8th place finish at the Olympics in 2008 and an Olympic silver medal in 2012.

In her interview Janine tells us that she was never the strongest or the tallest or the post powerful, but that she could feel the boat and she was good at talking!  Her strength was her positive attitude and her ability to make the boat go fast, regardless of who was in it.  From others we hear that Janine was the heart of her teams, the voice that united them and the positive attitude that prevailed.

Now a full-time coach and mom of twin girls, Janine continues to impact the performance of athletes through her role as the provincial rowing coach for Manitoba.  Please join us to hear Janine’s story as we uncover the Heroes in our Midst.

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Episode #1: Chantal Van Landegham

Chantal Van Landeghem was in the pool before she could walk.  Her Dad would take her and her sister to the pool to play and just spend time in the water.  That early introduction fostered Chantal’s love of the water and contributed to her feeling at ease and at peace there.  She dreamed of making a national team and going to the Olympics as early as age 5 and at age 12 she attended her first international competition as a junior athlete on Team Canada.

Fast forward several years and Chantal would join 3 teammates on the podium for Canada’s first swimming medal in 40 years and the first for Canada at the 2016 Rio Olympics.  A triumph for sure, but it was not without heartbreak.  Chantal missed making the 2012 Olympic team by .01 of a second.

Now retired from swimming, Chantal is pursuing her PhD in Clinical Psychology and plans to work with athletes and others to support them on their journeys to being their best selves and accomplishing their goals.  She loves that her career affords her the opportunity to give back.

We are excited to share the inaugural Heroes in our Midst podcast with Chantal Van Landeghem