Written by: Matt Johnson for Sask Sport
Photo credits: Canada Basketball and Diving Canada/Francois Mittens
With Day 1 of the Tokyo Summer Olympics queued, three female coaches with Saskatchewan connections, will have the opportunity to represent the province on amateur sport’s grandest stage.
Lisa Thomaidis, Lisa Borgerson and Mary Carroll are set to don the maple leaf at the Summer Games. And for the trio, their involvement in high-profile positions highlights the continual growth of female coaches not only within the province, but also the nation.
While for each of the three the 2020 Olympic opportunity isn’t the first, it’s one that’s cherished perhaps more so than any other considering the uncertainty regarding the Games over the course of the last 18 months.
Thomaidis, who is the head coach of the Canadian women’s basketball team and the University of Saskatchewan Huskies women’s basketball team, noted she has been with her team in a bubble since May 19 and finally reaching the Olympic Village is “very exciting.”
The head coach of the national team since 2013, Thomaidis will be appearing at her third consecutive games and second as a head coach. The team is ranked fourth in the world and begins preliminary round play on July 26 against Serbia.
And while she was born in Dundas, Ont., she has spent the last 23 years living in Saskatoon and feels deeply connected with the province.
“I love being able to represent Saskatchewan on the Olympic stage,” she said from Tokyo. “Saskatchewan has provided so many opportunities to me as a female coach, starting with being hired by the University of Saskatchewan, then my involvement with our provincial team. Sask Sport, Basketball Saskatchewan and the University of Saskatchewan have all been such wonderful supports, so I’m proud to be able to represent our province.”
Thomaidis frequently references to the support systems she had throughout her growth as a female coach and hopes she can be viewed in a similar light.
“My female coaches growing up and at university, and then my colleagues as a University and National Team coach have all played such a huge part in my development as a coach and as an individual,” said Thomaidis. “Having role models to look up to and learn from is so important to help pave the way for more female coaches to enter into this profession.
“I’m honoured and happy if I’ve been able to be that for someone else. I always feel like there is more that I can do in that regard, but if I’ve been able to inspire any young woman to enter into this profession, then I’m proud.”
Borgerson will be making another appearance at the Games after also representing Canada at the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
Borgerson, who hails from Rockglen, Sask., will be accompanying the lone Canadian athlete in the sport Lynda Kiejko at the Games as pistol coach.
Perhaps no one appreciates the Games coming to fruition more so than Borgerson, who has been working in COVID-19 testing and vaccinations over the last 14 months. While Borgerson notes she kept her Olympic opportunity on the down low at work, her mom is a different story who Borgerson says is her number-one fan.
Having role models to look up to and learn from is so important to help pave the way for more female coaches to enter into this profession.Lisa Thomaidis
Despite putting the news on the back burner, Borgerson has pride in the opportunity to represent her province and the town of Rockglen on the world stage, as well as her background.
“I’m proud to be able to be from Saskatchewan and to be doing this as well. Coaching is my niche,” said Borgerson. “I’m proud that even my national sport has sent the best to represent Canada. I’m proud of my achievements and my background as well. That’s what has provided me the chance to move forward and Canada as well when it comes to the women in coaching aspect of it.”
While Thomaidis and Bergerson will be attending their second Games in a five-year span, Mary Carroll will be taking part in her first in nearly thirty years. This year’s instalment of the games is her first as a coach with the Canadian Diving Team, after previously competing as an athlete in the 1992 Summer Olympics in Barcelona, Spain.
Carroll is a coach with the Saskatoon Diving Club, and of Rylan Wiens, a 19-year old from Pike Lake, who will be making his Olympic debut in the 10-metre platform event on August 6.
While Carroll notes that coaching is a lot more nerve-racking than diving herself, she can’t wait to be poolside as a support to Wiens.
As a woman in sport, Carroll recognizes the significance in being one of three female coaches with ties to the province who will be in Tokyo.
“I think it’s awesome for other coaches. I think it’s awesome for any female athletes to realize that it’s not a man’s sport. It’s not anybody’s sport, it’s sport and you do your job and you do it well, you can achieve any dream you want,” said Carroll.
And while like Thomaidis, she hails from Ontario, Carroll now calls Saskatoon home and describes the opportunity to represent Saskatchewan on the world stage as “amazing.”
“I’ve raised my kids here, it does feel like home. I was born in Ontario and did my stint of diving as an athlete in Ontario. But my stint as a coach started when we moved here 15 years ago, and this is home. Saskatoon is home. and all I can say is go green and yellow.”