Most Influential Women 2016

“This year’s Most Influential Women List once again shines a spotlight on the incredible leadership that women bring to sport and physical activity in Canada,” commented Allison Sandmeyer-Graves, CAAWS CEO.  “Changes to the program this year broadened the scope, showcasing even more areas where women are making a difference. From the national and international stage to the local level, we are proud to celebrate women who take impressive action, spearhead change and inspire us all.”

Updates to the format in 2016 produced a novel take on this annual tradition, enabling CAAWS to celebrate, promote and encourage female leadership in new ways through the Most Influential Women List. With the goal of expanding the reach of the initiative, CAAWS introduced new categories, broadened its definition of influence to showcase leadership at different levels in the system, and added a special Award feature to the List, highlighting one woman in each category who is felt to reflect the spirit of the Most Influential Women initiative, as voted by an external selection panel.



JEN KISH – Most Influential Women Award (Athletes) for 2016
Edmonton, AB
Olympian, Canada’s Women’s Sevens Rugby Team

Although still a fairly young sport, Canada’s Women’s Sevens Rugby Team has faired exceedingly well on the International stage, which is in great part due to the leadership skills of former team Captain, Jen Kish. Team Canada claimed the silver medal at the 2013 Rugby World Cup, the gold medal at the 2015 Pan Am Games, and Olympic bronze in the sport’s debut in Rio this past summer. The team’s powerful performance throughout the Games and the fearless leadership of Kish captured the imaginations of Canadians and landed the sport squarely in the national spotlight. In the wake of this achievement, Kish has leveraged media attention to advocate for gender equality in a sport traditionally dominated by men. She also uses her platform on social media to promote female involvement in the sport. Kish worked with the ALWAYS “Like A Girl” campaign during the Olympics and was also chosen as an ambassador for Canada’s Dairy Farmers “Fuelling Women Champions” Campaign, sharing her message about the power of sport for girls and women. She makes time to visit rugby clubs to give pointers and encourage young athletes to pursue their dreams. Her passion for rugby and resolve to impact and redefine societal norms of women in sport make her a great role model for not only her teammates, but also female athletes everywhere.

Follow Jen Kish on Twitter @jen_kish

One piece of advice for emerging female leaders: Never doubt your ability to achieve and never settle for anything less than you deserve. Having this kind of attitude and belief is contagious to others.

A mantra you live by: “Talent will get you noticed, but hard work will keep you noticed.” – Jen Kish


King City, ON
Olympian, Trampoline Gymnast

Reigning two-time Olympic Champion Rosie MacLennan is no stranger to success. She is the first Canadian individual to successfully defend an Olympic title at a summer games, as well as the first trampoline gymnast to win back-to-back gold medals.
Some of MacLennan’s career highlights include capturing gold at the 2013 World Championships, the 2015 and 2011 Pan Am Games, among numerous other team and synchronized medals. She has battled through injury and uncertainty, including a concussion sustained before the 2015 Pan Am Games, to remain a force to be reckoned with. A passionate advocate, she is the Secretary of the International Gymnastics Federation’s Trampoline Athlete Council, most recently contributing to overturning World Cup rules resulting in more opportunities for athletes to compete. She continues to work with organizations such as Right To Play and Canadian Tire’s Jumpstart program (to which she donated her 2012 gold medal earnings) as a proponent for disadvantaged youth and the benefits of sport involvement. MacLennan is currently writing a master’s thesis on social initiatives in sport and sport for development, hoping to influence other athletes worldwide to get involved in this cause.

Follow Rosie MacLennan on Twitter @RosieMacLennan


Kippens-Stephenville, NL
Paralympian, Swimmer

Katarina Roxon won the gold medal at the 2016 Rio Paralympic Games in the 100m breaststroke with an impressive finish, following her dominant performance at the 2015 Para Pan Am Games, where she won 6 medals (1 of which was gold). She captured bronze at the 2015 IPC World Swimming Championships and was golden at the 2014 Pan Pacific Para Swimming Championships. Roxon has also been the recipient of the Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Medal and has been on the Provincial Council for the Minister of Persons with Disabilities for the past 3 years. She serves as an ambassador for Para swimming and for Para sport as a whole by representing the Canadian Paralympic Committee, the Canadian Olympic Committee, and The War Amps of Canada at various speaking engagements across the country. Roxon uses this platform to address both youth and adults on the importance of sport for healthy living and dreaming big. Demonstrating her commitment to her community, Roxon continues to train in her hometown in rural Newfoundland and also acts as the assistant coach of the local Aqua Aces Swim Club to inspire a new generation of swimmers. Through public engagement, she continues to advocate and raise awareness for the opportunities available to those living with disability.
Follow Katarina Roxon on Twitter @Katarina_Roxon


Burnaby, BC
Olympian and Captain, Canada Soccer Women’s National Soccer Team

Christine Sinclair may not need any further introduction, but she has undeniably earned all the accolades, and they bear repeating. Captain of the twice bronze Canadian Olympic Soccer Team, 13 time recipient of Canada’s soccer player of the year award, and six time nominee for FIFA world player of the year, are just some of her career highlights. Sinclair currently ranks second in all-time International goals scored with a career total of 165, recently eclipsing one of her idols. The star striker is synonymous with the sport of soccer in this country and has been integral to its growth. Always humble, Sinclair dwells little on her accomplishments and more on that of the Canadian women’s soccer program as a whole, and the feats the team has been able to accomplish in the past two decades. Renowned for both her tough exterior on the field, and genuine presence off the field, Sinclair is an icon of Canadian sport.
Follow Christine Sinclair on Twitter @sincy12, and on Instagram @c_sinc12



CHANTAL VALLÉE – Most Influential Women Award (Coaches) for 2016
Windsor, ON
Head Coach, University of Windsor Women’s Basketball

The Windsor Lancers Women’s Basketball program has seen a historic five straight CIS National titles – all under the guidance of their remarkable Head Coach, Chantal Vallée. Chantal, a 4-time OUA Fox 40 Overall Female Coach of Year, and 2-time CIS (now U-Sports) Coach of Year, has made incredible strides for women in coaching over the years. Upon arrival at Windsor, she started out as the youngest coach in the CIS with no experience coaching a University team. When she took over the program, the Women’s Basketball team had only 4 winning seasons in a span of nearly 50 years. With her leadership vision combined with persistence and passion, she took on the challenge of transforming the Lancers’ woeful past into a future of progressive success. She has a Master’s Degree in Sports Psychology from McGill, and applies a doctrine that it’s not just about sports, but also about character. Chantal has also broadened her scope, taking on the role of television personality and basketball analyst for the 2012 and 2016 Olympic Summer Games. She is a Life Coach with CBC Radio and Radio-Canada during the season on the Windsor Morning Shows, and has received the Queen Elizabeth Diamond Jubilee Award for her success as a coach and in leadership development. She has had a profound impact on university sport, the sport of basketball and beyond.
Follow Chantal Vallée on Twitter at @coachvallee

The biggest success of your career so far: I am very proud of [our] team accomplishments but I think my biggest success is that I found happiness in life and a career that I love. I have fun with it, I have a great work-life balance and I have had the opportunity to watch generations of players move on to succeed on their own. I feel the proudest when I see any alumnae applying life principles they learned through being a Lancer. Knowing they are going to continue to transform their own surroundings is very fulfilling.


Abbotsford, BC
Head Coach, Abbotsford Skipping Sensations

Deirdre DeGagne is recognized across BC and beyond for her remarkable commitment and contribution to the Abbotsford Skipping Sensations – a competitive performance Jump Rope team that highlight and provide enhanced opportunities for females in sport. DeGagne has dedicated 27 years to the team as Head Coach, and extends her leadership annually as co-coach of Team BC at the National Championships, and Team Canada at World Competitions. Not only does she instruct and lead, but also encourages her team to participate in events that promote healthy lifestyles and positive body image for girls. Members of the Abbotsford Skipping Sensations have used the sport of skipping as a universal language of outreach on international service trips to places such as Mexico, Thailand, Kenya, Brazil and Fiji. This March, senior members of the team will travel to Thailand to introduce the sport to at risk children and young adults. She also holds positions on both the Rope Skipping Canada and Jump Rope BC Boards. To acknowledge her role as a builder in the sport, the city of Abbotsford has inducted her into their Sports Hall of Fame. DeGagne is a recipient of the Order of Abbotsford for her decades of community involvement, as well as a recipient of the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee Medal for her service to the community.
Follow Deirdre DeGagne and the Skipping Sensations on Facebook @abbotsfordskippingsensations and on Instagram @abbotsford.skippingsensations


Saint-Jean-Sur-Richelieu, QC
Para-Swimming Coach/Head Coach, Club de Natation du Haut-Richelieu

With 40 years of experience as a coach under her belt, France Latendresse did not show signs of slowing down in 2016. France has been a vital influence in the success of Canada’s top para-swimmers at a national and international level. Under France’s leadership as a coach, she has guided her athletes to many accolades, including two world records, three gold meals, and a silver at the 2016 Paralympic Games in Rio, as well as superb performances at the 2015 Parapan Am Games. She secured a role on the coaching staff of the Canadian para-swimming team for both the 2012 and 2016 Paralympic Games, as well as the 2010, 2013, 2015 International Paralympic Committee (IPC) World Championships, showcasing the incredible asset she is to Canadian athletes. France was named Swimming Canada’s “Coach of the Year” for the Female Paralympic Program in 2014 and 2016 for her leadership. She was also the recipient of the 2012 Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Medal, an award that honours significant contributions and achievements by Canadians.


Saskatoon, SK
Head Coach, Women’s National Basketball Team/University of Saskatchewan Huskies

Lisa Thomaidis has led Team Canada Basketball to the forefront of Canadian sport. Under her leadership as the head coach, this team won gold at the 2015 Pan American Games, and qualified for the Rio 2016 Olympic Games, where they had their best performance at an Olympics with their highest number of wins. Apart from her tremendous success with Team Canada, Lisa has built a competitive program for women’s basketball at the University of Saskatchewan during her tenure over the last 18 years. During her career at the U of S, the team has won four Canada West titles, are the reigning National Champions, and have consistently been recognized as a top 10 team in the CIS. She was the recipient of the 2015 Jack Donohue “Coach of the Year” award for her outstanding qualities as a coach. As an activist in her community, Lisa developed a Jr. Huskies club program that focuses on the development of young women both on and off the court. Partnered with the Canadian Sport Centre of Saskatchewan and the city of Saskatoon, she also assists with a yearly event called “Play Like a Girl”, devoted to motivating girls to participate and be leaders in sport. Lisa’s not done yet, but her legacy in Canadian sport is already well in hand.
Follow Lisa Thomaidis on Twitter at @LisaThomaidis



Cape Breton, NS – Most Influential Women Award (Builders) for 2016
Physical Activity Strategy Coordinator, Membertou First Nation

Krista Devoe is a physical activity leader in Membertou First Nation, and a trailblazer in her community and province of Nova Scotia. She developed the first comprehensive physical activity strategy for a Mi’kmaw community in the province, which is aimed at benefiting the health of the community through physical activity. To bring the strategy to life and support its sustainability, Devoe has worked tirelessly to build relationships and partnerships. Together with the YMCA, for instance, Devoe initiated a swimming program designed to build leadership in young women in the community. This program resulted in more women receiving the appropriate certification to be able to work and lead in the field. Devoe is highly regarded and is actively sought out for her opinion and expertise. When the provincial government (in conjunction with the Heart and Stroke Foundation and Dalhousie University) was creating its first ever physical activity course for practitioners, she was asked to be on the committee to develop the course. She has presented at the National Aboriginal Physical Activity Conference, as well as at the Recreation Nova Scotia Conference. Her work is ground breaking, and has lead to significant changes in her community, including leadership development, infrastructure improvements, partnerships and policy changes. Devoe is an innovator and a role model, particularly for Aboriginal communities across the country.
Follow Krista Devoe on Twitter @kristadevoe

A lasting impact you want to have: Create leaders. Start young. Do not underestimate the younger generation—the are our future. The natural leaders will emerge as soon as the opportunity presents itself.

One piece of advice for emerging female leaders: Never give up. Programs, initiatives and ideas may not emerge the way you envisioned at first, but keep pushing. Look to your community and colleagues—you will always find support.


Ottawa, ON
Chief Marketing Officer, Canada Soccer

Soccer has become one of Canada’s top sports, in large part thanks to Canada hosting the FIFA Women’s World Cup in 2015. As the Chief Marketing and Communications Officer for this record-breaking event, Sandra Gage led a team of over 50 staff from coast to coast that attracted 1.35M fans and garnered Event of the Year honours at the 2016 Canadian Tourism Awards. This momentum has continued as Gage’s team helped draw an incredible 127,696 cumulative spectators to 4 home international soccer matches in 2016. The largest crowd was for a FIFA World Cup Qualifier at BC Place in Vancouver, which drew 54,798 fans – the highest attendance for a national team event, of any sport, ever played in Canada! In addition to her impressive and notable work behind the scenes, Gage has developed and cultivated the strongest-ever roster of Canada Soccer corporate partners in terms of investment and volume. She is recognized internationally for her leadership in this space, as witnessed by her invitation to speak at events such as the 2016 SportAccord Convention. Understanding the importance of positive role models for our next generation of athletes, Gage has also been a key contributor to programs such as FIFA Live Your Goals that offer mentorship opportunities to youth across the country.


Calgary, AB
Lieutenant Governor of Alberta

Passionate businesswoman, philanthropist and Alberta’s 18th Lieutenant Governor, Lois Mitchell has made a tremendous impact across the country with her deep commitment to and involvement in sport. Her Honour served as special advisor and patron to the Canadian Women’s Hockey League (CWHL) from 2011 to 2014 and was a Governor since 2014. In 2015, she was awarded the Humanitarian Award at the CWHL Awards Gala. She was also the first woman to be appointed to the Board of Directors of the Hockey Canada Foundation in 2008, and is a patron and past Board Member of the Special Olympics Foundation of Canada. Her Honour also recognizes the importance of building capacity on a local level. She created an endowed scholarship for Women’s athletics at the University of Calgary, and aided in the creation of a new leadership program at the university for student athletes. Her impressive and significant contributions have continued in to her role as Lieutenant Governor, where she continues to raise awareness to females in sport, and promoting an active lifestyle.


London, Ontario
Athletic Director (Former), Western University

A former varsity athlete at Western University, Therese Quigley started her career in sport as a volleyball coach. During her pursuance of a masters in sport management, she coached at the University of Alberta, and then McMaster University. A passionate and dedicated coach, Quigley quickly moved up the ranks to become the Athletic Director at McMaster and held this position from 1990 to 2009. This made her only the second women in Canada to hold a position of this nature, making her a role model and game-changer for women who wanted to pursue leadership roles in sport. Quigley returned to Western as Athletic Director in 2009, and under her tenure, Western has benefited greatly from her leadership, including the development of a new all-weather turf field for athletes and recreational activities. Among many other prestigious positions, Quigley was the President of Canada Basketball (2008-2011), President of the Conference of Independent Schools (2014-2015), and has served in various capacities with Canadian Olympic Committee. In September 2016, Quigley announced her retirement from Western University. The legacy she has left at her once-home court will have a profoundly positive impact upon current and future student athletes.



LORI EWING Most Influential Women Award (Media) for 2016
Toronto, ON
Sports Reporter, The Canadian Press

Lori Ewing – recipient of the 2016 George Gross Award (a prestigious award for the top sports journalism and broadcasting) – is making her mark in the sport media world, specifically for her masterful skill in sports writing. She has vast experience in the media industry working for The Canadian Press, with experience in coverage of soccer, basketball, figure skating, and track and field for more than 15 years.  2016 marked a breakout year for Ewing, as she was one of a handful from Canada to be reporting on both the Olympic and Paralympic Games in Rio. Her writing has covered athletes leading up to the Games, taking her readers on this journey with them, and captivates her audience through her engaging writing. Ewing is known for her commitment to highlighting the accomplishments of female athletes and giving them proper coverage so they do not go unrecognized. With her respected journalism, she continues to pave a path for women in and through the media.
Follow Lori Ewing on Twitter at @Ewingsports

The biggest success of your career so far: Winning the George Gross Award for Canadian sports writing in 2016, particularly because of my respect for the winners that came before me. And on a less tangible—but just as meaningful—note, I’m proud of the relationships and level of trust I’ve developed with athletes and others in Canada’s sports community. I’m also proud of the number of international events I’ve covered.

A quote you live by: “Life begins at the end of your comfort zone.”


Toronto, ON
Host of SportsCentre, TSN

Kate Beirness is a familiar face to Canadians as a host of SportsCentre, TSN’s flagship sports news and information show. Since joining TSN in 2009, Beirness has become a fan-favourite TSN personality, hosting the morning loop edition of SportsCentre as well as the network’s coverage of NCAA March Madness, the NBA Draft, the BioSteel All-Canadian game, Olympic Morning at the London 2012 Olympic Games, and pre-game coverage for the Grey Cup. Paired with co-host Natasha Staniszewski on SportsCentre in 2014, Beirness became part of SportsCentre’s first-ever all-female sports anchor team – a milestone for women in sports media. Before joining TSN, the Port Perry, Ontario native served as a sports anchor and videographer at A-Channel Barrie, before moving to Rogers TV Durham as their sports anchor.
Follow Kate Beirness on Twitter at @KateBeirness


Toronto, ON
Live Sports Director – TSN

As the first woman to direct a live CFL broadcast, Dawn Landis is a true pioneer for women in sports media. She began her career at Global TV before helping launch The Score in 1997, where she worked for 11 years before moving to TSN as a director in 2008. Landis, a female leader in a male-dominated field, boasts a resume that comprises of a vast portfolio of live sports broadcasts, spanning the CFL, NHL, figure skating, curling, MLS, the IIHF Women’s World Hockey Championship, and seven Olympic Games. Landis has been nominated twice for “Best Direction in a Live Sporting Event” at the Canadian Screen Awards – first for the 2011 Vanier Cup, and again for the 100th Canadian Tire National Skating Championships in 2015. In addition to her acclaimed work at TSN, Landis also draws upon her wealth of knowledge as a live sports director to instruct the next generation at Toronto’s College of Sports Media.


Calgary, AB

For the last 9 years and counting, Candice Ward has been professionally capturing moments of athletes in their authenticity. After graduating from the Southern Alberta Institute of Technology (SAIT) for photojournalism in 2008, she built a high profile list of clients, ranging from local teams such as the Calgary Hitmen and Roughnecks, to USA TODAY Sports Images and Metro News. Ward also collaborates with local female athletes to provide them with unique and creative shots to help market themselves in the sporting world. This includes the National Ski Jump team as well as women involved in sport recreationally, to give them an empowering opportunity to see themselves in a unique light. As a woman of Indigenous descent, Ward serves as a role model to young women looking to pursue their dreams. Her work has been recognized and featured in several Aboriginal publications. Her photography of the Calgary Rage of the Western Women’s Canadian Football League, created an impact through the fearless expression of the athletes, really showcasing the athleticism and dedication of the players. Her work offers a blueprint for how to capture and represent female athletes.
Follow Candice Ward on Twitter at @CWardPhoto,



PENNY OLEKSIAKMost Influential Women Award (Ones to Watch) for 2016
Toronto, ON
Olympian, Swimmer

2016 was an unprecedented year for 16-year-old swimming phenom Penny Oleksiak. Making history it seems with every stroke, the Toronto native became Canada’s youngest Olympic champion at the Rio Games this past summer. As the first Canadian to win 4 medals at a single summer games (gold, silver and 2 bronze), she also set an Olympic record in the 100m freestyle. She went on to win four more medals as Canada hosted the FINA World Swimming Championships (25m) in Windsor, Ont. All told she set 12 Canadian records and 3 world junior records – some of them broken multiple times. Her performance was one of the biggest news stories of the year in Canada, earning her the Lou Marsh Trophy as Canada’s Athlete of the Year, Canadian Press Female Athlete of the Year, CBC Sports Athlete of the Year, and Swimming Canada’s Female Swimmer of the Year. CP also recognized her and her teammates as Canadian Team of the Year over the Toronto Blue Jays and Toronto Raptors, only the third time a women’s team was selected. Oleksiak gained thousands of social media followers during the year, but remains a humble ambassador for the sport who is helping to reinvigorate swimming in Canada.
Follow Penny Oleksiak on Twitter @OleksiakPenny and on Instagram @typicalpen

A lasting impact you want to have: After age 14, a large number of girls drop out of sport and physical activity for a variety of reasons. Given the physical and mental benefits of being physically active, I want to help find ways to try to change that. Being able to get access to facilities such as pools and community centres is important. Seeing more female athletes is also important.

A quote you live by: “You only know what the limit is when you go past it.” – Bob Bowman, coach of Michael Phelps and 2016 U.S. Olympic Team


Melanchthon, ON
Owner, GO Adventure Co.

Bannon_AlyciaAvid outdoorswomen Alycia Bannon conceived her company, GO Adventure Co. at 25 years old.  Now 28, she is not only a leader in her community, but the recipient of the 2016 Best New Tourism Business award (Headwaters Tourism), a finalist in the Rural Youth Engagement Showcase from the The Rural Ontario Institute, and a 2016 nominee for Entrepreneur of the Year (Dufferin Board of Trade). Bannon recognized a need for the promotion of a healthier, more active lifestyle among youth in her community. GO teaches children physical literacy through games and activities, affording them the opportunity to explore and appreciate the great outdoors and develop skills such as creativity, patience and tolerance. GO also encourages mothers to get outside with their children by providing safe learning environments to socialize and experiment. Bannon has partnered with, and sits on an advisory committee for Healthy Kids Community Challenge, to promote skills for healthy lifestyles for youth in her area. She continues her participation in sport, as one of the few female hockey referees in her area. Her passion and enthusiasm for physical activity and youth engagement make her a role model to people of all ages.
Follow Alycia Bannon on Twitter @GoAdventureCo


Eganville, ON
Olympian, 800m Track and Field

800m runner, Melissa Bishop is the 2015 Pan Am Games gold medalist and the 2015 IAAF World Championship silver medalist. A 2x Olympian, with a 4th place finish in Rio this past summer, she is a 5x medalist at the Canadian Track and Field Championships and the current indoor and outdoor record holder. Further accolades include a top 10 finish in the 800m, as well as a top 5 finish in the 4×400 relay at the 2014 Commonwealth Games. Bishop is a 2x Academic All Canadian, a 10x Ontario University Athletics All Star, and a 9x CIS champion. Despite her arduous training schedule, Bishop has always made time for community outreach in the form of motivational speaking engagements at local schools and community clubs. She has been recognized in her hometown of Eganville, Ontario with a park named in her honour. Bishop is the inspiration for, and first recipient of the “Renfrew County Melissa Bishop Community Role Model Award”, which will be granted in the future to others demonstrating her level of commitment to the community. She has overcome injury and disappointment to achieve success, and continues to strive toward her goals, inspiring current and future generations of runners across Canada.
Follow Melissa Bishop on Twitter @BishopMelissa


Winnipeg, MB
Coach – Bantam 2 Winnipeg Hawk AAA Hockey

Cassandra Groen, at 19 years old, is the youngest female hockey coach in Winnipeg AAA history. In addition to coaching the Bantam 2 Winnipeg Hawk AAA team, she also trains the Team Manitoba ringette goalies, the St. James female goaltenders, and volunteers with Sledge Hockey Manitoba. This 30 hour a week commitment comes on top of her obligations as a full-time Kinesiology student. Groen is breaking the gender mould and confronting stereotypes, working primarily in an all-boys program, in a role often held by men twice her age. Her dedication and perseverance combined with an innate ability to foster athlete development, both personal and professional, provides a secure and enjoyable environment for her players. For her own contributions as a player, Groen has been a recipient of the 2015 Manitoba Ringette Association High-Five Scholarship, the 2014 National Canadian All-star award, a National gold medal, a bronze medal at the Western Canadian Ringette Championships, as well as numerous other provincial and tournament medals. Groen’s uncompromising commitment to the sport for both males and females is inspiring to all those around her.
Follow Cassandra Groen on Twitter @cass_groen