In 11 years with Canada’s national field hockey program, Sandra Levy used speed, agility and cognitive skills to become a standout at the forward position.
The Jamaican-born Olympian and sports administrator is back in the spotlight as she has been summoned to use her strong management, communication and leadership skills as the national team’s Chef de Mission at the second Summer Youth Olympics in Nanjing, China in August.
Levy, who represented Canada at the 1988 and 1992 Olympics in Seoul and Barcelona respectively and was the athlete’s advocate at the 1998 Nagano Games and part of the Toronto 2008 Olympics bid team at the 2000 Sydney Olympics, says she is honoured to be selected.
“This is a very exciting opportunity,” the sports volunteer told Share. “It’s always an honour and privilege when you are head of a delegation for your country. I have a real appreciation of how important it is to have a strong leader when things go wrong sometimes as was the case with Ross Rebagliati at the 1998 Olympics.”
The first Olympic snowboarding gold medallist temporarily lost his medal after Tetrahydrocannabino (THC) was found in his circulatory system. The decision was eventually overturned, largely on the basis that marijuana was not on the list of banned substances.
THC has since been listed by the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) as a banned substance.
“We had great leadership that was able to manoeuvre through that problem very comfortably,” said Levy. “When you have the right person in that role, it’s really important for great celebrations and also to be able to manage any problems that may arise such as an injury or something more serious like doping.”
The Youth Olympics will take place from August 16 to 28.
As team manager, Levy said she will encourage the athletes to savour the moment and enjoy the experience.
“These are the best athletes that we are sending to represent their country and their sport and what an honour it is for them to have Canada on their back,” she said. “I will remind them to not only do the best they can because they are prepared for this, but also to absorb the whole experience. It’s not just about the competition. There is the cultural piece that we really stress for the young people, maybe more so than we do for the senior Olympians.”
Canadian Olympic Committee president Marcel Abut said Levy is the ideal person to lead the delegation.
“The Youth Olympic Games is centred on sport, culture and education, so the Chef De Mission – who guides our young athletes through the Games – will play a crucial role in shaping our future Olympians and ultimately the leaders of tomorrow,” he said. “Sandra has the passion, the experience and the inherent understanding necessary to excel in this vital position and we are delighted that she will be leading our young athletes through Nanjing 2014.”
Migrating to Canada with her family at age four, Levy played soccer and participated in track and field before being turned on to field hockey at L’Amoreaux Collegiate Institute by then department head and geography teacher Ken O’Connor who has been involved in the sport for many years.
The four-time Canadian Inter-university Sport All-Canadian graduated from York University in 1990 with an English and Communications degree. She was a supply teacher for a year with the York Region District School Board and the York Region Catholic School Board while preparing for the Barcelona Olympics.
Levy, who won bronze and silver medals at the 1987 and 1991 Pan American Games respectively, was the only Black player during her tenure with the senior national program.
“I spent all my summers in Europe and most of my winters in Australia and New Zealand,” said the 1992-93 York University Athlete of the Year and the university’s 2003 Sports Hall of Fame inductee. “There were places we went to where clearly these folks weren’t used to seeing Black people and were probably surprised that there was a Black person on the Canadian team. You have to look at the politics of the country that you are in and be aware of what’s going on. I never experienced any overt racism.”
Prior to a Canadian training camp in South Africa, Levy organized a sensitivity debriefing for the team before leaving Canada and arranged open discussions while in South Africa which was allowed back into the international sports fold in July 1991 after the International Olympic Committee lifted a 21-year ban.
“We were the first team to go there after the sanctions were lifted,” she said. “I was aware of the politics of that country and we had a sense of what to expect. I had my guard up for sure when I was there. I wasn’t happy with the politics of the country, but we went there and we trained.”
At the conclusion of the 1992 Olympics, Levy enrolled in Osgoode Hall Law School and secured her law degree in 1995. She practiced at Kramer Henderson LLP, served as vice-president of business development at the Canadian Olympic Centre for Training in Corporate Excellence and worked for a decade as Magna International’s human resources director with responsibility for North America and Asia. In that capacity, she spent almost 200 days each year in countries on the two continents.
Last August, Levy relocated to Calgary to become the senior vice-president of human resources with Ply Gem Canada which is one of North America’s largest manufacturers of brand name products for home improvement and new home construction markets.