Athlete Rep Spotlight: Alyson Charles, Speed Skating

It’s Our Turn, AthletesCAN’s new marketing campaign focuses on the stories of athlete leaders across the 68 sports eligible for AthletesCAN membership. The campaign highlights a pivotal moment for a new era in sport governance, underlining the athlete representatives’ respective journeys into the athlete advocacy movement both in their careers and within their National Sport Organizations (NSOs).

Each week, AthletesCAN profiles a key athlete leader among its membership, highlighting how athlete representation has played a significant role in their career and within their National Sport Organization.

Alyson Charles

Sport: Speed Skating 
Position / Event: Short Track (500m, 1000m, 3000m)
National team tenure: 2018-22
Hometown: Montreal, Que.

How did you first hear about and get involved within your sport?

I always knew that this position was filled since I was named to the national team. But I never got to understand what that person was doing. A couple weeks ago, the previous Athlete Director, Mathieu Bernier, was planning to leave the position, and he reached out to me because I recently retired from the sport. He just explained to me what his role was and what his mandate was. I found it interesting just to have a position where you can have a voice for athletes on the Board. Mathieu said ‘Just think about it and if you’re ever interested, get back to me.’ I took some time to think about it, and then I agreed to the role, because I felt like in the past year especially, there has really been a desire for change. Or at least, I felt like the management and also people who have leadership positions in my organization are driven but also driven towards change for good reasons. There’s a new Strategic Plan that was published and a new CEO coming in as well. So, all of that gave me the will to get involved because I think it is a great era that we’re entering into, where people are open to hear different perspectives. And I do believe that I can bring a unique perspective as well. 

Canada's Alyson Charles, seen above in her World Cup debut last weekend, picked up her fourth medal of the season with a gold in the women's 1,000-metre race at the short track speed skating World Cup event in Salt Lake City, Utah, on Sunday. (Jeff McIntosh/Canadian Press)
Alyson Charles (Jeff McIntosh/Canadian Press)

Why is it important for the Canadian Sport System to prioritize an athlete-centred experience?

I think it’s not only important, it’s essential to each National Sport Organization, because without the athletes there is no organization. And we want to see them perform, that’s for sure, year over year. And to make that happen, we have to make sure that their interests and needs are served. Sometimes, on the board there are people who occupy these positions and have been in our shoes a couple of years back and might not have that up-to-date perspective. And some of them were not athletes. It’s important to have someone who is not involved but is still kind of close to the sport itself. When everyone’s on the same page, there is communication across all levels and everyone’s open to hearing each other. I think that’s how we can best serve the interest of every stakeholder and especially the athletes. 

What have you learned about being a leader in your sport?

I’ve learned that being a leader, it’s not about necessarily being a leader where you’re appointed to the position, because I think everyone can be a leader in their own ways. If I had to describe myself, I was a quiet leader – just by my attitude towards the sport and everything that we had to do, but also towards others. That’s what made me want to get involved. 

Coming into the role, I’m not pretending that I know everything. I’m not in this mindset of I’m coming here to change everything because that’s not the role itself, but just to be someone who is in a position to bring forward concerns and also not afraid to raise their opinion, raise their voice. When there is a policy that is being discussed or a decision that is being discussed on the Board that would have an impact on athletes – I’m here to bring that perspective and why this would be a good or a bad thing for them and how it’s perceived by them. 

I’m planning to have continuous communication with the athletes. I want them to feel comfortable coming to me. And because I’m not competing anymore, on a day-to-day basis, their input is going to be very valuable. Being in those Board meetings will allow me to understand how decisions are made on a higher level where you have to consider the well-being of every stakeholder, but also the organization as a whole. And if we can inspire ourselves inside towards every one of us being leaders, I think we will manage to inspire the outside and our communities.

Why should your peers join AthletesCAN and/or get more involved in the leadership of their National Sport Organization?

I encourage people to get involved in AthletesCAN in any way they can – because everyone has something to win by getting involved. 

The more we can hear each other and bring to the table what’s problematic, and what’s going well, and just being aware of what’s going on within AthletesCAN or National Sport Organizations and other sports organizations, we will just have a better understanding of the goal of this entity that sometimes you are unable when you’re not in it or you just hear about it. It will help us to understand the importance of this organization and how we can just help each other moving forward. I would encourage everyone to actually learn about AthletesCAN and then get involved in any way you can, because we all have something to win