Athlete Rep Spotlight: Amy Burk – Goalball

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.

Amy Burk

Name: Amy Burk
Sport: Goalball
Position / Event: Right Wing
National team tenure: 2005 – Present
Hometown: Charlottetown, PEI

How did you first hear about and get involved in athlete advocacy?

When I first became a part of our national team, we had a few good role models on our team and one of them, one of my teammates, kind of guided me and took me under her wing and showed me the ropes. She was the athlete rep who sat on our board of directors. I got to see a little bit of what she did and how she brought athlete concerns to the table. When she retired in 2008 after the Beijing Paralympics, a bunch of teammates retired. And that was kind of like a calling for me. Even though I was still a rookie on the team, I was going to take on more of a leadership role. When the call came out that they needed a new female athlete rep, I was like, “You know what? This is something that I do want to kind of get my toes into. I’d like to see the organization side and to make sure that the athletes are being heard.” And so, I ran for the position and then I was voted among my teammates. And then I got appointed to the board of directors. And that’s where I kind of got to see, I got to bring the athlete voice to the table. And it was nice because they weren’t always aware of what was going around. You know, they handled the behind-the-scenes and the politics, so it was great to to be heard in that sense.

I did take a step back in 2014 after my first son was born. I had a hard time with handling the board of director position, full-time training, and being a new mom. But then when I finally got into a really good routine, I started seeing what the Canadian Paralympic Committee Athlete Council was doing. And it was incredible to see the work that they were putting in to help push the Paralympic movement in Canada. And, you know, I talked to a couple of members and I was inspired by what they were doing. I knew they started kind of from how I did. I started asking some questions and trying to to see if this would maybe be a fit for me and one of the members, Chelsea Gutierrez, actually kind of pushed me to put my name in for the running. I sat on it for a little while, and I’m trying to decide, you know, is this something that I think would benefit the sport system and, you know, still on the fence. But I thought what’s the worst in trying and so I did I put my name forward to run for the Athlete Council and lo and behold my peers have full faith in me and believe that I could be a good addition. And they voted me in! I was completely blessed and surprised. I just really like seeing what athletes could do for the sport system and it’s just something that I just really hope that I can help contribute very thoroughly.

Amy Burk

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

I think it’s so important to have an athlete-centred experience because, you know, our main job is to train hard, and compete at our best. And I think the best way for us to excel is to have an athlete-centered environment. We don’t care about the politics behind the scenes. We just want to go, and as cliche as it sounds, we just want to go and have fun and that’s when we are at our best. So I think if we can continue having a great athlete-centred environment and just increasing that as we continue, moving forward, I think you’re going to see the stress of things just falling off the athletes and just getting to perform and do what they want to do and succeed and just enjoy the moment and enjoy what we’re doing.

How have you used your athlete voice on behalf of your peers and how has it impacted your sport journey?

I have a very good working relationship with our high-performance staff and our team. They know that and I’m very vocal and I’m very keen on stressing the importance of the athlete voice. My teammates and peers in the organization know that they can come to me in a safe, non-judgmental, respectful environment and that I will bring their concerns, their feedback, their opinions forward. Not only does that help our organization and our program, but it also helps team cohesion, just knowing that your voice is being heard, that people are taking you seriously and that it is just a safe, non-judgmental space.

What is your favourite memory being an Athlete Rep / being involved in athlete advocacy? 

There’s been just a lot of little things, and I don’t think one can stand out is like my favourite memory. But one, it’s just knowing that my teammates know that I have their back and that, if something is going on that’s not good, we will get to the bottom of it and we will fix it. Or if it’s just something that is like, this is a good idea, this will benefit our program. Just knowing that my teammates believe that I have their best interests at heart, I think that really goes a long way.

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

Bringing the athlete perspective to the table really goes a long way. We have so many moving pieces within the organization or our program in general. And while everyone has the best interests at heart on wanting to succeed and be at the top of the podium, they’re not necessarily sure how one decision could impact an athlete and so, you know, having that working relationship, it really does help. Getting the perspective from not only the athletes but everybody. It’s just you put that whole thing together, it’s like a giant puzzle. You put all those pieces together and it’s just incredible to see how much better a system and a program can run.

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

To just advocate for yourself and for your teammates and for your sport, I think can really go a long way. You know, one person’s perspective on something might not be the same as somebody else’s. So if we can get all of those different opinions, and feedback perspectives together, we can be great. There could be so many more things that we can accomplish as a sports system. The sport system is so welcoming now and we just want everyone to come and voice their concerns. Voice your opinions, and you’re going to get great feedback. We’re just making huge gains forward. We’ve come so far as a sports community already and I can just see it keep moving forward.