17324 Sharon Donnelly: Passing on the message
By: 27182 Officer Cadet (IV) Carmen Kiltz
In her first year at the college, Sharon attended the annual sports fair which showcases the various clubs and extra-curricular activities that RMC has to offer. She signed up for the fencing team. At the fencing team recruit camp, the athletes were to run a mile and a half as part of their training. Sharon was the first female to cross the finish and was immediately picked up by the cross-country coach.
“I hated running!” Sharon said, “I had never done any [cross-country] training, so it was all very difficult.”
Sharon liked the racing component of the team, since she was used to racing as a former competitive swimmer in her youth. She enjoyed the “competition mode.”
She was also initially recruited for the band, but left to try highland dance. She wanted to spread out and try different activities.
In her fourth year at the college, the former competitive swimmer joined the water polo varsity team. This was in part due to her interest in trying new things, and her background from being in the water.
The Class of 1990 graduate emphasized that her experience in team sports, or working as a team at RMC was “a real eye-opener to the importance of teams.”
Furthermore, she had entered RMC as a rather shy individual, and RMC forced her to overcome fears and “come out of [her] shell.” This was in part due to leadership activities and involvement in the debate team.
Of course, discipline and hard work, attributes which she had been introduced to in the competition scene in her youth, were important and fine-tuned at the college.
Getting started in Triathlon….
The all-round athlete first remembers feeling a spark of interest for the sport of triathlon in her senior years of high school. She watched on television a triathlon race and recalls her interest being “tweaked” towards this sport.
At RMC Sharon joined the Triathlon Club, and remembers setting up and using wind trainers in the attic of Haldimand Dormitory. She was introduced to the sport by her colleagues and was convinced to go to her first competition. After that, she was hooked.
She recalls laughingly, as a young Lieutenant, having to deal with a huge fire at the QM at RCR in London, Ontario. Army Logistics Officer by trade, she had the “unique” experience of dealing with the fire as a new supply officer with hardly any training.
The Toronto born Donnelly had the unique experience to be on set at Dragons Den with her contribution to the making of an inflatable dry bag called “myFloat.”
“It was exciting, it was really good,” she said. The bag can be used for swimming, snorkelling, and boating and it easily attaches to you while keeping your stuff dry and increasing your visibility in the water.
A highlight which she cherishes was being invited back to the college as the keynote speaker at the RMC Intramural and Varsity Athletes Banquets in 2001. She had the honour of presenting the Kelly Gawne Memorial Cup at the banquet, which was instituted in 1989, in memory of 17333 Cadet Kelly Gawne who was killed as a result of a summer training accident at Chilliwack, BC in 1988. The cup was awarded annually to the best all-round Female Cadet in athletics. Sharon herself was a classmate and recipient of the cup in 1989.
The taste of victory…
Captain Donnelly left the Canadian Armed Forces (Regular) in 1995 as part of the force reduction program and transferred to the reserves. Here she had the opportunity and time to ramp up her training and start racing in the professional sport of triathlon.
In 1999 she won a Gold Medal at the Pan American Games in Winnipeg, and she competed in the 2000 Summer Olympics in Sydney. Amazingly enough, 2000 was the first year in which Triathlon was a sport featured in the Olympics. Sharon was unfortunately involved in a bike crash during her race which broke her wheel, however with the adrenaline rush, she knew she had to “get a spare wheel and get back on [her] bike.” She was admirably able to finish the race.
Paying it Forward…
“There are two sides to being an athlete,” Sharon says.
Besides the training and performance, the proud mother of two school age children says that it should be a main goal to “pay it forward.”
She believes that it is a “requirement to go out and do your best in helping kids to stay motivated in participation of sport.”
The former assistant National Triathlon Team coach for the USA, is continuously making an effort on getting “better at coming out of [her] shell.” She notes that her exposure at RMC to lead and get in front of people speaking has helped her with this aspect of being an athlete. She has acted as a “sports consultant” in giving motivational speeches on leadership, sport, and goal setting, and she continues to do so.
The personable and engaging, Ex cadet is looking forward to speaking at the Canadian Junior Athletic Championships this year.
“I’m trying to stay involved,” she says. She wants to “pass on the message of continuing to be active” and the importance of goal setting.
Now that Sharon is retired, she has minimized her traveling and is coaching Masters athletes and kids programs to create the next generation of athletes.