All-women mining rescue team sets sights on international competition in Russia

An all-female mine rescue team thinks it could be the first of its kind to participate in the International Mines Rescue Competition this year — if it can raise enough money to get there.

Yellowknife woman part of team working to raise another $37,000 to get to the event

Heather MacKenzie is trying to go to an international mining rescue competition this year with an all-female team. (Submitted by Heather MacKenzie)

An all-female mine rescue team thinks it could be the first of its kind to participate in the International Mines Rescue Competition in Ekaterinburg, Russia, later this year.

The week-long competition includes many different events — from firefighting to first aid and a rescue simulation.

Heather MacKenzie is one of the team members of Diamonds in the Rough. She grew up in Yellowknife and works for a mining company in the Northwest Territories.

"The fact that we're putting together this team, we're ensuring that this competition will have double the amount of women that were at the last international [competition]," said MacKenzie.

Women a minority in mining

She said she's always been a minority as a woman in the mining industry, and that is the same in mining rescue.

"It's often seen as a position that women don't generally hold," she said.

MacKenzie is currently training for a territorial competition with her company, which will help her prepare for the international competition in Russia. For about a month, she'll train for 12 to 16 hours a day.

"I've always been a competitor," said MacKenzie.

But there is one problem: funding.

Team needs $37,000 to compete

The team needs about $84,000 to participate in the international competition. That would cover travel, accommodations and equipment, as well as the cost of a training session the women will participate in this August, to prepare for the international competition.

Some companies have given them in-kind donations, leaving them with about $37,000 to raise.

Typically the company a participant works for would cover the cost of the competition and send a team. But in the case of Diamonds in the Rough, the participants don't work for the same company.

"We've asked all the participants' employers to provide us with funding," said Kari Lentowicz, the co-founder and coach of Diamonds in the Rough. "We haven't been successful in a lot of those areas."

She said some of the women on the team are so dedicated that they are willing to take vacation or unpaid days off work, and pay for the trip themselves.

It's "too bad because there are a lot of women who will suffer a financial hardship in order to do this," she said.

A dream years in the making

Lentowicz, who is based in Saskatchewan, has dreamed of putting an all-women team together since 2007.

"We need to increase diversity in these roles, in emergency response," said Lentowicz.

She was a judge at the 2016 International Mines Rescue Competition in Sudbury, Ont., and said five of the 189 participants were women.

She said there have been many cases where women are perceived as not strong enough to be on the mines rescue teams. But she disagrees with that.

"We're definitely strong enough," said Lentowicz.

The competition runs from September 22-29.


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