Canadian all-women mine rescue team finishes 15th at international competition

It’s illegal for women to work underground in Russia but by the end of an international mining competition the team from Canada — comprised of all women from across the country — received monumental honours.

'It was the highlight of my career, hands down,' says Heather MacKenzie

Heather MacKenzie and the Diamonds In The Rough finished 15th out of 25 teams at an international mining competition in Russia, last month. (Submitted by Heather MacKenzie)

A team of female mine workers from across Canada broke barriers last month by being the first all-female team to compete at the International Mines Rescue Competition.

Not only that, but they placed 15 out of 25 teams overall, won people's choice for top team in the competition, and received another award to commemorate them as the first all-female team to compete at an international level. And they did it all in Russia, a country where it's illegal for women to work in underground mines. 

Heather MacKenzie is a Yellowknifer who works for Diavik Diamond Mine. She competed with the team Diamonds in the Rough in Ekaterinburg, a city located near the Ural Mountains in Russia. She said her team's performance was an inspiration to the other competitors.

"The other competitors that we met with throughout the competition came back to us and were saying how they were going to go home and tell their daughters how there are women who do the same jobs that they do," said MacKenzie.

"And that it's possible to achieve anything they want to — we proved that to them."

Arriving in Russia

MacKenzie said the competition was tough, and included a relay style event — similar to a CrossFit competition — which really pushed the team.

"There was five legs and five women from our team [competing]," she said. "I was first and I had to take a 35-pound log and clean and press it, then carry on take two fire extinguishers, and pass over a balance beam."

Then, one of her teammates was injured. It's a moment MacKenzie says brought her team together. 

"Kari Lentowicz, one of the co-founders of [the team] … she had to carry a 165-pound dummy for 60 metres, place it on to a backboard and cross the finish line," she said.

"She picks it up, moves about 20 metres and falls. She strained her knee and was unable to finish."

The team then rallied. As Lentowicz began to stand-up, her teammates picked up the dummy and carried it to the finish line. MacKenzie said she wrapped her arm around Lentowicz and assisted her to the end.

They finished last in that particular competition, but they finished together.

"Everyone was cheering, 'Canada! Canada!,'" said Mackenzie. "It was movie magic."

Mackenzie says the team could travel to Colombia for the 2020 International Mines Rescue Competition. (Submitted by Heather MacKenzie)

MacKenzie said the experience was "hands-down" the highlight of her career.

She said she isn't sure when she'll see her teammates again, seeing as they all work in different mines across Canada. But MacKenzie says the team could get back together for a mine competition in Fernie, B.C. next year. She also has her sights on the possibility of competing in the next International Mines Competition in Colombia in 2020.

With files from Loren McGinnis