Jenn Heil soars into Canada's Sports Hall of Fame

Some champions excel on the field of play, while others embrace a cause. Freestyle ski champion Jenn Heil, one of a dozen new inductees to Canada's Sports Hall of Fame, meets the definition in both respects, writes Scott Russell

Freestyle ski champ's reach extends beyond sport

Jenn Heil won a silver medal at the Vancouver Olympics to pair with her gold from 2006. (Saeed Khan/AFP/Getty Images)

There are two kinds of champions: those who win on the field of play and those who embrace a cause.

Freestyle ski great Jenn Heil meets the definition in both respects.

An Olympic gold and silver medallist as well as a world champion, Heil has inspired a generation of athletes with her trailblazing exploits both on and off the snow.

Now she's an honoured member of Canada's Sports Hall of Fame, announced Wednesday as part of an exceedingly impressive class of 2015 that includes a bevy of world, Olympic and professional sports champions. The 12 new members will be officially inducted at an October ceremony in Toronto, the largest class in history as the sports shrine celebrates its 60th anniversary.

"Knowing the images and the stories of those who have gone before me has been very important. That knowledge changed my career and my life," said a beaming Heil. "It allowed me to believe in what was possible in sport." 

As a competitor, the native of Spruce Grove, Alta., amassed an unprecedented international record in moguls skiing. Having competed at three successive Olympics, beginning in Salt Lake, where she finished fourth by the narrowest of margins, Heil went on to claim Canada's first gold medal at the Torino Games of 2006 and backed it up with silver to start the ball rolling for Canada's landmark results at the Vancouver Olympics in 2010.

"I wanted to train with her all the time," said two-time Olympic freestyle skiing gold medallist Alexandre Bilodeau. "I've always said, you become the best by learning from the best."

Pioneering athlete

Heil began skiing at age two and over the course of her amazing career she scored 25 World Cup wins, not to mention an overall World Cup title, six discipline titles and four world championship gold medals.

But these impressive statistics fail to tell the whole story of a pioneering winter sport athlete. 

Heil has been tireless in her efforts to support Plan Canada's "Because I am a Girl" initiative, which has raised millions in its efforts to lift girls around the world out of poverty. She has also been instrumental in motivating and mentoring the next generation of Canadian female freestyle skiers such as the Dufour-Lapointe sisters, who delivered historic podium results at the Sochi Olympics in 2014. 

Each year Heil hosts a girls-only moguls skiing camp and has helped to develop the private B2ten program. which provides training and technical support to Canada's aspiring elite athletes. She has also been an active ambassador for the international humanitarian organization Right to Play, which delivers the benefits of sport to the world's most disadvantaged children.

"She has been an incredible role model and leader," noted Hall of Fame cross-country skier Beckie Scott. "There are many young women out there who can say they were profoundly impacted by Jenn. And for that alone, she can be very proud."

3rd freestyle skier to join Hall

Another honoured member of Canada's Sports Hall of Fame echoed Scott's assessment of Heil's contribution to Canadian sport.

"She is an example of hard work, perseverance and, most importantly, she exemplifies respect for others, including her competitors," said speed skater and double Olympic gold medallist Catriona Le May Doan. "Through her work on and off the playing field she has shown that gender should never be something that holds you back."

Heil becomes the third freestyle skier honoured by Canada's Sports Hall of Fame, joining Jean-Luc Brassard and Sarah Burke.

Her legacy is decorated by athletic excellence. But at its foundation is her unwavering belief in equal opportunity for women in sport.               

The class of 2015

Susan Auch, speed skating

Paul Coffey, hockey

Michael Edgson, swimming

Sharon and Shirley Firth, cross-country skiing

Craig Forrest, soccer

Nicolas Gill, judo

Danielle Goyette, hockey

Jennifer Heil, freestyle skiing

Lori-Ann Muenzer, cycling

Jocelyne  Bourassa, golf

Marina van der Merwe, field hockey