Joy Spear Chief-Morris admits she can sometimes be a bit stubborn. And single minded. But those traits have served the elite athlete, and member of the Mustangs Track and Field team, well – in life and in sport.
The fifth-year History and First Nations Studies student is the defending USports champion in the 60-metre sprint. In 2016, she was named Ontario University Athletics (OUA) MVP, after winning three medals, including the gold in the 60-metre event.
After winning the 100-metre at Provincials in Alberta while in high school, Spear Chief-Morris, originally from Lethbridge, knew she wanted to pursue the sport on a competitive level.
“It was the first moment I realized I was actually good at something,” said the 22-year-old. “I’m not a person that likes to give up. If I’m going to do something, I’m going to do it all the way through and I’ll get a little single-minded. But, it’s helped me to achieve all the things in my life. I’ll always find a solution if need be.”
Spear Chief-Morris knows one of those solutions has been the financial support she received through scholarships and awards. When an opportunity came to transfer from the University of British Columbia to Western in her third year of university, she felt lucky to receive a scholarship that allowed her to compete and study here.
“Track and field is a very expensive sport. You’re replacing equipment constantly, and that’s on you – not to mention the cost of being a student, the cost of living on your own and the cost of tuition,” she said. “If you’re like me, and don’t have those funds otherwise, it’s difficult to go to school and to train,” she said.
As one of five inaugural recipients of the Dorothy Walsh Female Athletic Scholarship this year, Spear Chief-Morris’ success is getting another financial boost. The award was created with a $25,000 donation from GoodLife Fitness Clubs at the request of the organization’s comptroller and matriarch, Dorothy Walsh.
Walsh, (whose son is GoodLife Fitness Founder and CEO, David (Patch) Patchell-Evans, BA’77, LLD’12), created the scholarship fund to give back to her son’s alma mater and show appreciation for her own family’s opportunities.
The 97-year-old, who continues to be active in the GoodLife business, grew up during the Depression era on a family farm near Milton, Ont. She worked in a factory during the Second World War and raised her three young boys alone after her husband, a veteran, was killed in a tragic car accident. Her boys were all under the age of 10 at the time.
While she struggled to support her family, Walsh was fortunate her sons were eligible for educational bursaries through the Department of Veteran Affairs, allowing them to pursue postsecondary education.
“Dorothy realized how important those bursaries were because her sons never would have been able to go to school if it hadn’t been for that financial assistance,” said GoodLife Chief Operating Officer Jane Riddell, BA’77, MA’85. “She saw what a big difference it made in their lives. It gave them such incredible opportunities they wouldn’t have had otherwise.”
Walsh wanted to support female athletes specifically, to help ensure a level playing field for both men and women in sport.
“While Dorothy knows things have improved a great deal for women since she was young, in many ways it’s still not a level playing field and education is the key to taking advantage of opportunities that come along,” said Riddell.
OUA’s Rule VI, Athletic Financial Awards stipulates “the envelope of total dollar amounts provided by an institution should be equal for male and female student-athletes.” The policy further requires male and female sport funding must be within five per cent of 50-50. Western mirrors that policy.
While the math seems simple, actual balance is difficult to achieve. For most institutions, Western included, there is a significant gap to be made up on the female side of the equation.
“Because of history and tradition, you do not think immediately of female sport at Western – you think men’s football, men’s hockey and men’s basketball. Women’s sport doesn’t have the history or the maturity to secure significant gifts yet,” said Terra Ahrens, Development Director (Athletics) at Western.
As a result, fundraising efforts target women’s sport specifically, and any generic athletic gifts to the university go to women’s sport to balance the equation. For the last two years, the university has also provided $50,000 in operating funds to match donations to establish female athletic awards.
“We must encourage people to step up so our females have every opportunity to succeed at their sport, so our coaches have the opportunity to recruit the best student-athletes from across the country,” Ahrens said. “We have the brand; we have the coaches; students want to come here. We simply need the money to get them to come.”
For Spear Chief-Morris, financial support helps relieve the stress of having to maintain part-time work alongside a grueling training schedule that goes with being a full-time student.
“[When I’m running], it’s the one time in life I don’t have to think about what’s going on. I don’t have to think about school, I don’t have to think about stress, I don’t have to think about paying for my rent, I don’t have to think about a job or work later or any issues I may have outside of running. It’s something else I can focus on and something to strive for,” she said. “It’s kind of freeing, to just be in a place where you’re working as hard as you can to achieve one goal.”
Spear Chief-Morris currently has her sights set on defending her USports championship title in Edmonton, Alta., in March. She hopes to make Team Canada for the 2017 International University Sports Federation World University Games in Taipei, China this summer and for the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo, Japan.
Support Women’s Athletics Awards
Western is actively fundraising for women’s athletics awards, with an annual goal of $50,000. Donations will be matched 1:1 by the university, providing $100,000 each year in support of women’s athletic awards. For more information, or to make a donation, please visit: www.westernconnect.ca/wathawards.