Carrying the weight of the future

Frank Neufeld/Western News

Danielle Holdsworth, BA’02, BEd’03, is a competitive world-class weightlifter and paddle boarder - and schoolteacher/librarian.

Heavy lifting is all in a day’s work for teacher-turned-athlete Danielle Holdsworth.

The competitive weightlifter is preparing for a new school year as a Grades 5/6 teacher and librarian at Orchard Park Public School in London, Ont., and she will have some pretty hefty stories about how she spent summer vacation.

In June, Holdsworth, BA’02, BEd’03, capped off her “winter” sport season by competing in the 2018 Pan American Masters Weightlifting Championships in Gaspé, Quebec. She powered through to an individual bronze medal in the women’s 69kg weightlifting category and contributed to the Team Canada Women’s Weightlifting team gold medal.

She then spent the next two months competing in her summer sport: stand-up paddle boarding. That included an epic, 51-kilometre race across Lake Ontario during which she and teammate Maddi Leblanc set a record for two-person stand-up relay at seven hours, 10 minutes.

Holdsworth said Western taught her the lessons of discipline and determination that continue to shape her life and career today.

The History of the Modern Olympic Games course (in Kinesiology) was one of my favourites. I continue to apply what I learned there,” she explained. “Sport has definitely shaped the way I organize my life at home and how I teach in the classroom.

“In sport, you need to adapt to changing situations – be it environmental conditions or opponents – and be able to think quickly on your feet. Teaching is very much the same.”

At Western, Holdsworth skated on the Figure Skating team, winning several Ontario University Athletics (OUA) titles. She also participated in sailing and canoeing, where her “best Kinesiology friendships were forged.”

After retiring from skating, she began her teaching career and started a family.

“I needed to find something that would both keep me fit and provide me with an outlet to compete. Once I discovered Olympic lifting, I was hooked. I have trained in Olympic lifting for about four years now. After a year of development and technique work, I started to compete as a masters athlete.”

Danielle Holdsworth/Photo courtesy of Surf Canada

Her competitive spirit also led her to paddle boarding. The open-water, Niagara-to-Toronto crossing of Lake Ontario this year, a marathon suited only for elite athletes, began at sunrise.

Racers battled a crosswind for most of their seven-hour paddle, which meant paddling almost exclusively on the right side, she said on her Facebook page. “The water was bumpy, but proved a great challenge out on the lake. It felt pretty incredible to be out in the middle of Lake Ontario, catching bumps with a paddle in my hand,” she wrote.

Two weeks later, Holdsworth finished fifth over-all, second among women competitors, in an 11-kilometre circumnavigation of Belle Isle in the Detroit River.

She competed for Canada at the Stand-Up World Championships in Copenhagen, Denmark, in September 2017.

While the parallels between elite athletes and teachers might not be obvious, they are there if you look closely, Holdsworth stressed.

“I’m used to being given a score, both on the field of competition and in the classroom,” Holdsworth said. “Parents, administrators and students have high expectations. We strive to reach each and every student and make a difference in their world. Sport has taught me the value of never, ever giving up.

“Teaching is about perseverance. Effort, self-belief and determination drive success. These are the values I try to instill in my students. It’s not always smooth, but we make it to the finish line. And that’s what counts.”