An awed silence fell over the room, even quieting a gaggle of teenage girls, as Olympian gold medal curler Jennifer Jones took the stage to address the recent Take the Leap conference in Dauphin.
“I want to talk to you about having a gold medal performance in life,” said the Olympic gold medal curler and corporate lawyer. “About appreciating and enjoying every moment in life. And about following dreams and following passions no matter what anybody says.”
Jones was one of several speakers to address 150 people, packed into a conference room above the curling rink at the Parkland Recreation Complex, telling her story about what it takes to succeed.
It was a fitting keynote for Take the Leap, which started in 2007 after a group of Parkland residents working in economic and community development identified the need to gather rural entrepreneurs together for learning and networking.
This year people from across Manitoba registered for the sold-out conference; rural business owners sat around circular tables and several high school students from Gilbert Plains, participants in the youth entrepreneur contest, lined the back walls of the room.
Jones spoke about how she overcame numerous obstacles on her way to the Sochi Olympics last year — from kidney stones at the 2005 Halifax Olympic trials to an unexpected pregnancy and a surgery on her knee ligaments without anesthesia or pain medication — while deflecting naysayers.
One of her sponsors stuck with her through her surgery, but pulled their support once they learned she was pregnant.
Her response? “You watch me. Just because I’m a mom does not mean I can’t be an Olympian.”
Jones and other speakers advised budding entrepreneurs to pursue their passion with the same unflappable faith in their abilities that allows children to dream about playing in the Stanley Cup. “As adults we lose that dream, that spark, that fire.
“If you’re going to chase that dream, that passion you have to light that fire and believe the sky is the limit.”
Andrea Gorda, a small business owner from Inglis, Manitoba, agrees. She’s hesitant to dish out advice, since she believes everyone’s experience and talents are different. But she encourages people to make that their strength.
“Find out what’s working for you, what you want to change and, even if it scares you, you have to do it. Obviously don’t take crazy financial risks without doing your homework. But do your homework and be willing to take a risk.”
Gorda is a commercial and lifestyle photographer with a burgeoning side business. She started making handcrafted body-care items, as a new mom several years ago, initially for her family. She wanted to know what she was putting on her children. And she needed to find something, besides housework, that she could talk about with others.
“People don’t want to talk about doing laundry,” she laughed.
What started as a hobby has since evolved into a small business. She sells her products at various stores throughout Dauphin, Inglis, Russell, and Roblin. Her products will soon be available online.
Lisa Dyck, who owns Cornell Crème, an ice-cream company, likens being an entrepreneur to being a warrior.
“You wake up every day like you’re going into battle,” she said. “I don’t mean to be dramatic, but some days it feels that way. Every day you’ve got to get up to do this whether or not you’re feeling good.”
She also initially made the product for her family and since they enjoyed it so much, she decided to expand.
Some people were skeptical local ice cream could be successful with a big corporate ice-cream company so close by. But when the Lucerne factory in Winnipeg closed and moved to Edmonton, she knew this was her opportunity.
The rich, creamy ice cream flew off the shelves, and this year Dyck has been recognized for her achievements. Ciao! Winnipeg Magazine awarded her producer of the year and she won a Golden Carrot award.
She attributes her success to the support of her family and group of friends.
“I pull from that strength and rely on it. Then I can go out into the world and face the rest that I have to face in my day.”
Jones echoed this in her talk later in the day. After a couple of tough losses at two consecutive Olympic trials the team made some difficult, very public decisions, including the choice to let a teammate go. Jones stepped up to a leadership role on the team and felt they were missing the passion for curling they once had.
So they invited Kaitlin Lawes, on to the team, who was in her early 20s.
“She was so excited to see everything for the very first time and we saw everything new through her eyes.”
The rink swept through the Sochi Olympics to win gold, becoming the first women’s curling team to go undefeated in an Olympic competition. Jones said they would never have achieved their goal if they had let others define them.
“So many people told me that there was no way I could be a lawyer and a successful curler. But I think I’ve done that. I stand here as a mom, a gold medalist Olympian and a lawyer. And we did it.”
She raised a clenched fist in the air.