Olympic Medalist Sami Jo Small Shares the Secret of Teamwork

RTW was pleased to learn about teamwork from someone who has devoted herself to it in the pursuit of Olympic excellence.  As a winner of 2 gold medals and a silver one won representing Canada in women's hockey at three Olympic Games, Sami cultivated the habit of dedication to her sport at an age when some of us would barely be able to keep our elbows out of our breakfast cereal...
Sami Jo hails from Winnipeg where she began to learn to skate at the tender age of three. Watching her 6 year-old brother was an inspiration - she had to play hockey too! To the consternation of her parents, hockey for girls was unheard of, so they registered her as "Sam" on a boys' team since there were no specific rules against it. Sami Jo was so deep in the wonder of hockey that she didn't notice that there weren't many other girls playing until she was 8!
Eventually the "Get in the kitchen" rants of other hockey parents made an impression.  Sami Jo's coach deferred to her mother when she asked why someone would say that to her.  Her mother's response?  "Life is not fair".
Sami Jo's hockey career took a hiatus when she went to Stanford University in California to study mechanical engineering on a track and field scholarship.  During this period, women's hockey became an Olympic Sport, so upon graduation, Sami Jo resumed her love affair with hockey on the Canadian women's Olympic hockey team which competed in Nagano,  Japan in 1998.
The team won silver medals in those games, initially feeling like failures for not winning gold.  Cheering on other Canadian athletes helped them to reframe their perspective and restored a sense of pride but the negative press the team encountered on their return to Canada was discouraging.  They decided as a team to settle for nothing less than gold in the next Olympic Winter Games.
Between the silver medals won in Nagano, and the 2002 games played in Salt Lake City, USA, Sami Jo and her team trained intensively in Toronto and Calgary, winning 3 world championships.  The team went through many upheavals during their time in Calgary as the original roster of 30 players was cut by a third, but strong rapport among the players helped them win gold in Salt Lake City against an American team that had seemed to be a stronger contender.
The Salt Lake City Olympics were a time of mixed feelings for Sami Jo when decided to start with another goalie.  Her initial reaction was that she had somehow failed, but she soon realized she had a choice: to continue to feel like a failure, or to do her best to support and encourage her teammates.  She realized that whatever the outcome of the Games turned out to be, it was based on a team effort, not a personal one.
Sami Jo won a third Olympic medal at the Turin Olympics in 2006, another gold, but she never lost sight of the key lesson learned at Salt Lake City - you don't always get to choose your role, but you get to choose how you play it.
Since retiring from Olympic women's hockey, Sami Jo has gone on to co-found the Canadian Women's Hockey League (CWHL) where she is currently General Manager of the women's pro hockey team, the Toronto Furies.  Within the CWHL, Sami Jo has played for the Mississauga Chiefs as well as the Furies and has achieved great success as a star goaltender, winning the Clarkson Cup in 2014 and becoming the first women's hockey goalie to reach the 60 wins plateau.  Sami Jo is third woman to have won Winter Games gold, International Ice Hockey Federation gold and the Clarkson Cup.