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A look at barrier-busting female Gee-Gees coaches and athletes

Kristyn Filip | Fulcrum Staff

ON FRIDAY, AUG. 24, 17-year-old Erin DiMeglio became the first female quarterback in Florida high school history. DiMeglio is not the first female high schooler to play football in her state—records indicate 523 teenage female Floridians have donned football gear since 1973—but no other woman has ever held the prestigious position of decision-maker for her high school team. Although DiMeglio wasn’t able to play for more than a few minutes—the game was called off early due to heavy lightning in the area—her barrier-smashing time on the field got us thinking about some of our university’s own groundbreaking female athletes and coaches.

Take Suzanne Chaulk, for example.

If not for Chaulk’s tireless work and dedication to the sport, women’s rugby may very well not exist at the University of Ottawa. Chaulk, who is the head coach of the team, founded the program in 1991 and has brought her team to the playoffs every single year since.

Chaulk says the women playing rugby today at the U of O have a different mindset than the women who took to the field 20 years ago.

“When I first started this program, we had players. No disrespect for them, but they weren’t necessarily people that had that athletic focus. Now they are all athletes,” she said. “They all think like athletes, walk like athletes, and talk like athletes, so the things we do with them in the program now is far different. We used to pile in the car and go play—it was a lot like club rugby. Now there is very focused recovery and regeneration after every game. [The team is] very focused on their nutrition program, and it’s a very, very different game. It is a year of preparation to play six weeks of rugby.”

The players from 20 years ago have been replaced with athletes, but time hasn’t been able to break all of the barriers women experience in the world of rugby.

“[Women] still don’t get the coaching jobs, and it’s still a pay-to-play model for women at the national level, so there is still a lot of hurdles to go over,” said Chaulk.

Despite the remaining obstacles, Chaulk reports attitudes toward women’s rugby have changed for the better over time.

“We are seen as athletes. We are seen as top-level athletes playing competitively,” she said. “When the [men’s rugby team] watch us, they respect us.”

Chaulk isn’t the only woman who has done groundbreaking work for female Gee-Gee athletes. Nathalie Côté, part-time coach of the Gee-Gees cross-country and track and field teams, is the most accomplished individual-sport female athlete in U of O history. She is a seven-time Canadian Interuniversity Sport (CIS) champion and the only female athlete in CIS history to win three straight cross-country titles. Côté obtained bachelor degrees in political science and in education from the U of O in 1998 and 1999 respectively. She then went on to receive a masters of arts degree in political science from the University of Montana.

Most recently, Hannah Sunley-Paisley, who dominated the world of university women’s basketball with the Gees from 2007 until 2012, was named the CIS player of the year for women’s hoops. Sunley-Paisley is the first woman in Gee-Gees history to win a major CIS award for basketball, and she also became the first Ontario University Athletics east-division recipient of the Nan Copp Award—a player of the year award selected by the CIS Women’s Basketball Coaches Association—since 1996.