Chantal Van Landeghem & Michelle Sawatzky-Koop

Interviews conducted by Dr. Adrienne Leslie-Toogood


Chantal Van Landeghem, Swimming

What are a few accomplishments that you are most proud of and why?

With regards to my athletic career, I’m most proud of winning a bronze medal at the 2016 Olympics in the 4×100 freestyle relay. That moment meant so much to me, and it was made even more special by getting to share it with my three teammates. We shocked the world, but we didn’t surprise ourselves. The grit and determination we showed as a team throughout the year to get to that point made that moment unforgettable and I will cherish it forever.Outside of sports, I’m very proud of getting accepted into the University of Manitoba to get my PhD in Clinical Psychology. Academics and life outside of sport has always been very important to me, so to be able to pursue this passion is incredible.

What is the book or books that you have given most as a gift and why? Or what are one to three books that have greatly influenced your life?

Grit. The Power of Passion and Perseverance by Angela Duckworth. An amazing book and read that encourages you to reflect on success and failure. For me, one of the key takeaways was finding something that gives you purpose. If you have purpose, you’re better equipped to handle the inevitable challenges that life throws your way.

How has a failure or apparent failure, set you up for later success? Do you have a favourite failure of yours?

Failing to make the Olympic Team in 2012 by 0.01 seconds is probably my ultimate sport failure. That moment was utterly heartbreaking. But, I truly learned so much from it and I believe it has allowed me to be a stronger competitor and human being. Failure is life’s greatest teacher, and I learned everything I could from that experience.

If you could have a gigantic billboard anywhere with anything on it – metaphorically speaking, getting a message out to millions or billions – what would it say and why?

Enjoy the Moment. It’s fairly simple, but for me it’s a reminder to be present and to be in the here and now. I often find myself getting in my own head and forgetting to appreciate the moment for what it’s worth. It can be the little things, like the sun shining, or the big things, like walking into the stadium to compete at the Olympics. Now, more than ever, I find living in the moment to be so precious and crucial to my happiness and mental well-being.

In the last five years, what new belief or behaviour or habit has most improved your life?

The belief that it’s ok to feel “negative” emotions. Experiencing sadness, guilt, or anger does not make me a bad person; it makes me human. Having more acceptance and compassion towards myself when I’m feeling these emotions has allowed me to be more vulnerable in relationships and be more authentic to myself. The ironic thing is the more you allow yourself to feel these emotions, the quicker they usually last! But emotions demand to be felt, one way or another.

When you feel overwhelmed or unfocused, or have lost your focus temporarily, what do you do?

I bring myself back to the present. That can be noticing my thoughts, or looking for external environmental cues that I can see/hear to bring me into the present moment. The big key for me is to approach this process with openness, curiosity, and non-judgment.

COVID-19 has changed us and our world. What have you learned about yourself during this “Great Pause”?

This time has reinforced that my body and mind frequently need a “pause.” I find that my schooling coupled with my personality makes it quite easy to go, go, go without giving myself the chance to recuperate. This has been that chance to pause, breathe, and reflect. Although it has been absolutely challenging to adjust to, it is also that reminder for myself to take breaks. I’ve also learned the importance of moving during this time for my mental health. The times when I feel unmotivated and don’t want to get out of bed is the perfect time to get outside and move!

What advice would you give to your younger self?

Have confidence in the process. Enjoy the moment. Open up to others when you’re struggling! You don’t have to stay positive all the time.


Michelle Sawatsky-Koop, Volleyball

What are a few accomplishments that you are most proud of and why?

As far as accomplishments go – I suppose high on the list would have to be that I had the honour of representing Canada at the Olympic Games… and that we won that final match we played against Peru. It struck me recently that no other setter in the history of women’s volleyball in all of Canada has ever even won a game at the Olympics – never mind a match….  I cherish that memory but mostly how hard it was to get to it.

Our first High School Provincial championship as a player – when I was in Grade 11. I had the most amazing coach. She came to Steinbach after playing volleyball at the U of M. She was hard on us and she knew what it took to win. We truly won together. It was the first huge win that I had been a part of and that memory will never even dim in comparison to the Olympics.

I think I also feel really good about playing a varsity sport AND completing my Piano Performance degree at University. Another thing I was told I’d never be able to do. They said both disciplines required too much time to do them at the same time…

I am also very proud of coaching a rural group of boys to 13U and 14U Club Provincial championships, also to a Manitoba Games gold medal, and a 15U boys’ team to a National Bronze medal… and then, a JV Boys’ team to the Provincial championship. Just coaching on the boys’ side was a source of pride for me – but also a source of so much joy! To learn the differences between the men’s and women’s game and embrace it. To have been so respected by my fellow coaches… almost exclusively men… I’m proud of all of us for how we accepted each other and actually worked together for the good of men’s club volleyball in this province.

Proud that my boys still love me after having coached them for a long, long time. I’m more proud of THEM for putting up with it. I know it wasn’t always easy for them – especially being their mom – you know, the one that’s just supposed to listen to you after a competition… and let you vent… that was hard for them – but we loved each other through it.. and I SO appreciated their respect.

What is the book or books that you have given most as a gift and why? Or what are one to three books that have greatly influenced your life?

To be perfectly honest… I’ve never been big on reading a lot of books. I’m thinking the balance of school, music and volleyball kept me busy from early morning… to… honestly, early morning – I LOVE quotes… I’m not sure there’s a particular book that I like more than others.

Honestly, having read to countless schools during “I Love to Read Month”… a book I WOULD give as a gift would be Dr. Suess’s “Oh the Places You’ll Go”. A simple message… it encourages us all to find the success within us. Love that.

How has a failure or apparent failure, set you up for later success? Do you have a favourite failure of yours?

My all-time favourite failures might have to be getting cut from the Grade 9 Provincial volleyball team, the Grade 10 Provincial volleyball team and the Grade 11 Provincial volleyball team… yep… all 3. Then, thanks to both setters quitting – actually being called back. Those failures created in me the knowledge that I was never going to be taller or FAR better than anyone else. I was never going to just be able to “show up” and succeed. I learned in that time that life in volleyball was never going to be fair for me. But it forced me to decide to do something with what I had… my heart and my head. That’s all I had.

Another apparent failure is a very recent one. It’s not my favourite… yet… it’s a little too fresh – still hurts a little – well, sometimes a lot. We went into the AAAA Provincial Boys’ Volleyball championships ranked #1. Plenty of women were cheering me on. Smaller town folks were thrilled. We had just beaten the eventual champions, Dakota, a week before, in our league final… and we met again in the Provincial semi-final. It was a highlight match… and they showed up… and we… did not. Well, some of us did… but it wasn’t close to enough… I think I’ve already figured out things I would do different next time… things I would do better… but I am also slowly getting my head around the fact that I can not take all of the blame. I didn’t set one ball in that match – I stood on the sidelines and watched… as head coach… and in front of many hopeful and expectant people… took a big fall. 3 straight. It wasn’t really even close.

I know one thing… that that particular failure is already setting me up for success in my future coaching… I’m not sure when or where or even in what… but when it happens – I know that I’ll know… and somehow I’ll be glad for those tears I cried.

If you could have a gigantic billboard anywhere with anything on it – metaphorically speaking, getting a message out to millions or billions – what would it say and why?

I think my billboard would say: NEVER EVER GIVE UP.

Or maybe, IT’S ALWAYS COOL TO BE KIND.

How about, THERE’S ALWAYS SOMEONE, SOMEWHERE DOING MORE THAN YOU… SO DO A LITTLE BIT MORE

OK, one more, WHY NOT ME? That might be Jennifer Botterill’s billboard – but I love it so much – I’d ask her if I could borrow it.

THERE IS MY FAVOURITE QUOTE OF ALL-TIME!! And I am a lover of quotes and MANY would be in the running:

“Nothing in this world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not: nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent. Genius will not: unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not: The world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent.” – Calvin Coolidge

In the last five years, what new belief or behaviour or habit has most improved your life?

You don’t just have to do all or nothing.
Don’t be quite so hard on yourself. It’s changed my life in terms of how I view myself in fitness and nutrition. Seriously, from the extreme personality it takes to be an Olympic athlete, to suddenly, trying to be normal, it’s hard. When no one really expects you to be excellent… how do you still strive for it? I have worked at eating well and exercising but there have been seasons in my life when I’ve been particularly horrible at it… inconsistent… and that works less and less the older you get.So… in particular, in the last 5 years, I have tried to take it day by day… and when seasons get busy – and I am spending far more time on the fitness of the athletes I’m coaching than on myself… the more serious I get about what I’m putting into my body – and then, I can balance that with getting more active again in the “off-season”… you know? That has been life changing for me… in being able to maintain at least some kind of consistent levels of success.

I believe that in the last 5 years my coaching style has also changed considerably. It has improved my life in that now, I believe I can coach for much longer and help young volleyball players for years to come. I cannot BE their energy, focus, motivation and intensity – I need to TEACH them to embrace their OWN energy, focus, motivation and intensity – even though it doesn’t look exactly like mine. I cannot carry them… but I must teach them how to walk on their own… to learn their own lessons and thrive on the court on THEIR strength.

What are bad recommendations you hear in your profession or area of expertise?

Honestly, in this day and age, I often hear the “recommendation” that you cannot challenge young people like they used to. I often hear that young athletes are ALL entitled. I would recommend that we cannot treat young people the way we were treated back in the day but you can ABSOLUTELY still expect and challenge young athletes. In fact, when you do, and you tell them the REASONS that you are pushing them to be their best – they will embrace it just as we did… and have the strength to find their limit and just keep pushing it!

When you feel overwhelmed or unfocused, or have lost your focus temporarily, what do you do?

I talk to myself a lot!
When I have felt overwhelmed… it’s often been because I’ve said “yes” to too much… and I simply break things down and ask myself to prioritize what I need to do… and then, I just get one thing done at a time… and I ask myself, “Who am I doing it for?” And whether it’s for my athletes, my music students, my family or my community, that just keeps me going. I also know that when I’m feeling this way – it doesn’t last forever… I just have to drive myself through that feeling… NOT trying to get everything done at once… and as I check things off my list… the load gets lighter and the sense of accomplishment and the knowledge that I’ve lightened someone else’s load just keeps me going!

COVID-19 has changed us and our world. What have you learned about yourself during this “Great Pause”?

I have learned that I truly love people. I am truly a social being.

I have learned that even though you’ve lost something REALLY important to you because of COVID-19, there’s always someone who has lost more. I have 2 boys in their Grad year this year. Twins. That’s it. That’s all. There are others who have lost more.

I have learned that no matter how strong I always try to be… I am really sad sometimes.

I have learned that sometimes we hurt for others because we know WE would be hurting if we were them… like being a mom – which has the ability to rip your heart out for your kids… even when theirs aren’t breaking as much themselves.

I have learned that all of the good I try so hard to pour into others… I need to make sure that I make TIME to pour it into the people I love the most… my family… even if sometimes, they seem to be the least receptive to it.

I’ve learned that I CAN learn how to turn on Netflix. I’ve even learned that I’m not “above” watching multiple episodes of an old sitcom because it just feels good to watch something that really doesn’t matter.

I’ve learned that I can actually cook a bit when I have a bit more time.

I’ve learned that I don’t ever WANT to live a life “online”… I want personal interaction… I need it… talking face to face is still the very best way for me to be.

What advice would you give to your younger self?

Keep believing that anything is possible.

Always be the best you can be and then, you don’t have to worry about being better than anyone else.

In your life, strive less to be known by more people and strive more to truly be “known” by those in your circle(s).

Don’t wait for life to be perfect… or figured out… or just the way you wanted it… you see, YOU’D have to be perfect, and have it all figured out for that to happen…. And you never will be.

Let people love you for you… don’t apologize to them for it.

Never forget to look in the mirror… when you think someone around you should change for the better, imagine all the changes they have figured out for you.

Remember, the choices you make are YOURS and yours alone! If you have made the wrong choice, have the courage to change it… and in that same breath, before you go and abandon it all… do everything in your power to MAKE it the right one.

Finally, you can’t always have everything you want. That’s good. It keeps us striving for more. It teaches us that we can survive even if we have to “go without”. I think it shows us that there are a lot of wonderful ways to be and different paths to choose in life… and if we celebrate others on those paths and with those things… we too can find joy in them… even if they’re not ours.


CHANTAL & MICHELLE’S CHAT WITH THE TERRIFIC TUESDAYS COMMUNITY – June 9, 2020