Thursday night Morning Show Co-Hosts Chris Sumner and Zack Driedger, along with Sports Director Clayton Dreger, were in Winnipeg to support and celebrate their long-time colleague Michelle Sawatzky-Koop who was officially inducted into the Manitoba Sports Hall of Fame.
Michelle’s stellar volleyball career was highlighted by being a member of the Senior Women’s National Team from 1993 to 1996. As the starting setter, she helped lead the team to a bronze medal at the 1995 Pan Am Games, and then helped Canada qualify for the 1996 Olympics. Her competitive playing career transitioned into becoming a passionate supporter and booster of the sport, as well as offering her talents as a coach.
Prior to last night’s induction, Chris chatted with Michelle, and you can find that below:
Morning Show Co-Host Chris Sumner: Michelle, obviously a very special night for you and your family. A very special night for all of us on the Morning Show, your induction into the Manitoba Sports Hall of Fame! How does it feel that you're here, that the night is actually here, and we're not just talking about it?
Michelle: Now it's here, you know, Chris, I don't know. You know, I don't even know, how I'm going to manage my emotions. Tonight, brings back so many things, and I think something about of this Hall of Fame thing is, it's all-encompassing of the career that you had in sport. But it can't help but overflow into the other areas of your life, and what my sport has all meant to me. I mean, I wouldn't be on the Morning Show if I didn't play volleyball. That's why they asked me to, because at the time in 1996 was when Golden West approached me, and said “Hey, a lot of people know who you are now thanks to volleyball, so why don't you come and spend the mornings with us?” It's overwhelming, and then when you think back to the reason that I made it, a lot of people have asked me that question, so how did you make it to the Olympics and all that? It was just like so much hard work, and it was so exhausting and there were so many days where I just was so mad that I was so short, and it was seemed so unfair, and got cut from teams. I think back, maybe because I'm over 50 now, it makes me tired to think about it, you know, but it also makes me emotional to think about how much I sacrificed. When you're in it, and when you love it enough, you just do it. But when you think back, it's like wow. There were a lot of things I didn't do because I played volleyball. 100% worth it, would do it again, but it wasn't always the easiest road to be recognized for. That was pretty cool.
Chris: Would you say that the word “perseverance” would be a top five word in describing your story and how you got here?
Michelle: Today, yeah, that's a great word and persistence. When I graduated from university, my coach put a quote on a plaque for me, and I don't remember it all exactly, but nothing takes the place of persistence. It says talent will not. Genius will not. Just being crazy persistent, and that's what I was with the help of all those coaches, to persevere through. Almost everyone who knew everything about the sport said this would never happen for me, and those people knew a lot about the game, you know? But I stuck around long enough, just long enough, to prove they needed me. I think I figured out early on, I think it was good for me, because I figured out early on I would never just fall into any team. I would always have to work harder than everybody else to do it, and I was OK with that, but I also knew how badly I needed all those other girls that were taller and bigger and better than me, and I just had to find a way to make them better when I was on the floor with them, to make coaches figure, “Well I guess we better keep her right there.”
Chris: Now, a lot of folks that have an elite level, or a high-level sporting career, it seems that maybe they kind of step back from that sport once they've reached the pinnacle of their career, or the end of their career. You made the conscious decision to remain involved in volleyball at the highest of levels. Why did you make that decision to continue being such a passionate booster for this sport and being involved as a coach?
Michelle: I think when I first stopped right after ‘96, I wanted to quit entirely, and I did for a short time, though only I bet. It was about a year or two, maybe not even that long. I came back because volleyball gave me so much. I think I came back, too, because I think it's so important for young women to see women stay in sport. I think it's important that I was granted this incredible opportunity, and in any story there's always moments where, whatever you want to call it, you can call it God, you can call it luck, you can call it fate. I like to think God had a purpose for my life, and that he said, “You know what? I'm gonna have you walk this journey at 5 foot 6 inches tall, so that later on you can tell other people that anything is possible.”. To be a female, a strong female in sport and in this world, and to carry that on, and now to convince coaches that have been coaching for a long time, and to convince players that either played for a long time, or are brand new to the sport that it matters who you are. That will make you excellent. You need to know who you are inside. Be confident in that, and only then will you realize your best, and I think we're figuring that out in sport a little bit more and more. The human inside that performance is really what creates incredible excellence. I think that's why I can't help but stay in it. I can't help but do that because that message needs to continue to be spread.
Chris: And we'll wrap up with this Michelle. For those still in the midst of trying to achieve their dreams, whether it's to make that hockey team, or to make their university club or to make Team Canada, what's your advice to them tonight as you stand here, getting ready to be inducted into the Manitoba Sports Hall of Fame?
Michelle: I would say take it one day at a time. Know what you can do. Don't try to control things you can't control. Don't try to make the team before you even step into the gym. Don't decide you haven't made the team, I was told I was never going to play international volleyball, and then I went to the tryout. It doesn't seem very smart. Take it one day at a time, and give everything you have. That's your success. So then if you make it or not, you've done all you can do, and you've left it all on the floor. I had lots of coaches say you leave it all on the floor, and you'll have no regrets and then be OK with who you are, not just what you achieved, because we're not all going to make the team when there's 12 spots, and only 12 people can have those spots. I consider myself so blessed to have been able to often get those spots on the teams, but it wasn't ever because I was a shoe in walking into the gym. I never was. You'd think, after three national championships, the national team coach would have been banging down my door, but he never was, because I was not blessed with a volleyball type body, so I would say never give up and love who you are first, and then go and jump both feet in. And you know what? if you don't make it, cry hard and that's OK.”