Greg Kilroy started his ski season as an average 20 year-old university skier in Thunder Bay, Ontario. He trained hard, focused on school, and rooted for Devon Kershaw and Alex Harvey on the World Cup. But by April, the hard-working athlete from a small town in Northern Ontario found himself in a much bigger role – a seat on the Cross Country Canada (CCC) Board of Directors as the new Athlete Director.
Kilroy came into the position in a round-about way – earlier this year, the second-year Lakehead University student set up a Twitter account to stay in touch with skiing, and one of the personalities he began following was then-CCC Athlete Director Tasha Betcherman. In the beginning of March, Kilroy saw a posting asking for nominations for the position of Athlete Director, but didn’t think anything of it.
That is, until he received an email from Betcherman, again asking for candidates, because no one had applied for the position. On a whim, Kilroy responded, and quickly found out that the position was something he was interested in pursuing.
Known in his home province of Ontario as an outgoing and enthusiastic personality, Kilroy started his campaign to be elected with an aggressive social media marketing push to get his name known to those outside of Ontario. Using Twitter and Facebook, he targeted training center, club, and university athletes, getting his name out, and repeatedly pushing for athletes to get involved themselves.
In selecting Kilroy, the athletes have gone a little bit off the board. At just 20 years old from the small town of Powassin, Ontario, and a university student, Kilroy is a departure from the veteran athletes who have taken on the position in the past, such as Betcherman and Mike Argue. He is not a member of a development center, or the Canadian National Ski Team (CNST), and Kilroy freely admits he has a limited national profile.
But he considers this relative anonymity an advantage.
“For me it means I don’t have as much bias,” he said in a recent interview with FasterSkier.
“I didn’t even apply to a training center this year. When I go to these selection processes, I don’t know a lot of the athletes personally, so I will support the best athletes and the most deserving athletes.”
However, Kilroy admits there is still plenty to learn. Specifically, he has some reading to catch up on.
“I’m already familiar with the training center guidelines,” he said. “But things like ‘What are the rules for World Cup selection’ – it’s all of the technical rules that I’m busy familiarizing myself with.”
At the recent Canadian National Championships, the athlete meeting – which included Kilroy’s election to Athlete Director – turned out a total of 64 people, which despite the small number, was a record. And for Kilroy, athlete attendance and input is the area that needs the most improvement.
“That’s disappointing for me [the turnout at the meeting],” he said. “Especially because there were hundreds of athletes at Nationals, it was one of the biggest National Championships ever.”
In the past, there have been concerns about athletes failing to have their voices heard, and gap which Kilroy primarily chalks up to a lack of communication.
“Communication goes both ways,” he said. “I’m going to do my best to have my ear to the ground, but if it’s not going to be broadcasted, then I might not hear it – I need athletes to express their opinions.”
He has already begun to field concerns, and hopes to take action on a few matters.
First and foremost this season has been the discussion surrounding the mini-tours. Kilroy heard many points of view at the athlete meeting at the National Championships.
“On the whole people enjoyed them,” said Kilroy, “but it was felt there were too many and too close together.”
Similarly, Kilroy said the race calendar was another issue, as the three mini-tours fell on consecutive weekends, and forced athletes to travel across the country twice in quick succession if they wanted to compete at the highest level in the country.
The other big issue Kilroy has been receiving feedback on is World Cup start spots.
“It seems that whenever there is an empty spot on the World Cup, there is an outcry of ‘how could that have happened?’ from athletes,” said Kilroy. “I have to become familiar with the guidelines so that when I’m in these meetings, I can make sure we’re doing the right thing, and then be able to clearly communicate decisions to the athletes involved.”
And that is where his social media strategy again comes into play – Kilroy has tried to make it easy for athletes to contact him and vice versa. He has already created a new Twitter account (@AthleteRep2) as well as a new Facebook account (AthleteRep Skier).
But will Kilroy actually have the power to affect change?
According to Kilroy, who has had plenty of discussion with Betcherman and other members of the board, the position carries significant weight. His input is taken quite seriously by the CCC Board of Directors – Tom McCarthy, the founder of the Athlete Director position on the board, is the son of current CCC President Jim McCarthy.
Kilroy said he had already been in contact with Jim McCarthy, who impressed upon him the importance of the position.
He has full voting capacity on the Board of Directors, and a seat on the High Performance Committee as well.
While the position is volunteer, it puts large demands on Kilroy’s time. He is locked in for two terms, and is starting to rack up the frequent flyer miles.
He will travel to Canmore, Alberta, for just over a week in April for a series of meetings, and in June will head to Quebec City, Quebec, for the CCC Annual General Meeting. He also has another round of face to face meetings in late August and expects to participate in conference calls about once a month.
For now, Kilroy isn’t on track to represent the country internationally – at least not quite yet.
“I’m not too worried about being personally involved in the World Cup selection process,” he said, “I’m still struggling to make the top 30 in a NorAm.”
Kilroy is skiing for Lakehead University, working his way through an undergraduate degree in Biology, and after he graduates he hopes to be in a position to ski full time.
“Skiing is a lifelong sport,” he said. “I’m always going to have that ability to call up buddies and ask if they want to go for a run or ski.”