Chandra Crawford knows a thing or two about headspace, and as she smiled at the program director for the University of Calgary’s Executive MBA (Master of Business Administration) program as the they reviewed admission requirements, the director told her she’s never met anyone so excited to take the GMAT (Graduated Management Admission Test).
Born and raised in nearby Canmore, Alberta, Crawford, now 30, finished high school 14 years ago and catapulted into competitive nordic racing. Before that as a junior, she had been a biathlete for five years, but by age 22, she was known on the world scope as one of the most promising cross-country sprinters — a surprise gold medalist in the skate sprint at the 2006 Torino Olympics.
That moment changed her life forever, defining her career and who she was as a skier.
Crawford put off education in pursuit of loftier goals in skiing — but after a gold medal, where does one go from there? She went on to win her first World Cup gold in Canmore in 2008 and repeated the feat two months later at a World Cup sprint in Lahti, Finland. She competed at two more Olympics in Vancouver in 2010 and most recently in Sochi, Russia.
In her blog, Crawford recalled her former teammates and Canada’s gold and silver medalists, Beckie Scott and Sara Renner, saying it would take “ten years to get good.” That kind of commitment is was kept Crawford onboard through the Sochi Games, after she opted to train apart from the national team last spring and spent much of last season playing catchup.
Gold medals six years ago weren’t enough to secure her international starts this past season without first proving herself, and Crawford went through the process just as any Canadian not on the World Cup Team would — by giving it all she had at trials. In January at the Canadian Olympic trials in Canmore, Crawford won the freestyle sprint to earn her trip to Sochi. She had previously raced two World Cup sprints in December in Davos, Switzerland, and Asiago, Italy, placing 43rd and 45th, respectively.
Back on the World Cup in February in Toblach, Italy, she finished 34th in the freestyle sprint, just shy of the top 30 needed to make the sprint rounds. Crawford went on to race one event at the Olympics — the skate sprint — where she placed 44th.
“Looking back on it now, it seems like things never really came around physically,” she said on the phone from Canmore in late April. “How much I had burned out from my tough years — I didn’t really have the time to recover from it.”
Two seasons ago in February 2013, Crawford had put racing on hold after the pre-Olympic World Cup in Sochi — flying home to Canmore to recover before her last season-long Olympic push. She didn’t race again that 2012/2013 season, and resumed training last spring as a member of the newly formed Team Ninja, a band of four independent female racers in Canmore.
While she had always hoped for a comeback story, it didn’t come to fruition. Her energy levels went through highs and lows, something she attributed to thyroid and iron issues, which she explained as a direct result of overtraining.
“It’s not bad luck, it’s just what happens,” she said of her underactive thyroid, which doctors discovered last fall. “Your endocrine system just gets blown out.
“The energy was different at different points throughout the normal training and racing year, but I never really got going fast,” she explained. “I was always working hard, but I was never really [skiing] hard. I was maximizing other aspects, like am I doing everything I can technically? … I always came out that I’m going 10 out of 10 on the process. This normally works.”
Come spring, she was about ready to be finished altogether.
“I was on the fence if I would continue through Sochi or not,” Crawford said. “I redefined success into my own terms. That’s what enabled me to carry on and ski through Sochi. It was a great feeling, like the feeling you get from the last rep and last international race of a career — everything leading up to it was my last taper or my last World Cup…”
Crawford was optimistic at the Olympics, and she enjoyed what turned out to be the final race of her career while back with the national team.
“This year was amazing,” she said. “The less I needed from the team, the more I enjoyed it.”
“It was a great feeling, like the feeling you get from the last rep and last international race of a career — everything leading up to it was my last taper or my last World Cup…” — Chandra Crawford, on ending her racing career with the Sochi Olympics
Crawford spent the rest of the Olympics cheering on her younger sister, Rosanna, a Canadian biathlete in her second Olympics. There, Rosanna posted her Olympic best of 25th in the 7.5-kilometre sprint.
“Chandra has been one of the major factors in my career, watching her get her gold medal when I was 18 really helped motivate me to strive for the Olympics,” Rosanna, 25, wrote in an email. “It was always a dream of mine to go but once I saw her go and win it made me realize that if she can then I could too! She has always been my biggest fan and always rooting for me.”
The sisters recently spent two weeks wining, dining and biking in Provence, France, with Gold Medal Plates (GMP). The foundation auctions exotic destinations as a fundraiser for Own The Podium and to support “Canadian Excellence in cuisine, wine, the arts and athletic achievement,” according to its website. This marked the Crawford sisters’ second-straight trip overseas with GMP; last year they visited Tuscany, Italy. Chandra was on year No. 6 with the program.
“I feel so lucky to have such an awesome sister that’s taught me it’s ok to be strong and powerful and to follow your dreams,” Rosanna added. “Her work with Fast and Female has also motivated me to be a good role model and know that there are always people looking up to you.”
Nearly nine years ago, Crawford founded Fast and Female, a series of sports-based events designed to empower females ages 9 to 19, with the help of her teammates on the Canadian National Team in 2005. The concept took off and spread throughout the nation by 2007, at which point the program became a registered-nonprofit corporation with a board of directors. Crawford became president, overseeing the nonprofit’s mission and vision while focusing on her job as an athlete — which Fast and Female championed front and center.
It wasn’t long before the series caught on the U.S. and other countries overseas. According to Crawford, Fast and Female had 105 ambassadors in 24 sports as of April, and was on track for a record-smashing 3,000 participants this year.
“Fast and Female really took itself internationally,” she said, pointing out events in Sweden and Norway this past winter, and a presence in Australia. “We’re running with a lot of volunteer-based energy. We’re a really small team based here in Canada with how big we are.”
Looking forward, she’s like to make the series “more profound,” extending beyond sport experience to working together to “create solutions in the environment,” she said. “I just can’t say enough about the American program and how I learned from everything Kikkan [Randall] and [U.S. women’s coach] Matt Whitcomb and the American team create.”
Fast and Female celebrates its nine-year anniversary in November. While Crawford will remain president/founder, she’s going to spend the next two years learning how to be a better business leader and generate more revenue for her program moving forward.
That’s right, Crawford go into Calgary’s Haskayne School of Business, scoring a 540 on the GMAT “with about 25 hours studying math and by being a positive game-day performer,” she wrote in an email.
“It was so fun to wake up on test day with the exact feeling of a race morning: ‘Today is the day I get to do the thing I prepared for!’ she recalled. “ ‘Right on!’ ”
In addition to a score of at least 500, she needed 10 years of work experience to get in (without a university degree). Everything she learned with Fast and Female — from brand marketing to relationships — qualified, she explained.
“It’s going to be extremely challenging to do two years of business school, but I’m ready to get growing way out of my comfort zone and am at a great time in my life to invest in my skills through education,” she added.
“It was so fun to wake up on test day with the exact feeling of a race morning: ‘Today is the day I get to do the thing I prepared for! Right on!’ ”
Her goals with the program include becoming a better leader for Fast and Female and a more-effective motivational speaker for business groups, all while staying open to possibilities “because at least half of the amazing things in anyone’s life could not have been predicted,” she said.
“It’s great to see Chandra so excited about this next phase of her life,” her father, Glen Crawford, wrote in an email. “I think I can speak for both Louise & myself when I say, as a parent, our biggest priority was giving our 3 children the opportunity to experience many things. We started doing that really early on. I think it was a good move because it seems that with kids, by the age of about 5 or 6, they already know what they like and what they don’t like.”
The key was choosing activities they had fun with at an earlier age.
“The other thing that was key was raising our kids in Canmore,” Glen added. “I think Chandra & Rosanna are testament to the fact that if you build facilities, you will train Olympians. Without the ’88 Olympics and the Canmore Nordic Centre, I’m sure our girls would have still gone on to do great things, but it probably wouldn’t have been Nordic ski racing.”
The owner of his own media-production business, Glen made the following video for Chandra’s retirement party last month, which highlights some of the great moments he shared with her as a cameraman at many of her races.
Alex Kochon (firstname.lastname@example.org) is the former managing editor at FasterSkier. She spent seven years with FS from 2011-2018, and has been writing, editing, and skiing ever since. She's making a cameo in 2020.