For Ontario short track speed skater Isla Mason, her dedication on the ice is only matched by her passion for speaking on girls’ equity in sports. This articulate, talented, and intelligent seventh grader from Hamilton recently brought home third prize in the Speaker’s Idol 2022 national public speaking competition hosted by the Simon Wiesenthal Foundation.
Isla chose to speak about the issue of girls’ equity in sports, and how she believes this is an issue that deserves attention. She was inspired by a quote from Simon Wiesenthal: ‘Information is resistance.’ It resonated with her. “I think it means that the information you give out can make a big change in the world,” said Isla.
Interestingly, Isla comes from a sport where gender equity is already built in from the start. In speed skating, male and female athletes train together, and even, until a certain age, race together.
Being a gender equity champion was one thing, but public speaking was something else and, at first, Isla didn’t want to do it.
It was her homeroom teacher Sherri Burgess-Hertner who suggested to Isla that she would do well at public speaking and should enter the competition. Ms. Burgess-Hertner ensured Isla had the support she needed including practicing in front of her classmates. At the rink, she had always had the support of her coach, Mike Murray, who encouraged Isla to believe that she could skate just as fast as the boys with whom she trained. This lack of double standard in her initiation into speed skating was important in setting Isla up for success and helping to dispel the flawed ideology that female athletes are not as strong, fast, or smart as male athletes. Not all girls were this lucky.
Isla wrote the three-minute speech that was required and sent it in to the contest back in February, along with 250 other hopefuls. She was thrilled when she heard back about making the next round. From there, when Isla competed in the quarter, semi, and final rounds, she wore her speed skating skin suit and carried her skates as part of her presentation.
It's fitting because her sport is one of the things that fuels her passion. She mentions speed skating idol Kim Boutin as an example of female strength, success, and dedication. It was exhilarating for Isla when she got the chance to meet Kim at a competition and then tell her about the speech and that Boutin was in it.
For the Finals which can be seen on YouTube HERE (Isla starts at the 26-minute mark) you can’t help but notice the enthusiasm of her classmates in the background. Keeley Combs, a school friend would listen to Isla as she would practice her speech on the bus and her teacher had her read it in front of the class as preparation.
Preparation is something that Isla knows about with speed skating and there were parallels in preparing for Speaker’s Idol 2022. “They are kind of the same you have to practice and train for it,” Isla continued, “it’s not that big of a difference. You need to be smart. You need to be focused. You need to train well, and you need to be confident.” Clearly a recipe for success.
Isla believes in the lessons that short track has taught her:
You don’t always get the things you want in the sport that you do and that’s important because you have to keep trying and if you fall down you have to persevere, get back up and keep going.
Teamwork and how you always have people around you who support you. They are all super supportive and they can motivate you to keep going.
Be kind and humble to the people that you are skating with. Wish them good luck on the race. Say ‘good job’ at the end. Be known as the person who always made time for someone.
If Isla could change things to promote more girls in sport, this is how she would do it: “I would try and get more girls interested in sports and make it that being in any sport is good. It’s cool to do sports and it’s a way I have made all of my friends. It would be great to see funding and money to make it easier for people to join sports.”
In an email, her proud parents, Amy and Will Mason, ‘wanted to acknowledge the role that speed skating, (our close speed skating family and our greater speed skating community) has played in providing opportunities, and supporting the development of this strong, smart girl (and all of those like her).’
And for those who aren’t like Isla, now you have an example of who to follow.
Isla Mason for the win – at life.