fitness · interview

Full Heart Fitness at 50: The FIFI bloggers interview Canada’s Ultimate Challenge athlete Lori Campbell

ABOUT LORI CAMPBELL: Lori Campbell is an associate vice president of Indigenous engagement at the University of Regina. A member at Montreal Lake First Nations, she is a survivor of the sixties scoop and has successfully reunited with her birth mother and six of her living siblings who were also adopted out across several provinces. “As an Indigenous TwoSpirit woman I don’t see myself represented in many public spaces and roles. I often have young TwoSpirit people reach out to me because they are struggling and I know how lonely it can feel without role models. Sometimes you just have to step up and be what you can’t see – so that others will hopefully struggle just a little bit less.”

As a 50-year-old woman who works in an office job, Lori stays fit to maintain good mental health. She brings stamina and maturity to the competition, “I just dug deep and thought about all the pain and violence my ancestors went through and thought I can do anything,” she says, ” I didn’t want any Indigenous person to feel like they weren’t good enough!”

We notice that like Sam and Tracy with our “fittest by 50” challenge that you took this challenge on during the year of your 50th birthday? Not a coincidence, right? What’s the significance for you in turning 50?

Well, I had decided that in my 50th year I wanted to do a stronger push to be more fit again. I had maybe just let things slide a little bit partly because I was just getting older and partly because of getting caught up with my career and balancing time. Anyway, I decided that I wanted to not let age or career be a barrier and that I wanted to be “fit at 50”. What I didn’t set out to do was to be cast for Canada’s Ultimate Challenge. That part just happened to coincide with my 50th year and then, how could I say no, after I had already committed to being fit at 50 and reaching new goals!

I feel that sometimes people let their age get in the way of taking opportunities to age well. I see far too many people decide that they are too old to do something, rather than actually being in a position of where there are severe physical limitations to do something. I want to age well, keep my body healthy, and continue to reach new physical goals.

You’re also like us, a university administrator. Does your academic life influence your identity as an athlete at all? How about the other way around?

My academic world has come full circle! I started playing basketball here at the University of Regina with the Cougars in my first year of university. I often say sport was my gateway to university. I wasn’t really interested in furthering my education, but I sure liked playing basketball – and in order to keep playing – I had to come to school. Having a team like that helped me build a community and supported success in university. Eventually, I started realizing how exciting university was and how many amazing things there were to learn – and the rest is history!

Did you have a specific training program before the show?

I did not have a specific training program before the show. When covid hit and the gyms shut down, I started running again and, like many others, accumulated fitness equipment in my home gym. I was just casually working out and running to help pass the time, keep my mental health strong, and working towards new fitness goals. I kept thinking, they won’t pick me for the show. I’m old. I thought I was a bit above average in fitness for my age category, but still, I haven’t competed at anything fitness related in a couple decades! And with age, comes a longer history of injuries, slower recovery, etc. I found out I made it on the show 10 weeks before we had to start. I knew enough to know that I needed to relearn some of the skills that support mobility, agility and movement technique and a friend referred me to a local fitness club called Flux Movement, with Darci Anderson. That was a lifesaver! Darci’s work is all about fitness longevity, body mechanics, and moving well. She even has parkour classes which I started right away because I was sure that training was going to be helpful! Those 10 weeks at Flux helped me build some confidence, advance some skills and my fitness, and reminded me that I could still do some things that I hadn’t tried in decades, like climb a rope to the ceiling!

Did you employ relaxation exercises during the challenge?

Relaxation was very difficult during the challenge. There were a lot of “unknowns”. For example, where we were going or what the challenges were going to be. That made relaxation difficult but also so necessary. I had a specific play list that I used throughout. It was full of empowering songs by artists like Allison Russell, Tracy Chapman, Buffy Sainte-Marie and Fawn Wood. That women on my playlist were my rock!

Was there a part of the challenge that you didn’t expect to be hard, but stood out as a potential obstacle?

There were so many amazing and inspiring athletes on the show and I knew that the best of others would sometimes be better than my best. We all had our own physical and mental strengths and weaknesses. Many of the competitors make their living in the fitness industry – I sit at a desk. I knew that I have very strong mental stamina, but I also knew that I have physical weaknesses that others had strengths in. For example, I couldn’t even come close to doing a chin-up when I went on the show, but now, I am almost there. Others could do one arm chin ups! That was where the beauty of “team” came into play. Where I lacked others were strong and vice versa.

What was your favourite aspect of the challenge?

I think my favorite aspect was really getting to meet the other players. There were so many talented people, each bringing their own stories and skills. Because I was old, I felt like I “auntied” a lot, and I really love that several call me auntie now!

How do you understand fitness within the context of your Indigenous culture and worldview as a member of the Montreal Lake Cree Nation?

Health inequalities have affected Indigenous peoples since European contact. Social determinants of health have harmed us deeply – everything from political assimilation policies and violence, to religion, environmental racism, and lack of access to food sovereignty. To be a healthy, mature Indigenous woman, Two Spirit woman, is an act of resistance – and act of refusal – and it takes so much work. I am grateful to have so many around me who support me.

When I was young, I never saw myself represented and so many Indigenous youth today still, don’t dream. It is difficult to dream to be what you can’t see. I remember that. And, so I decided that I can try to be what I couldn’t see and maybe, it will provide inspiration for an Indigenous Two-Spirit youth to dream.

What might settlers get wrong about how they might think about Indigenous athletes?

There are still a lot of people who believe in the myth of meritocracy and feel that Indigenous peoples need to “just get over it”, “pull themselves up by their bootstraps” attitude. What I wish more people would recognize is that what they see are the symptoms of the ongoing impact of colonization. It is difficult to strive to be an athlete when you have never had clean drinking water or access to a gym or proper nutritious food. It is difficult to strive to be a strong athlete when you are simply struggling to have basic survival needs met.

Do you identify as a feminist and if so, how does that influence your approach to competitive, athletic activity?

For a while I felt like feminism was something that belonged to white women, to the colonizer, and that through a colonized lens I could try to find my feminist Indigeneity. However, in doing so it felt like I was trying to take on a “philosophy” or ‘way of being” that did not belong to me. I tried many times to look through the eyes of the white woman to take up feminism for the good of women but I couldn’t make it work.

But now, yes, I am a feminist. I am an Indigenous Two Spirit feminist. My feminism originates from, and exists outside of the influence of the white feminism that originated in the late 19th century. It is from the learning through my ancestors and the practicing of our ceremonies. It is from knowing who I am and living my life in a good way. I centre my Indigeneity as a Two-Spirit nēhiyaw āpihtākosisān iskwew from mōniyawi-sākahikanihk, Treaty 6 territory – not as an act of decentering white or colonial feminism but as an act of refusing whiteness or colonialism as the normative default from which all else is borne. This is my expression of Indigenous feminism.

Trailer for Canada’s Ultimate Challenge

Canada’s Ultimate Challenge (8×60) is the only competition reality series that turns the entire country into a giant obstacle course. Showcasing iconic locations in British Columbia, Alberta, Yukon, Ontario, Quebec, and the Confederation Bridge between New Brunswick and PEI, six teams of four are coached by Olympians Donovan Bailey, Waneek Horn-Miller, Clara HughesGilmore Junio, Jen Kish, and NFL Super Bowl champion Luke Willson through gruelling physical and mental challenges. Twenty-four Players compete in solo, tandem, and team challenges, pushing themselves to the limit. All the action is anchored by snowboarder and sports analyst Craig McMorris and sports broadcaster Nikki Reyes. CANADA’S ULTIMATE CHALLENGE debuts Thursday, February 16 at 8 p.m. (8:30 NT) on CBC TV and CBC Gem.