Kim Chapdelaine is the current assistant coach for Trinity Western University’s varsity track and field team. While her main focus is helping Spartan student-athletes succeed on and off the track, she is no stranger to the rest of the sporting world. Her husband, Jacques Chapdelaine, is the interim head coach of the CFL’s Montreal Alouettes. Each of their children is involved in sport to some degree: Kaela, a former NCAA Division 1 baskeball player, lives in Seattle with her husband; Matthew, a former BC Lion, lives in California and is writing a book; and Justin, who originally signed with the Ottawa Red Blacks but is now a receiving coach with the University of Calgary Dinos. Their family revolves around sport, but faith is their foundation.
As she tells The Thread’s Katie Maryschuk: “God centers me. He’s our foundation. How we decide we’re going to impact people around us is how we are going to see God make change. That’s how I see it, that’s how my family sees it.”
Katie Maryschuk: Thanks for joining us today Kim. You were a highly competitive track and field athlete yourself, having joined the Canadian national team when you were just 14 years old. Do you come from a highly athletic household, or was that something you had to yourself?
Kim Chapdelaine: No, I would not say highly athletic. While my mom was top in the British Empire for high jump and hurdles, my dad was more of a sailor and fisherman type person. He was sporty, but no, I wouldn’t say I grew up in that kind of environment. You probably need to know that my parents got divorced when I was 11 years old, so my mom really funneled me towards track.
KM: Along those lines, Kim, would you say you were raised in a religious household as well, or, was religion part of your childhood and youth?
KC: You know what? We went to church every Sunday. In Calgary it was called Christ Church and I think it was actually more of a social event to go. I believe it was more tiered on the social side of things and not so much comprehending or understanding what you could have in a relationship with Jesus Christ. It wasn’t really upheld although my mother had a very high standard of how she wanted things to be run. She was brought up in an all-girls Catholic system so religion to her had been absolutely rammed down her throat. She had all of the structure in place but really did not want to push anything on us. So we went to church really not understanding why we were going.
KM: So your first national team experience was when you were 14. What was that like, being so young compared to other team members?
KC: I was very young compared to the other athletes. You have to grow up in an environment and learn how to mature very quickly, simply because you are dealing with athletes that are way older than yourself. I was put in some very difficult situations where you are either going to overcome or you’re not. I was highly competitive and I liked to win, so it was something that I was willing to overcome. It was also a lot of success in a very short period of time. Really, my career ended when I was 22 and you don’t actually peak until you’re about 27. So my career had been seven years of being on national teams and I think they just pushed me too hard at a young age. I couldn’t sustain. I ended up inevitably just long jumping on my last national team because I just couldn’t sustain. So, I grew up very fast because of that.
KM: You started as a hurdler, then switched to multi-events. What caused that? Was it because you were young and able to learn quickly?
KC: I was a sprinter and hurdler initially, and there was a large international meet with the number one Canadian heptathlete at the time, or rather pentathlete because heptathlon was not an event yet. She ended up hurting her back and while I was off competing in other events, they came and threw me into the competition. I had never thrown a shot put before and had never run an 800, but I ended up winning. At that point they started to direct me towards multi-events. In all honesty, I did not have a whole of say in that. I started to train with the woman who had hurt her back – Diane Jones-Konihowski – and we became training partners. When I was 18, she was 27 and we trained for the 1980 Olympics in New Zealand. I lived there for six months and competed, but again, I was very young.
KM: Moving from your youth and upbringing, what values did you want to take with you from our own childhood and what values are you content to leave behind when it comes to your own family?
KC: When your parents get divorced at age 11, it causes a lot of dysfunction. In my family, I have an older sister and a younger brother and my mom was working quite hard to sustain us. She took us kids and moved us out to a 350-acre horse ranch basically if I wasn’t training, I was riding horses and farming and making sure everything was taken care of.
She kept us busy, but again there was so much dysfunction. There was a lot of battling between the two parents and there was a lot of negativity. I didn’t talk to my dad for many years because of the sort of toxic environment he brought in. I needed to be in my own world and focus on what I needed to focus on. I was a very structured, disciplined individual and that comes from doing track.
So I cleaned the house every weekend, took care of the animals. My sister was very good academically, so she focused on the academic side of things. We just tried to help our mom because it was just struggle after struggle after struggle. In my family now, we really focus on that family component. We spend a lot of time, from the time they were little to now, implementing a sort of structure that breeds success: success in every way, but also where they are actually good people and where they are willing to give back.
I think that Jacques and I have really focused on making sure that we are always there for them; we always had dinner together, always asked them how their day was and always did everything together. Even to this day we do that. We sit down, pray before our meal and we will talk about our day. I think for me it was the core family values and making sure we had a very strong structure. Being in the CFL and in an environment which is very toxic, you become very protective of your family so you rely on each other quite a bit. It’s our little safety net.
KM: Tell us more about your family. Kaela is a teacher in Seattle, Matthew lives in California and Justin is in Calgary, correct?
KC: Yes. Let’s rewind a little bit for a second though. We always taught our kids that they needed to work extremely hard. Jacques and I had both been on scholarship in university. We weren’t going to pay for their school. We told them they were capable of getting an academic or athletic scholarship or a combination of the two. So, we really helped them in that regard. Their entire time throughout high school and university they never had to work, it was all focused on getting scholarships. All three did, all three played pro, and all three understood what it took to arrive at that point.
It was all based off of a very strong Christian foundation. From the time they were little, we surrounded them in an environment that was led through prayer and through understanding that God was going to lead us and guide us with the wisdom and grace to be the best we could possibly to. And if we failed, that was okay, because God was beside us walking right along with us. So that was something that was a strong structure in our family.
Now, Justin is at the University of Calgary coaching the Dinos. He is really doing great. His coaching is going exceedingly well. He has been hanging out with the Athletes in Action rep for U of C so we are really happy with the way he is directing himself.
Matthew is now in California. He has worked really hard to build up an income so that he can go out there and prepare for school and his wedding. He also has a degree in Psych and Counselling.
He is writing a book called “Engrained.” It’s about our family and how we grew up. It’s Christian-based, there are psych components to it, and I am very excited. The rough draft will be done in December and then we will look at it and have it edited.
Kaela is at Liberty school in Seattle and is a science teacher for grades 11 and 12. She also does adaptive academics for students with learning disabilities. She coaches basketball and track and has her daughter Amerie, who is my granddaughter and my pride and joy. All three of our kids thankfully are very strong Christians and understand that it’s not about them but about others and reaching out to build the Kingdom.
KM: With your family being so busy all of the time, how does God center you?
KC: In our lives, depending on where we are because we are all over the place, we know that coaching is really important. Sometimes we have to sacrifice certain things in order to do that. For me, it’s very hard not to see Jacques. Right now, I won’t see him for another month, but the impact I hope I am having on my athletes and my students is what really centers me.
One thing I learned over the summer is that, and I have known this for years, our youth is in calamity and chaos right now in the world. And our Christian foundation is cracking, it’s actually crumbling.
It hit me this summer because I had a lot of time on my own in Montreal, to reflect and pray and so forth. It struck me that the people at TWU, whether they are students or athletes, are actually going to be the mortar that will fill in those cracks. For me, it’s really great that I have the opportunity to coach them, but more importantly, these people are going to go out and they are going to impact our world. That’s the most important thing.
I think it’s great that you can go to a university like that, have great academic foundation and you can do sports but really these are the people, the missionaries that are going to go out and fill in that foundation. I am pumped and working towards seeing that come to fruition, more than our results in track and field or the fact that maybe you might be struggling academically. It’s just the spiritual impact that they’re going to have. So, God centers me in that way in basically saying that He’s our foundation and how we decide we’re going to impact people around us is how we are going to see God make change. That’s how I see, that’s how my family sees it.
KM: When you were hired as the assistant coach in the summer of 2015, you said you had always had an interest in coaching at a religious institution. Why is that? And what about TWU appealed to you?
KC: You can go and be a head coach somewhere else, and you can easily try to represent yourself in the best way possible where kids are going to be able to ask questions like, Why are you the way you are, or Why do you lead your program this way? You can have ethics and integrity. When you’re in a Christian school, I think there is a higher standard. Even higher than anticipated. I wanted to be able to watch the athletes that are Christian work with the athletes that are secular. I knew we would get a combination of the two. For me, I really wanted to participate in building the Kingdom.
You know whether you’re a Christian or not, you will struggle and you will fall. You’re going to trip. The infrastructure that TWU has in terms of support is remarkable. It’s like none other in Canada and the reason for being is the Complete Champion Approach. It’s almost like a Division 1 NCAA model.
If the athlete needs support, it starts from the spiritual development all the way through. That way, you get a well-rounded individual that is provided this awesome support, and we are inevitably going to send them off into the world and they will permeate our society with this model. I just wanted to participate in that and be a part of that. I have to say that in my first year here, I can’t even tell you how much I love being here and the fact that the chapel services, everything we do, permeates God’s grace. I love it!
KM: You have been the head coach at other institutions. As you mentioned, there is a higher standard. How do you think TWU compares to other institutions?
KC: You can’t really compare. We have a higher level of academics, smaller classes, it’s a private model. So with the results that you are going to get and the support, there is no way. Students can stumble and fall, but inevitably in the four or five years they are there, they will leave the place well-equipped. Unfortunately, in other universities I have been at, you’re just a number and you get lost in the system. So there isn’t really a structure in place for that.
Trinity decided that they will use this model and absorb the cost of that, whereas with the bigger universities it just isn’t possible. So really you see a lot of student-athletes that struggle and generally in the first year of university, out of maybe 20 recruits maybe six will continue on. The impact on them is unbelievable and they don’t have the support of the other athletes, there is no prayer, no study groups, no structure in place where you feel like you can turn to someone for support and understanding that God is central to all of that.
KM: When it comes to athletics and faith, we often see athletes use their sport as an avenue to extend their own faith and share grace. What are your thoughts on that?
KC: I think there is always a story. I know for myself, I became a Christian at university. I became a Christian understanding that I could have a relationship with God and that was through two football players. I was seeking to find something bigger than myself as an athlete. When you’re at a high level, you’re always seeking something to break down the walls and to improve and be the best. You’re always seeking to find that. Some turn to drugs, some turn to other things, there are always different avenues. For me, that wasn’t an option and thank goodness these guys shared with me and that’s where I found my strength in learning that there was a relationship and I could overcome.
At that level you spent 90 per cent of your time training and hope that you pass your courses and stay with your scholarship. I ended up being an Athletes in Action rep that was sent across Canada talking to programs and telling them about how my journey and how Jesus Christ was helpful in that. I think there is always a story to be told. No story is greater than any other story – it’s a story that God has decided to meet you at. You’re able to touch people in so many different ways.
I don’t know if sport is the platform, but I think sport can be to others that are struggling in that avenue. It is identifying with them, this is why you have groups like Athletes in Action and this particular program that marries the different athletes in the university setting and being able to provide them with the tools and the avenue that will allow them to understand that God can help you through all of this. Telling them that they’re not alone. I think it’s identifying with other athletes. You know it’s something that is used largely and effectively. Again, I think everyone has a story.
KM: How do you help non-Christian athletes deal with failures when they don’t come from a background of seeing their failure in light of a Christian faith?
KC: When you talk about training athletes you have what is called a planification, periodization, macro and micro phases. An athlete must have valleys to have their peaks. The reason they must have their valleys is to be able to build character, to understand that they are weak in certain areas and to start focusing on them, so you have to fail. In order to have success, you have to fail.
And this goes for life too, you have to fail because you will never grow as an individual. I personally think it’s great to walk through that journey, and I think those particular valleys are an instructional tool. I think they learn a lot about themselves and grow in that. Often I will talk to them about understanding. It’s funny you know, a lot of athletes say, “give me this one time or let me just win this one time” and I’ll ask them who they are talking to.
You know, obviously you think there is something bigger than yourself out there, so who is that? Who do you think will give you that? There is always an element, and whatever that may be, they need to arrive at first, accepting that and understanding that and then we can build on that character component. They can then arrive at a place where they are satisfied and can grow and move forward.
KM: My last question, and I think you have already touched on this a little bit, but do you think students who have a faith and are competing in athletics, have an extra responsibility beyond simply competing?
KC: Absolutely. I don’t think it’s necessarily an added responsibility but I do believe that athletes of faith need to just glow in their faith. To be able to represent themselves in glorifying God in any chance they can get. However that looks to them is however that looks, but I feel that if you’re a person of faith that you should be able to walk onto a track and people will see the difference immediately. Often, I will get asked “why are you like this?” or “what makes you different?” simply because I’m not going out there and saying “Hallelujah!”. The opportunities will arise because people watch you. Everybody watches. You have to decide how you want to show and reflect and represent yourself and your program and coaches. However you decide to do that, people will watch. Surprisingly, they want it, they just don’t know what it is. And that opens the door because they will ask.