Dr. Margo Mountjoy and Lisa Schott committed to roles on FINA committees

While the athletes will take to the water at the 17th FINA World Championships in Budapest, Hungary starting July 14th, two Canadian women will be busy with meetings and working to continue improving the lives of athletes and moving synchronized swimming ahead.

Though they came to the sport from different pathways, Rockwood’s Dr. Margo Mountjoy and Calgary’s Lisa Schott, have become Canada’s ‘dynamic duet’ in the FINA committee rooms.

Although she tried synchro as a young child, Schott growing up in Northern Ontario, pursued ski racing and was a canoe out tripper as young woman before studying business recreation at the University of Waterloo. She then moved to Calgary to pursue her career, first in the pharmaceutical industry and then she was involved in the startup of WestJet airline. She wanted her children to be able to swim as a lifeskill and was re-introduced to synchro when her daughter took up the sport with the Calgary Aquabelles.

Growing up in Oshawa, Ontario, Mountjoy began swimming a child in a neighbourhood pool. At the age of 10, she left behind the back and forth of lane swimming for synchro which appealed to her artistic and musical nature. She then made the two-hour trek to Hamilton to train under coach Leslie Taylor and competed internationally for Canada in the 1980s, where her duet partner of the day was Mary-Jane Ling, now a respected synchro coach.

Getting involved on the board of her daughter’s club was the starting point for Schott to make a difference in the sport. She moved from serving on the board of the Aquabelles to the national level, with the Synchro Canada board, where she was President for four years. She is currently the President of Aquatics Canada, the umbrella organization for the water sports of swimming, synchro, diving and water polo. She was then nominated by Synchro Canada to the FINA Technical Committee where she has served since 2013.

Although she swam with her varsity team during her undergrad days, it was a chance encounter at her McMaster University pool that led Mountjoy back to the sport, just as she was about to graduate from medical school. She stopped by a synchronized swim meet, and a conversation with Pat Murray led to her agreeing to travel with a team heading to Egypt as their doctor. That changed her career direction from family medicine to sports medicine and set her on a path that now sees her as a member of the FINA Executive Board where she holds the portfolio of Sports Medicine. She is also the Chair of the Association of Summer Olympic International Federations (ASOIF) Medical Consultative Group, a member of the IOC Medical Commission Games Group and sits on the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) Health, Medical & Research Committee.

Both women have tireless energy, which they commit to improving the sport, and are excited to see the developments of the last several years. They both agree that sport is a business, and they bring that perspective to their committee work. One of their goals was to demonstrate Canada’s proficiency in holding swimming events. In the past four and a half years, Canada has hosted 23 different FINA events from open-water swimming to water polo. Schott saw it as an opportunity to “build partnerships and bring the best to Canada.” She brought that experience, combined with her business acumen, to help develop the FINA Synchronized Swimming World Series. Still in its first year, it has already proven to be a success, and has given synchro the same type of international circuit that has existed for most other sports.

And says Schott, “it’s given FINA a new property to market”, which is good for everyone.  She realizes that synchro is still a relatively young sport, so there are many ways it can develop and draw in new audiences. “I love the creativity of the coaches who are willing to take risks, and create spectacular routines,” and she wants to harness that to take the sport in new directions, using technology to better define and judge what is happening in the pool.

Mountjoy has always put athlete safety first in her work, and is very proud that she has been part of implementing harassment and abuse policies at the international level through the IOC. She was also involved in developing FINA’s Swimming for allSwimming for Life program encouraging healthy lifestyles and most importantly to prevent drowning and save lives around the world. She has helped FINA make research-based rule changes to make sport safer for athletes and has written several papers on female athlete health, which again reflects her care and concern for athletes, and much of that work has provided valuable information for synchronized swimming.

When others see challenges, both Schott and Mountjoy see opportunity to give synchro a voice at the international level. “Women have the opportunity to influence change. I see that as a responsibility as a woman and as a Canadian as well,” said Mountjoy. The two may not always agree, but respect each other’s opinions and have developed a close working relationship to improve the sport they both love. “I’m a big believer in women in leadership,” said Schott, a tenet echoed by Mountjoy, who sees the need for women to band to together and support one another in the world of international sport.

Both pay credit to the support that Synchro Canada has given to them in their pursuits at the international level, and the feeling is mutual. “The time and energy that both Margo and Lisa give to the sport is truly outstanding,” said Jackie Buckingham, CEO, Synchro Canada. “Their passion and commitment has helped to advance the sport in so many ways, and more importantly, they serve as remarkable role models for both our current athletes, and other young women who want to pursue leadership in sport at the highest level.”

Mountjoy and Schott are also excited about the next developments for the sport. With the introduction of the mixed duet at the world championship level, more boys and men will be drawn to the sport, opening up new marketing possibilities and greater participation. They also know the sport needs to modernize and take advantage of technology to explain and package it for today’s audience appeal.

They both look forward to staying involved in sport and seeing those changes come to fruition. For young women looking to follow in their footsteps, Mountjoy offers these words of encouragement to “believe in themselves, have a good team around them, and never give up on your convictions.” Schott encourages women to say yes when asked to serve in leadership positions. “It takes bravery and confidence to step ahead. I would encourage women to grab ahold of the opportunities and be confident to go forward.”

Following their own advice, Dr. Margo Mountjoy and Lisa Schott, Canada’s ‘dynamic duet’ have definitely made more than a splash for synchronized swimming in the FINA world!