As Janine Hanson and Leisha Strachan sit in a St. Mary’s Academy boardroom, they seem to have known each other for years.
In reality, they’ve only met three other times in the past month. Walking into the boardroom both seemed to be taking it all in with wonder and curiosity. Not something you’d expect from two women who attended the school for six years in their teens.
"We weren’t allowed in the administration building," explained Hanson. "I feel very grown up."
The two alumni were honoured with the Marian Award by St. Mary’s Academy May 11 during a sold-out reception and brunch.
"When I heard about the award I was very surprised, because judging by the history of it everyone has been much older," said Hanson. "I think it’s really special to be still so young."
"These other people are retired professionals and very established," said Strachan. "So this is a huge honour and I was surprised when Sister Wikeem called my phone at work. I actually thought I was in trouble."
Hanson is a two-time Olympic rower, first competing in Beijing in 2008, placing eighth in the quadruple sculls. She rowed again in London 2012, taking home silver in the women’s eights. She graduated from St. Mary’s in 2001, received her degree in Human Movement Science from the University of Michigan, and now works as an ambassador for the Manitoba Liquor and Lotteries Corporation’s IMPACT team.
Strachan competed in the sport of baton twirling for 18 years, representing Canada at seven world championships, earning two bronze medals and an individual ranking of sixth in the world.
Today she still coaches, choreographs, volunteers, and judges.
After leaving St. Mary’s, Strachan graduated the University of Manitoba with a bachelor of physical education and a bachelor of education. She then returned to the academy to teach physical education for three years.
She returned to her studies and earned a master’s in human kinetics from the University of Windsor, then a PhD in Sport Psychology from Queen’s University in Kingston, Ont.
Today she is an associate professor of kinesiology and recreation management at U of M.
Sister Susan Wikeem, director of the academy, said the school started the awards in 2005 because they were so proud of what their graduates were doing in society.
"I often flip through the newspaper and cut out stories about our past students," said Wikeem. "We have a board in the staff area that has them all posted."
Hanson and Strachan both agree attending the all-girl Catholic Academy shaped them into the successful women they are today.
"The faith aspect of it is very important to me and to my family," said Strachan. "Having to be in the school and around that environment really helped ground me quite a bit."
Hanson said she benefited from the discipline of the school.
"I think definitely coming in at 12 and leaving at 18, you’re a completely different individual," said Hanson. "For me, I found myself in those six years."