Whitehorse’s Jeane Lassen has lifted millions of kilograms over her career, now she has her sights set on elevating the sport of weightlifting in her community.
The former Olympian is working towards establishing a weightlifting club in Whitehorse now that she recently decided to retire from competition.
“I knew this time that it’s over because it’s been so long since I’ve been able to have an actual training routine,” said Lassen. “I hurt my back most recently in August. I didn’t even pick a weight up, I was just bending down to pick it up and I hurt it. So that’s when I went, OK, this is getting bad.”
The 33-year-old has struggled with back injuries for the last 15 years. A back injury sidelined Lassen from 2000 to 2003.
More recently, herniated and bulged discs in her back kept her from competing at the 2012 Canadian Senior Weightlifting Championships, which eliminated her chance at making Canada’s weightlifting team at the 2012 London Olympic Games. Lassen was still named an alternate for the team based on previous performances.
“It wasn’t lifting weights that did that to me,” said Lassen. “It was lifting weights when my back wasn’t mobile enough for that day of training, which happens more frequently when you don’t have the proper treatments in place for high performance sport.”
Lassen hoped to continue competing at the start of the summer, but continuing back problems made that impractical.
“Every time I thought my back would be doing better, it would be some silly thing, like sitting at a desk for too long, that would completely flare it up,” said Lassen. “It wasn’t even lifting weights that would irritate it. I realized this pain could be forever if I didn’t take better care of my health. I’ll still train for fun, but there’s not going to be big weights for me.”
Lassen, who competed for Canada at the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing, China, placing eighth in the 75-kilogram division, is now working towards rebuilding the sport in Yukon.
When she took up weightlifting in Whitehorse, there was a weightlifting club that has since dissolved. In the latter part of her career she trained more or less on her own at Whitehorse’s Better Bodies gym. But that’s not the same as training with coaches and other athletes at a facility specifically geared towards the sport, said Lassen.
“In the ‘80s and ‘90s there was a pretty strong club in Whitehorse,” said Lassen. “Now that I’m done my career, I want to get that going again.
“We even had two other Commonwealth (Games) medalists. That’s a pretty huge thing for a town our size, to have three medalists at the Commonwealth Games (including) Emily Quarton and Scott McCarthy.
“We’ve been really fortunate to have Better Bodies for quite a number of years, but we haven’t had a coach or several people all training together. It’s just been a few of us loners over in the corner.”
The club she plans to create doesn’t yet have a name, but it does have a location.
At the start of last month, the Yukon government and Sport Yukon announced the launch of a pilot program based on the Canadian Sport School program used in British Columbia. The program, which will take place at F.H. Collins Secondary School, provides select students the opportunity to split school days between athletic training and academics.
F.H. Collins has granted Lassen permission to use its weight room that will also be used for the sport school program.
Lassen, who is the physical literacy co-ordinator at Sport Yukon, played a part in introducing the sport school program to the territory. She became an advocate of the program after seeing it firsthand while training and studying in B.C.
“When I first went down to Victoria in 2011 to go back to school and train for London (Olympics), they had (the program) at the Canadian Sport Institute I was training at,” said Lassen. “When I saw these kids doing sprinting, and gymnastics, doing tumbling work, and Olympic lifting, I was blown away.
“The other Olympians and I were watching a lot of these kids train and were like, ‘If only we had that when we were kids,’ because they were learning about injury management, proper nutrition, warm-up/cool down, all these amazing things.
“Ever since then, I’ve been going on to everyone who will listen about how cool this set-up is.”
When the new club gets rolling, not only will its athletes have a former world-class lifter to mentor them, Lassen has also shown her cachet as a coach. She helped coach Canada’s Christine Girard, who won a bronze at the 2012 London Olympics. It was the first Olympic medal for Canada in women’s weightlifting in almost three decades.
“We started working together the year before when I moved down to Vancouver,” she said.
Lassen was born in Victoria and moved to Whitehorse while in Grade 4. She took up weightlifting a couple years later at age 12.
The Canada Games twice played a major role in her career. She first realized her potential after winning silver at the 1995 Canada Winter Games in Grande Prairie, Alta. at the age of 14.
After retiring from competition in 2009, Lassen decided to return to the sport when inspired by the spirit of competition she felt as a mission staffer for the Yukon women’s hockey team at the 2011 Canada Winter Games in Halifax.
“(The 1995 Games) was the major hook for me,” said Lassen. “That Canada Games will always be one of my best memories.
“I did stop (competing) after the Olympics, and going back to the (2011) Canada Games for Team Yukon as mission staff made me go, ‘Holy, this is the best thing ever, I’ve got to make a comeback.’”
After her first Canada Games experience, Lassen went on to become the first female to compete at six junior world championships before competing at a total of seven senior world championships.
She won medals at both, including bronze for overall and silver in the clean and jerk at the 2006 senior worlds.
Lassen also won gold and set a Games record at the 2006 Commonwealth Games in Melbourne, Australia, in the 69-kilogram class.
She captured a total of nine medals at Pan American Championships between 2000 and 2008 and won 15 medals at the University World Championships between 1999 and 2005.
Following her 2011 comeback, Lassen lifted silver at the Canadian Senior Weightlifting Championships and took 15th at the World Weightlifting Championships.
Weightlifting has even become a family affair. Lassen’s mother, Moira, was elected to the International Weightlifting Federation’s executive board last May. She is the first woman on the federation’s executive board in its 108-year history.
“The cool thing about weightlifting is it’s accessible to all ages, abilities and sizes, so we want to have a club that has all skill levels,” said Lassen. “The goal is to get people to understand the sport more and if they so choose, they can compete. We’re going to get some stuff going with the Alaskan association because they just started holding Alaskan championships.
“The reason I started was to get better at other sports. All the athletes that train at the Canadian Sport Institute that are Olympians in other sports, do lifting to train because it has such a high transferability to other sports.”
More information on the Whitehorse club can be obtained through email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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