Oct the 13 Corporate
Alumni Spotlight: Tammy Mahon
Playing multiple sports growing up is highly encouraged. Tammy Mahon is an example of why.
Before being a member of the women’s national team, the Holland, Manitoba native grew up playing every sport she could, excelling in multiple.
“In high school I played volleyball, basketball, baseball, and competed internationally in high jump,” Mahon reflected. “I will always be an advocate of playing multiple sports at a young age. I strongly feel learning the different skills from each sport, playing different roles and learning from different coaches all helped prepare me to become a high level athlete in volleyball.”
As university approached, Mahon had a choice to make about which sport to focus her energy on and pursue. For her, the choice was easy.
“Despite it not being the sport I was best at, I absolutely loved volleyball the most,” Mahon said. “I loved the challenge of the sport and its skill set. After being a competitive high jumper, I also knew I loved the team aspect of sport versus an individual sport… I always felt drawn to the sport, like somehow it chose me instead of me choosing it.”
With the University of Manitoba Bisons, Mahon helped lead the team to back-to-back CIS Championships in 2001 and 2002, earning Most Valuable Player of the Championship in 2002. In her senior year, she was named the 2003 Female Athlete of the Year at the school.
On top of Mahon loving the sport, she also had the benefit of looking up to some strong volleyball players from Manitoba.
“I remember I had a poster of them on my wall from the ‘96 Olympic team. Janis Kelly and Michelle Sawatzky were both inspirations for me growing up in the sport of volleyball in Manitoba and continued to be in my time with the team.”
After volleyball chose her, it wasn’t long before Mahon was proving herself against her peers, further feeding into her desire to wear the red and white.
“I never really realized where sport could take me,” Mahon said. “My desire to play for Team Canada became very real for me after going to my first junior national team tryouts in 1998. I actually left a high jump competition to go to tryouts.
I knew it was volleyball I loved the most and this was my first chance to see how my skills measured up to the best athletes in our country. From then on, my training and dedication to volleyball came with the dream of one day wearing the Canadian jersey.
From then, it wasn’t long before Mahon represented her country. The next year, she donned the maple leaf for the first time, playing in the 1999 FIVB Junior Women’s World Championships on home soil, held in Edmonton and Saskatoon.
“To be wearing the Canadian jersey, surrounded by Canadian fans, singing our anthem was the beginning of a long journey for me with our country and our sport,” Mahon explained. “The feeling was always one of pride, being grateful for the opportunity, and the connection with my teammates and our country.”
Three years later, the athlete was once again making her Team Canada debut but this time with the senior team.
“Ken Bentley, my coach at U of M, was a great help in preparing me and encouraging me to strive for the next level from University to National team,” Mahon said on who helped get her to that point. “I was also incredibly lucky to have some amazing veterans of the program present when I first made Team Canada. Athletes like Joanne Ross, Barb Bellini, Janis Kelly, Jenny Rauh, Rae Ann Mitchell, Anne Marie Lemieux, the list goes on.
“These women were such strong leaders, such great examples for me to look up to and learn what it took to be a national team member. Team Canada coaching staff, Lorne Sawula and Naoki Miyashita certainly helped me to grow and learn what it meant to be a Team Canada athlete in those first years as well.”
Mahon then made the team every year until her retirement in 2012. Among the highlights of her National Team career were five NORCECA Championships, 2003 World Grand Prix, 2010 World Championships, 2011 Pan American Games, and her final tournament, the 2012 NORCECA Olympic Qualification. She played in an impressive 173 international matches in her career.
As well, Mahon had a lengthy professional career, spending time in the Netherlands, Sweden, Greece, Azerbaijan, Romania, and Germany. She helped lead her teams to a Swedish Cup and Swedish League gold in 2003-04, and a Greek A1 Etniki gold in 2010-11.
In 2008, Mahon took the next step with Team Canada, being honoured as team captain – a role she’d hold until she retired.
“Being named captain represented the years that I spent learning from the best who came before me in the program and hoping to be able to do the same for the next generation,” Mahon said. “As an athlete you have to continue to grow, learn what it means to be a leader, learn what it means to be a national team athlete, to represent more than yourself but your entire country and the incredible teammates who have all come together for one goal, one dream. It was an honour to wear the “C” amongst many talented, strong, incredible teammates and athletes.”
Now with her volleyball career behind her, Mahon is enjoying life with her husband and two children. Looking back, there’s a lot to be proud of and some incredible memories that she’s held on to nearly a decade after her retirement.
“After 14 years of wearing the jersey, it’s hard to narrow it down to one memorable moment,” Mahon said. “I do, however, recall very vividly my first and my last moments playing for the Senior team. The day I made the Senior team in 2002, I called my parents and burst into tears telling them I had made the team. Crying mostly out of disbelief but also so excited to get back in the gym with the team!
“And the last moment, losing to Dominican Republic for a chance to qualify for the 2012 Olympics in Tijuana, Mexico. Sitting with my teammates after the game, knowing it was the last time I would take the jersey off, feeling both peaceful and incredibly sad about knowing I would be done. The in between of those two moments shaped me, prepared me for life after national team and will always have a huge place in my heart.
“The lasting moments are the lifelong friendships, the lessons learned along the way that serve me every day of my life, and the gratefulness I feel for ever having had the chance to wear the jersey.”
There’s also the moments that Mahon can look back on and remember both fondly and proudly.
“I feel really proud of the progression I made as both an athlete and a person in my time with the National team,” Mahon explained. “There was a lot of really challenging moments, but so many more ‘pinch me’ moments where I felt so lucky to be doing what I was doing.
“I’m proud of my teammates, for the people they were then and for who they have become. I’m proud of the advancements the program has made, and where the team is now. To watch these young women out there, fighting for the same dreams, continuing the pursuit of excellence, still makes me feel very proud to have ever been a part of it.”
Mahon has been an inspiration to many athletes currently on the National Team. Even for the next wave of athletes, her volleyball career and legacy stands as an example that whether from a big city or a small rural town, playing for Team Canada is attainable.
For those young athletes looking to one-day wear the Canadian jersey, Mahon offered some works of encouragement and advice.
“Being a part of Team Canada is hands down the best job they will ever have. If you find yourself wavering, or being scared to dream that big, there is inspiration and motivation around every corner. I would encourage them to soak up any opportunities to learn, grow and progress as an athlete.
“I would want them to know that success or excellence is not always a guarantee but the journey towards achieving it will absolutely enhance and change their life. I never ended up making a trip to the Olympics, which was the dream. It was what we wanted and what we worked for. But in the midst of chasing that dream, amazing, life changing things happened to me. Ones I wouldn’t trade for anything.”
Mahon had consistent motivation to keep going and continue striving to be the best: “I found motivation in everything. Put me on the court, I wanted to be better than I was yesterday. I wanted our team to practice harder and better than every other team in the world that day. Put me in the weight room, shove aside the fatigue and soreness and push to become an inch better. Put me at a fundraiser or public speaking event, and I found motivation in expressing the incredible privilege and opportunity it was to wear the Canadian jersey.
“The everyday grind from my teammates, the support from my family and hometown, the intense competition of the international game. There was motivation everywhere to keep going.”
Interview by Josh Bell