Initially rowing was only a back up sport for Lesley Thompson-Willie, BA’82, BEd’83, due to an injury in gymnastics during university. However, it has taken her all the way to the Canadian Olympic Sports Wall of Fame in 1994.
The seven-time Olympian Coxswain holds five Olympic medals including gold in 1992, silver in 1984, 1996, and most recently silver in 2012 when she also set an Olympic age record - at 52 she has been representing Canada in the Olympics longer than any of her crewmates have been alive.
After her bronze medal in 2000, Thompson-Willie became the first Canadian to win a medal at four different Olympic Games and now she is the first with five. The London 2012 games also made her the first rower to be selected for eight Olympic Games including the 1980 Olympics when the Moscow Games were boycotted.
Aside from her Olympic success, Thompson-Willie has competed in 16 World Championships and won six World Championship medals, including the World Title in 1991. In 1986 Thompson and her crewmates were the champions in the Commonwealth Games in the coxed fours. Her passion for rowing began late considering her success. “After an injury during the [Western’s] gymnastics season, I decided to join the [Western] rowing team," says Thompson. She also competed as a track and field athlete helping Western win the Ontario Women’s Inter-university Athletic Association championship in 1981-82, 1984-85, and 1989-90. A few years later she won the Women’s Athletic Alumni award in 1996. Her athleticism is ongoing even in her spare time when she enjoys scuba diving, cycling, and running.
Although Thompson-Willie has dedicated most of her life to competing in the Olympic Games she is also a teacher, librarian, and coach. In 1999 she went to the National Coaching Institute in Victoria, B.C., and in 2000 she worked alongside head coach Al Morrow, BA’72 as his assistant in the Olympic Games.
During her six year hiatus from the Olympics from 2000 to 2006 she coached a rowing team in London, Ont. She has coached various other teams at the national and international levels guiding them to victory.
In 2011, she began working at London South Collegiate Institute as a teacher and librarian.
Thompson-Willie has been a part of rowing for so long she has seen the boats transform from heavy wooden boats in the late 1970’s where she spent most of her time fixing holes, to hi-tech boats now incorporating computers into rowing.
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