Canada is an exercise in the endurance of extremes, of polarity. Summer and winter, French and English, east and west, Atlantic and Pacific, urban and rural, Leafs and Habs. The GTA in particular that duality is ever-present, notably in our mercurial seasons. Our summers rival the humidity of tropical climes, while our winters offer the brutality of long sub-zero stretches. That duplicity informs our character, a pride worn on our toques, evident in our mythology. And though it runs in our veins, rarely does it present itself with the wonder and accomplishment of Phylicia George – a two-sport, two-Olympic, two-season athlete who both embodies and embraces the very best of the GTA’s binary nature.
George is a rare bread, a two-sport star who has represented Canada across the globe, notably in the Summer Olympics in hurdling and the Winter Olympics in the two-woman bobsleigh – taking home the Bronze (with Kallie Humphries) in the latter event at the 2018 Pyeongchang Games. One is left to wonder why a region like the GTA, so blessed by bifurcation, does not produce more two-season competitors – then quickly we are humbled by the realization of the extreme sacrifice and required to compete in just one sport, let alone at a world-class level.
So if our natural dichotomies inspired George, how did they help her realize her accomplishments? Multiplicity was pervasive in George’s evolution as an athlete.
“The education system [in Ontario] was really great,” says George. “I went to a Catholic school, where there was access to a bunch of things to play. So I played basketball, volleyball, [and many other sports] when I was in high school – [there were so many] opportunities for extracurricular activities.”
By indulging in those opportunities, George found herself craving competition, which took her to the University of Connecticut. “It was all about competition. In Canada, they [universities] don’t offer full athletic scholarships. And I have lots of brothers and sisters, so I knew getting the scholarship would be helpful to my family […] and helped me to be a better athlete and made me more of the athlete that I am today.”
But while at UConn, in Storrs, Connecticut, George missed the variegation that inspired her to compete in the first place. “The biggest thing I missed was the diversity. I have a Caribbean background. [At home] I’m able to get that food if I want to and [engage in] different cultures.”
George has represented Canada all over the globe, in both World Championships and Olympics, both proud of home and in awe of the experiences her competitive spirit and country afford her. “Everywhere else is so cool. You go the places, and it’s awesome, but then you also realize, ‘Wow. We have an amazing country, and we have so much available to us.’ We’re the greatest country in the world, I genuinely believe that. The more I travel, the more I appreciate it. When people find out that I’m Canadian – they’re welcoming. I’m definitely very aware of the fact that I’m Canadian when I am outside of Canada.”
But this two-sport star has a singular focus: “Tunnel vision,” George says. “Laser focus towards Tokyo,” the 2020 Summer Olympics.