Major Lesley Quinlan was named Canada Army Run Race Director earlier this year. We chatted with her about how she found herself in this new role, her passion for health and fitness, and why being a part of the WiDS community matters to her.
“I like to describe myself as a collection of slightly unmatching experiences. Like your stray socks in the laundry. I have a Bachelor’s in cell biology and genetics and although I initially thought that I wanted to do research, I realized that was not something I had the patience for. I worked in an analytical chemistry lab for a while, then I spent five years taking 911 calls for the police in Vancouver, while working as a Reserve officer part time” explains Lesley.
Lesley initially joined the Canadian Armed Forces in 1999 as part of the Cadet Instructor Cadre, where she worked with air cadets before transferring to the primary reserve in the fall of 2004. When her husband, a Canadian Armed Forces reservist at the time, transferred to the regular force in 2010, they started traveling around the country for his career. Lesley initially stayed home with their new baby Katherine (born 2011) and then returned to work full time as an Army Reserve officer. She has spent most of the last 7 years working full-time for the military, primarily in Health Services Operations. When the position for Canada Army Run Race Director opened up, she jumped at the opportunity without hesitation.
You are very active – a triathlete – how does this experience benefit you in this new role?
To be truthful, the stars kind of aligned for me. While I don’t have much experience organizing large events, I am able to understand what athletes are looking for in well-run events. If you come to a triathlon race, for example, and it’s difficult to figure out what time you need to be where, the communications aren’t clear and there are great big line ups for everything, such that you’re super rushed and barely making the start line, you won’t find that a compelling event to return to.
On the flipside, when you arrive to find things are running smoothly, and volunteers are telling you where to be from body marking to grabbing your timing chip, then you can spend that time preparing your kit, warming up and making sure you’re able to focus on having your best performance. That’s the kind of race people want to do again, but an awful lot of planning goes into making that possible.
Do you have any advice for women looking to intertwine their passion with their career?
If you can identify something that is, you know, be it the stereotypically termed ‘dream job’… something in line with things you want to spend your time doing… I recommend you back up from there and look at what qualifications are required, what background knowledge you need or what you could do outside of work to get related experience or credibility in that area.
What does being a WiDS member mean to you?
It’s important for women to have a place where they can seek solid professional advice, get quality mentorship and find a place where women are interested in building each other up. We’ve probably all seen instances where that isn’t the case and people feel they need to step on others to get ahead, so I think it’s amazing that there is an organization where women actually want to empower other women.
Have you faced any obstacles to career success?
There is certainly that occasional problem of feeling like people don’t take you seriously because you’re a woman. I won’t lie, that sometimes happens in the Army. But it’s not everybody and it’s not all the time.
Or the inverse issue is that if you get an opportunity, is it only because they’re trying to fill a quota? It happens. I’m not sure I’ve ever been that person, but anybody who wants to be taken seriously doesn’t want to be afforded that opportunity solely because they’re a woman, but because they’re qualified and the best person for the job.
Watch this video where Lesley shares a little more about herself and how the Canada Army Run is transitioning to a virtual race this year.
Questions for Lesley? Send her a note at email@example.com.