Lara Mussell Savage has lived two sports lives, one as an elite level athlete and the other as a ceaseless advocate for females and Aboriginals in sports.
She is a two time world champion in Ultimate (frisbee), representing her country four times at the highest level of her sport.
She helped Canada to gold medals in the 2000 and 2004 Ultimate World Championships, adding bronze medals in 1998 and 2008.
In 2005, Mussell Savage, who is a member and elected Councillor of Skwah First Nation, won the Tom Longboat Award as Canada’s Female Aboriginal Athlete of the Year.
You’d be hard pressed to find a more impressive athletic resume, yet she hesitates when asked what’s more significant — what she accomplished during her playing days or what she’s done since she retired.
Neck surgery forced Mussell Savage to the sideline in 2009, but she didn’t slow down in the slightest.
In the leadup to the 2010 Winter Olympics and Paralympic Winter Games in Vancouver, she served on the organizing committee (VANOC) as Project Manager for Aboriginal Sport and Youth.
Mussell Savage helped run the Air Canada PGA TOUR Championship and held a management role in the University of British Columbia athletics department.
Mussell Savage is currently the Director of Sport for the Aboriginal Sport, Recreation and Physical Activity Partners Council and Chef de Mission for their Aboriginal Team BC.
She is a trustee for the British Columbia Sports Hall of Fame and an ambassador for ViaSport’s #LeveltheField campaign promoting gender equity in sport.
“I think what I’ve done since retiring outweighs what I did as a player, but I also don’t know that I would have had the opportunities I’ve had in my career had I not achieved what I did in sport,” she says. “Winning the Tom Longboat award opened a lot of doors for me.”
Mussell Savage was an athlete from day one.
As a teenager she excelled at track and field (high jump/long jump/sprinting), basketball, curling, softball and golf.
She was attending high school in Vancouver in 1992 when she was bitten by the Ultimate bug.
“I was in Grade 12 and the BC Disc Sports Society had an outreach program trying to get the sport into the schools,” she recalls. “Adam ‘Elvis’ Berson came to our school and we were just enthralled with his throws.”
“He could do such amazing things with the disc.”
So inspired were Mussell Savage and her classmates that they formed their own team.
“When we graduated we entered our team in the Vancouver Ultimate League, and we had a blast,” Mussell Savage says. “Here we were playing against older, more experienced adults and we held our own.”
“A core from that team ended up playing at the elite level.”
Mussell Savage went on to win three national titles with the University of British Columbia varsity-club team, the best run the T-Birds have ever had.
“At one point we were ranked No. 1 in North America,” she says. “And we were compared with a lot of United State colleges who offered scholarships for Ultimate, even back then.”
Mussell Savage was encouraged to try out for a touring squad that played in tournaments in Canada and the U-S.
She made the team in 1997 and launched her international adventure.
In 1998 they captured the national club championship, earning the right to represent Canada at the World Championship in Minnesota.
They finished third behind the United States (gold) and Japan (silver).
“We had a taste and it felt great, but we learned what level of determination and commitment was required to win,” she says. “This was more than just travelling to Oregon or California for tournaments.”
“We needed a full buy-in from the team because our goal was to win it all and be the best we could possibly be.”
Mussell Savage and her teammates broke through two years later, capturing gold at the 2000 World Championship in Heilbronn, Germany. They defended their crown in 2004 in Turku, Finland.
Mussell Savage’s final World Championships was in 2008 where her team finished third in Vancouver.
She walked away from the game a few months later knowing she never cheated herself or her teammates, giving everything she had every time she played.
And she enjoyed every moment.
“I was known for playing with a smile on my face,” she says. “I’d make my cut and come running down the field with that smile, which probably seemed unusual in such a competitive setting.”
“As a captain, I think I was also known for staying calm in the face of chaos.”
Mussell Savage enters the Chilliwack Sports Hall of Fame this year as its first female inductee.
“I am incredibly honoured and my hope is that we see female inductees every year,” she says. “I’d like it to become less about the first woman to do this and the first woman to do that — that female inductees would just become an expected thing.”