If human kinetics and sports psychology can be thought of as a battlefield, with researchers on one end of the conflict and ignorance on the other, then Penny Werthner might as well be considered Patton.
In certain circles, like the entire Canadian Olympic community, the name Penny Werthner carries with it a lot of admiration and respect. If human kinetics and sports psychology can be thought of as a battlefield, with researchers on one end of the conflict and ignorance on the other, then Penny Werthner might as well be considered Patton. It’s an unending war, to be sure, but every day they gain new ground.
In 1971, she wins bronze in the 800 m at the Pan-American Games. She sets a world record for 1000 m indoor sprinting, but she just waves it off as nothing special. Most athletes don’t count indoor competition, a strange truth of athletics. By 1976, she is ranked 9th in the world in the women’s 1500 m – she can run it in just over 4 minutes. But those first Olympics are her warm-up; she wins another bronze at the ’78 Commonwealth Games and the’79 Pan-Am Games in the 1500 m. These victories are simply going to be a grand prelude to the next Olympics.
Unfortunately, the world of politics interferes: the Games of the XXII Olympiad, in Moscow, which the U.S. and 64 other countries — Canada included — boycott over the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan the year before. It's something that should never happen to an athlete. It’s like they dropped her off a cliff. After that, her athletic career is finished. She had now the task of deciding, quickly, what she wants to do with the rest of her life.
Maybe it’s a residual effect from a lifetime of training, but Penny chooses to pursue studies in sports psychology.
And now as a sports psychology consultant with many of Canada’s Olympic and national teams at almost every winter and summer Olympic Games since 1986 — and a member of several bodies, including the Canadian Sport Psychology Association —Penny finds herself in an uncommon position in Canada. She’s on the frontlines of her field, critically analyzing cause and effect in the performance of our Canadian athletes, to ensure they can compete at their best. Penny does not examine performance purely on a physical level, but a psychological one as well. It’s unfamiliar territory for most athletes, who — with help from people like Penny — are beginning to understand that optimal results derive not only from training the body, but the mind as well.
She considers herself lucky that her university gave her a career doing what she loves as associate professor of Human Kinetics, where she is surrounded by people she respects and admires. People like professors Terry Orlick and Pierre Trudel, the two biggest reasons why she chose the University of Ottawa as a student in the first place. She may be lucky, you can’t contest that, but it seems clear that luck had nothing to do with getting her hired. She can thank herself for getting the job.
Penny Werthner’s name is one athlete from all over Canada seek out when training for their best Olympic results. It’s also the name that appears on the University of Ottawa alumni mailing list, providing her with exclusive access to great discounts and promotional offers. Want your name to do the same?