Former Olympian takes to another kind of podium
By Geoff Kirbyson
When Susan Auch watches the Olympics or other high-level sporting competitions, she’s not just cheering for Canadian athletes to perform well, she’s also scouting for future employees.
The five-time Olympian speedskater has three medals in her trophy case – a bronze medal in the 3,000-metre short track relay in 1988 in Calgary (where short track was a demonstration sport) and long-track silver medals in the 500-metre sprint in Lillehammer in 1994 and in Nagano in 1998. She also competed in the 1992 Olympics in Albertville, France, and in 2002 in Salt Lake City.
Her world-class results were worthy of induction into the Manitoba Sports Hall of Fame in 2003.
Born and bred in Winnipeg, Auch spent a decade in Calgary after retiring from the sport following Salt Lake City. She soon had a full-time job, though – as the mother to three daughters, twins Kennedy and Jordan, 10, and Alex, 7 – but it wasn’t long before she sought out a more traditional one. She got the real estate bug in 2002 and started her own company, Podium Real Estate, six years later. Even though she had lived and trained in Calgary for years, the allure of home was always there and a couple of years later, she and her family picked up and moved back to Winnipeg.
She didn’t want to run a typical house-selling shop, though. Her goal was to run a professional services brokerage where clients could expect the same level of service as they’d get at a bank or law firm.
“I want my clients to learn what they have to do to become an educated buyer or seller,” she says, noting her practice is primarily residential but she also dabbles in commercial and industrial properties.
She was also looking for driven and high-performing employees, the kind of people she trained with and competed against during her skating career.
One of her associates is Warren Sholdice, a former freestyle skier, who works out of the Calgary office. There is no shortage of former Olympians who have made a successful transition to the board room, including decathlete Michael Smith, who is a financial advisor in Calgary, and ironman Simon Whitfield, who works for a sports entertainment company.
Auch believes there is a strong correlation between success on the field of play and in the business world.
“Real estate is a good business for former athletes or current athletes because they can do it at their own pace,” she says.
“If you’ve exhibited the drive and dedication to succeed on the international sporting scene, those traits will serve you well in the corporate world. (Athletes) are really good workers, they’re dedicated and they try really hard. In sales, the harder you work, the better you do. An athlete’s job is 24-7. It’s similar with real estate.”
Even though she doesn’t compete anymore, Auch is never far from speedskating. She did some colour commentary work during the Sochi Olympics last year and for the Canada Games in Prince George this past February. She’s also working on a plan to build a refrigerated covered speedskating oval in Winnipeg.
Auch is also a spokeswoman for Right To Play, an international humanitarian organization that helps children in war-torn countries learn about health and how to get along with people from different communities. She says it really hits home how good kids have it in Canada when she hears stories about how the most popular kid at school in many countries is the one wearing a T-shirt because it can be rolled up into a ball and used to play.
“A lot of kids in Canada can’t grasp the concept of not being able to play,” she says.
Auch takes her message to inner-city schools and tries to inspire students to take every opportunity they can to play.
“I think it’s great that we appreciate play (in Canada). Our elite sport is an extension of play. I was so lucky being Canadian and being able to access all sorts of activities. Being female, you have more access than most females anywhere else in the world. I feel very lucky so I wanted to do whatever I could to help,” she says.
Other high-profile athletes lending their efforts to Right to Play include fellow speedskaters Clara Hughes and Silken Lauman, and a skater of a different kind, some guy named Wayne Gretzky.
Auch is also eager to help young athletes closer to home, too. As a former board member of the Canadian Association for the Advancement of Women in Sport, she has done her best to counter the findings of a study that showed girls enjoyed the same benefits from sports – a peer group, losing weight – as they did from smoking.
“So, why not do sports? The end part of sports is you become healthy and part of a group that you fit into. You start loving your body and your muscles and the health that you get. That helps you for life, whereas smoking kills you,” she says.