Hall of Famer
Inducted in 2015
Competed for Canada in Cross Country Skiing in four consecutive Olympic Winter Games in Sapporo (1972), Innsbruck (1976), Lake Placid (1980) and Sarajevo (1984) respectively
Named a member of the Order of Canada
Inducted into the Canadian Ski Hall of Fame and Museum
Inducted into the North West Territories Sport Hall of Fame
Shirley Firth, along with her twin sister Sharon Anne Firth, are members of the Gwich’in First Nation in the Northwest Territories, two of Canada’s most outstanding Aboriginal athletes to compete at the Olympic Winter Games. The sisters participated in the Territorial Experimental Ski Training program that introduced cross country skiing to northern Canada and as a result, eventually became members of the first ever Canadian women’s cross country ski team at the Sapporo 1972 Olympic Winter Games. In essence, they are truly pioneers of the sport.
The dynamic twin sisters both competed in Cross Country Skiing for Team NWT in the 1971 and 1975 Canada Games. Sharon Anne also competed in the 1979 Games. Their dominating performances at the Games only foreshadowed the professional success they would achieve as their careers progressed.
Sharon Anne and Shirley took the many important lessons they learned while trapping and hunting in their remote home community of Aklavik, and translated these lessons into their success with the National Cross Country Ski Team. In total, they competed in four Olympic Winter Games (1972, 1976, 1980, 1984), four World Ski Championships, and were members of the National Cross Country Ski Team for an unprecedented 17 consecutive years. The sisters together accumulated 79 medals at the national championships, including 48 national titles. These results remain unprecedented. Nobody in Canada has come close to accumulating these numbers.
Following their outstanding athletic careers, Sharon Anne devoted her time to work as a Youth Programs Advisor in the NWT while Shirley went on to live in France where she raised a family and lectured on the Dene and Inuit cultures. When Shirley returned home to the NWT in 2004, the sisters reunited and worked together, teaching youth about sport, goals, leadership and responsibility. Theirs is an inspiring message, delivered from their hearts and developed from their personal experiences living in a small community, and driving themselves to move ever forward through the sometimes difficult times in their lives to become the best they could be.
Together, these two sisters broke down the many barriers in sport that they faced and shared their passion for the sport of cross country skiing with all Canadians. The sisters spoke of the values they learned from their mother, that you do not get anything free in life, that you have to work for it, which they certainly did. These incredible women, their story and legacy continues to inspire Indigenous youth through their values of hard work, determination and self-responsibility, and the right to dream of achieving anything you wish. In 2013, Shirley succumbed to cancer at the age of 59, leaving a huge void in Shirley’s family as well as in Sharon Anne’s life. But their strong connection remains un-severed, continuing to push Sharon Anne to reach out to youth, through the sport of cross country skiing, and in so doing, an inspiration to all Northerners and Canadians.