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$30 million gift from Joan Snyder elevates North America’s leading school for sport-science research
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$30 million gift from Joan Snyder elevates North America’s leading school for sport-science research

“Philanthropy is more than money, it’s people helping people. The community coming together, each giving what they can and supporting each other.”

Joan Snyder, who once shared the above sentiment, put her whole self into her philanthropy. Over the past two decades, Snyder, donated millions of dollars to the University of Calgary, changing the landscape of chronic and infectious disease research, sport science and women’s hockey — in Calgary and beyond.

Snyder’s extraordinary spirit and love of the game will live on with a legacy gift of $30 million to establish the Joan Snyder Fund for Excellence in Kinesiology.

The gift is part of a transformative $67.5 million gift designated by Snyder to the University of Calgary to support the world-renowned Snyder Institute for Chronic Diseases and Faculty of Kinesiology — both of which have helped make UCalgary a top-five research university.

In addition to supporting programs that empower girls and young women, the investment will advance both critical medical research and our understanding of the essential role movement, exercise and sport play in physical and mental health — and how that can be applied to improve the health of individuals and communities.

“This gift is remarkable. It illustrates Joan’s generosity, her affection for this community, and her incredible love of and advocacy for sport and healthy living,” says Dr. Penny Werthner, UCalgary’s interim provost and vice-president (academic) and former dean of the Faculty of Kinesiology.

“Our faculty’s research is about keeping people healthy and getting them back to health after illness or injury. Joan understood the importance of this research and saw the difference it makes in people’s lives.”

As North America’s No. 1 school for sport-science research — and No. 10 in the world — the Faculty of Kinesiology is already an internationally recognized leader and home to top-tier training and research facilities. Snyder’s gift will help take it even further by attracting the very best to accelerate research, grow the varsity athletics program, and strengthen community and industry partnerships to help individuals of all ages live healthy and active lives.

The field of sport-science research, however, has traditionally favored one gender — which makes the Snyder Fund a game-changer.

“Research often tends to be skewed towards men, focused on how men interact with and are impacted by the world and systems around us,” says Werthner. “Joan was a champion for women and girls, so she wanted to be sure this fund would support research that will correct that imbalance — ultimately for the benefit of all genders.”

The strategy goes hand-in-hand with innovative research already taking place at the school, often in collaboration with other faculties and institutions, where key faculty members are studying sport, physical activity and health — including research led by women.

For example, the groundbreaking sport-related injury prevention research being led by Dr. Carolyn Emery, PhD, whose team was awarded the first Canadian research grant through the NFL’s Play Smart Play Safe Program. With female youth having the highest rates of sport-related concussion and knee-joint injury, Emery and colleagues are studying female-specific risk factors, prevention strategies, and treatments to reduce the impact of injury in girls and women and keep them active in sporting activities for life.

Dr. Raylene Reimer, PhD, is also improving the health of children. Her first-of-its-kind study demonstrated that a prebiotic fiber supplement can help overweight children achieve healthier weights and help with appetite control. Currently, she is studying the microbiota profiles of elite athletes to see if they are linked to performance — which could then be improved through the use of probiotic supplements.

Helping those at the other end of the age spectrum, Dr. Meghan McDonough, PhD, who investigates social relationships and their role in activity participation, partnered with The City of Calgary during the COVID-19 pandemic to learn how to better support older adults in becoming active and socially connected. Going forward, her findings will be applied to help those who still have barriers to accessing group physical activity.

And as an expert in exercise oncology — the use of physical activity to support wellness in people living with cancer — Dr. Nicole Culos-Reed, PhD, has moved evidence into practice by developing and implementing programs that support exercise in cancer patients and survivors — including those who live outside major centres and do not have the same access to such programming.

These are just a few examples of the exciting research projects at the Faculty of Kinesiology, many of which are already making a real difference — something Werthner knows Snyder would appreciate.

“She was a champion through and through, as a businessperson, philanthropist and community-builder,” she says. “I am honored we can carry on her legacy by advancing research that will change lives here and around the world, for generations to come.”

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