Taranis Athlete of the Month – October 2017

When Morgan Rozon contacted me and mentioned she wanted to feature a Taranis Athlete for her September Fit Balm Athlete Story, I was inspired to relaunch the long lost Taranis AOM program. Morgan and I pooled our questions and are thrilled to be able to present:

Dr Leigh Anne Swayne aka Dodger

Before we get into the Q&A fun I would like to speak to qualities that made Leigh Anne an easy athlete to feature. I am inspired every week watching Leigh Anne train. She is dedicated, directed and in constant pursuit of personal development. Leigh Anne also happens to be one of the most positive people I know. Her voice can be heard on any given day in the gym encouraging other athletes. I personally have been mid squat, grinding out a deadlift or in the depths of burped hell and I hear her voice ring out with belief and it fuels me with a desire to dig deeper. Leigh Anne is pleasure to coach and we feel damn lucky to have her in this community and Taranis Family. I am pleased to share this Q&A with you so that you can get to know Leigh Anne better for yourselves!!

What are 5 quick facts that your best friend would use to introduce yourself in a concise but well-rounded way to a diverse group of people?

is a goofball and has as sense of humor

-is concerned about world events

-is an academic

-speaks 4 languages

-is an athlete

What is your occupation and what inspired you to pick this profession?

I am a Professor of Cellular Neurobiology in the Division of Medical Sciences at UVic. I was drawn to this profession from an innate curiosity about how the brain works 🙂

What motivates you to stay healthy? 

Hmmm….  A combination of a few things – past experiences, healthy people, and making progress. 

For past experiences: About ten years ago, or so I went through a period of a few years where I didn’t prioritize my health very well.  Paired with with poorly managed work stress and some chronic sports injuries, I was starting to feel pretty terrible. I was fairly overweight for my frame, had bad knee and hip pain that was becoming pretty prohibitive and starting to be uncomfortable in just regular day to day activities. Back then, looking forward I saw a long road of painful joints and feeling unwell and that wasn’t the future I wanted for myself. Although I’m generally a positive person, I often felt pretty hopeless about it. I remember often thinking “this is pretty crappy and it’s only going to get worse the longer I do nothing about it”.  I knew it was going to be an uphill battle. But I also knew I was going to have to just suck it up and start somewhere. It took a lot of patience and commitment to get where I am in my journey right now (because it’s still on-going!). So part of my motivation comes from wanting to stay on the road I’m on now and not wanting to find myself back on that other one with the terrible future 🙂

For healthy people – I find role models everywhere and draw inspiration from them. One of my favorite things is reading about or seeing videos of older athletes and seniors killing it at a variety athletic endeavors and really enjoying the golden years. That’s what I want my future to look it. It also just feels so much better to work out and eat healthily. Life is much more positive and fun when you’ve set your body and mind up to enjoy it to the fullest. 

Making progress – The return on the investment is motivating. I find motivation even in the incremental progress of things like gaining a bit more mobility in a joint or improving at a body weight movement. I have seen that the work I put in pays off and so that motivates me to keep going.

You have an accomplished athletic background, can you expand on your background for us?

Long version: Sports have always been a major part of my life in large part because my parents and sisters were all really active. As a little kid I was fortunate to be involved in a bunch of different sports like ski racing, swimming, gymnastics and tennis. In high school, between grade 9 and 10 a group of older girls lobbied for my school to create a girls’ rugby team – which looking back was totally badass of them and I am so grateful.  Rugby is an exhilarating sport and I loved it right from the first practice in the melting spring snow. My younger sister Seanna and I also started playing for a local rugby club in the summers. I continued playing rugby as well as basketball and volleyball throughout high school and I ended up being  female athlete of the year in my graduating year. I decided to continue with rugby in University because it was by far the most fun and made a great counter for the pressures of academic life.  Guelph, where I went to University, happened to be an established women’s rugby dynasty with multiple previous provincial championships. I was fortunate there was an opening in the starting 15 in my rookie year that my club rugby experience had prepared me for. The next year was the very first national University Championships (then called CIAU) at McMaster University, which, crazily enough we ended up winning – this team was recently inducted into the University of Guelph Athletics Hall of Fame a couple of years ago. We won several provincial championships and returned to the National Championships again each year (now called CIS), medaling or narrowly missing. Anyways, it was an awesome bunch of ladies and we had a great time. I was able to manage to keep good grades during this time and was awarded the President’s Trophy  for athletic and academic performance (1999-2000, 2000-2001) and also Sportwoman of the Year in 2000-2001 for athletic leadership.  I was surrounded by several amazing National 15’s team players and one of my coaches was also on the National Team, so it was an fantastic environment for a female rugby player. From there I also played some representative rugby for the Ontario Women’s team during the summer and later when I moved to Calgary for my PhD studies, I played for the Calgary and Alberta rep teams and with Alberta we ended up being national champions one of my last years I was there in 2003. I was also really fortunate to be selected to Canada’s team for the first FISU (world university) rugby sevens championship in Beijing China in 2004. We had a great team and ended up taking home the gold. I am also grateful to my PhD supervisor for being so supportive in giving me the time off to travel to these tournaments!  Having both sports and academics created this amazing balance that I didn’t fully appreciate until it wasn’t there anymore 🙂

Do you have a life-changing experience related to your athletic background/experience that shaped your future self or future direction?

The summer I got married, I also had a team Canada tryout camp (for 15s) and was moving to France to pursue postdoctoral studies in the fall. In the span of a few weeks I had to hand in my thesis, get married, go on a honeymoon, attend a team Canada tryout and then defend my thesis so things had to go fairly smoothly to go well. At a practice a couple weeks before my wedding, my face and my teammate’s knee met at high velocity. There was a tremendous amount of blood, and my face blew up with swelling, which ended up leaving a lasting impression on my research colleagues 🙂 I remember applying copious amounts of Arnica gel and by wedding day, the double shiner and swelling had resolved. It did however throw me for a bit of a loop in rugby, because now I had a concussion to deal with. We didn’t have the same type of management and guidance for concussions as we do now. It wasn’t my first concussion either, and for previous ones, I hadn’t taken the requisite rest. Needless to say the rest of the rugby season was a struggle. But my wedding was awesome!!  🙂  While I had originally been excited at the prospect of playing rugby in the South of France (a rugby hotbed) during my postdoc, the concussion gave me pause and I decided not to play rugby.  Although I played on a local women’s basketball team, I wasn’t prepared for the hole in my life caused by the abrupt departure of rugby.  I had been at peak physical condition that summer and over the course of the next few years – which coincided with a ton of French cheese and wine – I ended up in the condition I described above.

What brought you to Taranis?

Haha so kind of it all comes back to rugby again. After not having played rugby for many years, when I first moved to Victoria, I joined the Velox Valkyries, because what my life had taught me thus far was, the best way to meet people in a new city is to join a team and also because Island rugby, including the Valkyries are pretty famous in Canadian women’s rugby. In hindsight it was a bit crazy. Despite being massively out of shape, I managed somehow to make it up to the first 15 and we even made it to the provincial finals. However, I was seriously out of shape, with multiple new injuries on top of chronic injuries and literally held together by athletic tape by that time. I was a walking bruise and mildly concussed – so not a great situation for a new Professor. I also had a crappy, inconsistent diet. That’s when I sat down and decided something had to change.  My older sister had been trying to convince me for some time to try CrossFit. I had also joined a women’s basketball team and one of the other players said I had to try Taranis. She said it was the best in town and thought I would like the culture and atmosphere there. I decided to focus just on CrossFit called up Taranis. I was super fortunate to do my on ramp sessions with Chris Schaalo who is now at CrossFit North Van and Squamish and never looked back 🙂

What would you say to someone nervous about starting CrossFit at Taranis?

OMG I was so nervous too!  But it’s going to be OK!! Everyone is new at CrossFit at some point – and everyone has been new at something at some point in their life, so everyone knows how you feel. Plus, everyone is rooting for you!  Every time I see new people come into the gym, I’m like “Awesome, great life decision”.  You really do have to just suck it up and leave your ego at the door, as they so wisely put it.

What are you currently working on as a Taranis Athlete? Do you set goals? Will you share those goals with us?

I am currently focused on strength and gymnastics. I do set goals, and I find these are necessary to keep me focused. I set some general goals and then specific goals to help me reach those general goals. My general goals are to become stronger and to become more proficient at bodyweight and gymnastics movements (through a combination of increased mobility and strength through range of motion). 

The specific goals I have right now for strength are to be able to back squat, bench and deadlift specific numbers consistently and with good form. For snatch and clean and jerk, I am also looking for small increases, but right now I am more focused on trying to achieve consistency. My gymnastics goals include being able to do multiple strict handstand pushups, a side aerial and a back walkover.  I break all these things into smaller pieces and appreciate that it takes a really long time. For example, it took me months of focused work to rework my squat form and another almost year to go from setting my back angle up first before squatting to a full fluid movement.   It’s amazing to me what you can achieve with a little patience.

What is something that you have done recently to help others?

That’s a great question! I like to think that I help the students and trainees I mentor 🙂  I am currently supervising 8 people in my research lab.  Not only do I provide guidance on their research projects, but I also make a concerted effort to provide advice on career development and help them work on things like time-management and communication strategies so that they will be successful wherever they end up. I also work on a lot of committees that help run the University and partake in various outreach activities for community learning and engagement. 

Favorite… if you can list just one!

Podcast Channel?

Barbell Shrugged

Book or Author?

Too many to list – most mystery (e.g. Ian Rankin). Am currently looking for a good book, taking suggestions


Mad Max Fury Road

Snack Food?

Dark Chocolate

Article of clothing?

Jeans – what would we do without them?


Never give up – Winston Churchill said it in a more complicated way, but essentially the same message


Lydia Valentin

What do you think the world needs most at this time in history?

Love and Empathy