Jenny Trew was looking forward to coaching Canada's track cyclists at the 2024 Summer Olympics in Paris.
But Cycling Canada fired her from her job as lead endurance coach for what she was told were budgetary reasons.
"It's heartbreaking," Trew told The Canadian Press.
The dismissal of Trew and advancement camp coach Tanya Dubnicoff in April left the national sports organization with two women on a coaching staff of 12.
"Like many organizations, we are unfortunately dealing with pressures from increasing costs and decreases in revenue from a number of key funding partners," Cycling Canada told The Canadian Press in a statement.
After two promotions during her five years at Cycling Canada, and shepherding athletes at both the 2019 Pan American Games and 2022 Commonwealth Games, Trew was on the verge of coaching at a level few women in Canada do, which is the Olympic Games.
Only 11 per cent of Canada's coaches at the 2018 Winter Olympics were women, and 17 per cent were women at the 2016 Summer Olympics, according to the Coaching Association of Canada, even though the gender makeup of the teams was almost half women and half men.
In 2021, only 16 per cent of head coaches of national teams were women and 18 per cent were assistant coaches, according to Canadian Women and Sport.
"That's abysmal," said CWS chief executive officer Allison Sandmeyer-Graves.
"It's quite sticky. It just doesn't seem to move. It might go down to 14 per cent, it might go up to 17 per cent, but it never moves from that range.
"The number goes up as you go down in competition, but it's very telling that the more competitive, and the more prestigious the coaching roles, the fewer and fewer women we see. That is a massive gender equity issue in the sport system.
"It reflects there are a number of structural barriers to women coaching period, but especially coaching at that level."
When Cycling Canada hired Trew in 2017 as the NextGen women's endurance coach, she had an infant daughter Elodie and a toddler son Camden.
The timing to pursue that job wasn't great, Trew said, but she wanted it.
"I applied for this job because it was my dream job," Trew said. "As ex-athletes do, you think 'this is never coming up again. I have to do this now.'
"I had real passion for that under-25 women's group. One of the reasons I became a coach in the first place was because I had a phenomenal female coach and I loved how I could relate to her."
Trew was promoted to lead NextGen coach in September, 2020 and then lead endurance coach in November, 2021.
The 41-year-old is from Calgary, but lives in Milton, Ont., where the national track cycling team is based.
Trew took seven weeks of mental-health leave starting in February of this year. She returned to work March 24 and was fired a month and a day later.
Trew's son Camden underwent brain surgery for hydrocephalus last July. He'd also had surgeries in both 2018 and 2019 for a brain tumour.
Three days after Camden's most recent surgery, Trew departed for the Commonwealth Games in Birmingham, England.
"If I didn't go to Commonwealth Games, I would have been judged because I didn't take my job seriously," Trew said.
"Conversely, I'm sure I was judged by many people that my son coming out of surgery was eight years old, and I jetted off to another country for 10 days right after that.
"The stress of trying to do all of that, high performance is high stress, that contributed to me going on leave."
Cycling Canada says it has eliminated four national-level coaching positions over the last year, and reduced contract positions in performance services, including a sport science position.
Community, communications and grassroots personnel were also reduced, the organization said.
"The staffing changes made over the past year have affected positions that were held by both male and female employees," Cycling Canada said.
"These changes have allowed us to maintain athlete programming levels despite the increasing costs to do so."
Cycling Canada dismissing Trew and Dubnicoff for financial reasons in April comes on the heels of Sail Canada stating lack of money led to the sacking of national-team coach Lisa Ross in March.
Trew has filed a lawsuit against Cycling Canada for wrongful dismissal and breach of contract, general damages for breaches of the Ontario Human Rights Code, aggravated/moral damages, and punitive damages.
Her annual salary was $85,000.
Cycling Canada received almost $3.5 million from Own The Podium for its cycling teams and just over $1 million for its para cycling team in 2022-23.
"If the reason for me being let go is budgetary, it's curious because I was the lead," Trew said. "We still have a track endurance program."
Three other national-team coaches will cover off track endurance, Cycling Canada said.
"With an eye toward Paris, these coaches will continue to provide world-class support to our Canadian athletes," it said in the statement.
"In spite of the current economic reality, we remain committed to providing support to all cycling disciplines as well as to our grassroots, community and event programming."
Job hunting for a commensurate coaching position is harder for Trew without the Olympic Games on her resume.
"No matter what else I do as a female coach, I don't get the respect my male peers do," Trew said. "I needed that check mark. The ramifications for this are endless for my career."
This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 7, 2023.
Donna Spencer, The Canadian Press