Alicia Brown wearing black leggings and a red shirt with a Nike swish on the left and Canadian flag on the right. She is standing in the lower stands of a stadium, with the track and rest of stadium behind her. Along the stands in the background is written Tokyo 2020.

Breaking barriers: UTM alum and Olympian Alicia Brown awarded CAN Fund #150Women

Kristy Strauss

Alicia Brown was finishing her workout before heading to Tokyo’s Olympic Village when her teammate surprised her with the news: she was named a CAN Fund #150Women recipient.

“I wasn’t expecting it at all,” says Brown, a UTM alum who recently competed for Canada in the 4x400 relay in the Tokyo Summer Olympics. “It took a second to process it, what it means, and what impact it could have on myself and my experience in sport. It’s definitely an honour.”

Brown (HBA 2013), who graduated from UTM with an honours BA in communications, culture and information technology, is one of 390 female athletes to be awarded $6,000 each from the organization.

CAN Fund #150Women is a branch of CAN Fund – a not-for-profit organization that helps give Canadian athletes the financial support they need to train and compete for Canada. CAN Fund #150Women specifically focuses on Canadian female athletes and is a philanthropic community of women who are committed to supporting female athletes.

Brown has always had a passion for sport. She started playing soccer competitively at a young age, but in high school, when she joined her school’s track and field team, she loved the sport so much that she never looked back. Throughout her life, she always dreamed of competing in the Olympics – which became a reality in 2016 (Rio) and again this year.

Alicia Brown running, with a paper number on her back and chest, holding a blue baton that reads Tokyo 2020
Canada's women's 4x400-metre relay team of Alicia Brown (pictured), Maddy Price, Kyra Constantine and Sage Watson finished in 4th-place. Photo by Athletics Canada

The journey to the Olympics hasn’t been easy.

As a young female athlete, she understood the many struggles her fellow athletes faced – including body image issues and balancing society’s views of how a girl or woman should be.

“It's important for girls to see strong, powerful female bodies represented. I want them to know that strong and athletic is beautiful, and that they don't need to change who they are, or what they aspire to be, in order to fit in,” she says. “I think this is particularly important for racialized girls who may not see themselves represented in mainstream media.” 

Brown, who is also a certified personal trainer and marketing, sales and service associate at U of T’s Hart House, also knows the struggles adult women face as athletes – particularly the stress of juggling many responsibilities including training, working a full-time job and thinking of starting a family.

But there’s another major barrier that all athletes face: funding. Brown says she has seen many talented athletes stop competing due to lack of funding. 

“To participate in high level track and field is expensive, especially in Canada where our winters are cold,” she says, noting that Canada’s frigid temperatures often mean athletes must move to indoor tracks or pay to travel south to participate in lengthy warm weather training camps where major costs like food and hotel stays – to name a few – quickly add up.

Through organizations like CAN Fund, Brown says athletes are given the opportunity to continue to pursue their athletic careers – and now, as a CAN Fund #150Women recipient, she has that same opportunity.

For now, Brown is giving her mind and body some time to rest after competing in the Olympics. While she’s not sure what her future athletic career holds, she says the award will greatly help as she comes out of an extremely costly training season.

“I remember navigating the year and being like, just do it, you’ll figure it out after,” she says. “A lot of the support that I got from CAN Fund #150Women really helps me go back and balance the books in many ways. It’s never too late for that funding.”

Read more:

1. Brown, Canada finish 4th in 4x400 relay
2. On your marks, get set ... Students, staff and alumni head to Tokyo Olympics
3. On the right track