FACILITYCalgary publisher Mark Kolke, in conversation with Diane Jones Konihowski
April 7, 2015
This interview came about in a most unusual way. Like most people who lived in Edmonton in 70’s and 80’s – like most sports fans in Canada, I knew who she was and recognized her face and voice from so many times we’ve seen her on our TV. And, during her Premiere Suites career, we'd talked on the phone and corresponded - and. I'd cheered her from the my seats in Commonwealth Stadium during the 1978 Games - but we'd never met.
On March 7th., a month ago – and her birthday as it turned out – I was lunching with friend/neighbout Larry at the Phoenix Grill. As my order (curry island rice bowl) was being delivered, a woman at the next table turned to say, “what’s that?”. I answered and said, “you are Diane Jones Konihowski aren’t you?” She confirmed my identification, but she declined my invite to grab some chopsticks and join us. She was having a birthday lunch with her friend …
Several emails and a phone call later, Diane agreed to join me for this lunch-time interview – where I was educated on sport, both the exceptionalism of it, and that it happens to ordinary people leading what most of us would call ordinary lives. But this is a woman with a lot more going for her than a sports resume and a positive attitude. The positive attitude and confidence continue though she is long retired from active competition.
She’s your garden variety household name Canadian star – has a couple of honorary doctorates, degree she earned in University, an Order of Canada, some medals (gold ones) at Pan Am and Commonwealth Games and held a #1 in the world ranking in Pentathlon. If the Moscow Olympics had not been boycotted, she was an overwhelming favourite to win gold. At the Alternative Games in Philadelphia that year she won the Pentathlon as well as her own strong events.
There is much much more: Diane’s Wikipedia page is somewhat exhaustive so I’ve gone light on the bio-bits here because her page is a really good reference – no point repeating it all here. There are, however, a lot of interesting stories – many of which I’ve left out due to space, and some of which Diane asked me to leave out. And she is chaming lunch company ...
“I started this job [Diane runs fund development and communications at the Distress Centre] – it began as a mat-leave position for me – on flood day, June 21, 2013. I absolutely love it. New industry for me. My boss provides a stable/mellow environment. I raise money, create awareness – about an essential service to Calgary, with 24hr. service.”
Her mom was fashion model who drove an ambulance in London during the blitz. Her dad, A WW II Commando. They met, married and came to Canada. Diane was born in Vancouver (she is second born of four siblings, two boys, two girls]. Dad, an accountant with Western Bakeries, was transferred to Saskatoon where Diane grew up and was schooled.
Diane says she was very shy, a so-so student. She credits a very intense Mrs. Visser who turned her on to sport in the third grade. She played all the sports, became a very aggressive competitor, was always team captain and got involved in gymnastics in the Canadian Olympic program – but by eighth grade she’d physically outgrown gymnastics and joined the track club – where she was exposed to coaches with Olympic team connections and experience. She also excelled in volleyball at high school (knocked somebody out with one of her spikes!). She got a B.Ed. in Phys. Ed and Health Studies, married an athlete/CFL football player (John Konihowski), raised some kids, ran some sports organizations, built and sold a substantial property business (Premier Suites) … but has not wandered off into the sunset just yet …
Who presented your Order of Canada? “Ed Schreyer.”
How did you find out? “You get a letter!”
As we discussed medals and awards she said, “It’s not about the hardware. It’s about the journey, to be competitive against the best in the world. And at the Olympic level it shouldn’t be easy. We trained six days a week, six to eight hours every day”.
I asked Diane how she sees her business “the crisis business”; I asked her ‘how’s business looking, going forward over the next quarter?’
… We support people through their crisis - but we don't define crisis! We are 24/365 helping people by phone. Our call volume is 23% higher that last year. More people are having new troubles. The most vulnerable – and so many newly vulnerable Calgarians, mostly financial.
And over the next 5 years?
… we will also be 24/365 on-line as well as by phone. Online is more! Call volume will decline as text, e-mail and on-line chat grow to be a more significant part of our support. Our service will continue to be all free. Staff and volunteers, over 200 languages – 403-266-HELP. Everyone should know about 211, everywhere.
What qualities distinguish your preferred colleagues, collaborators and suppliers?
… best quality, best service, best price. I try to be a good negotiator. I shop in consignment stores ...
What distinguishes you that causes people to choose Diane Jones Konihowski and why do they do business with you, why have they hired you, over your competitors?
… passionate, positive, knowledge
How would you describe your management style?
… very collaborative. I’m a team player … but I like to lead! I like to empower people. To have a sense of them …
What do you lose sleep over, what do you worry about?
… I’m not a worrier. I took a parenting class when my eldest was in the 5th grade – I was taught, “if it isn’t life threatening, don’t worry about it”.
Who or what influenced you most – that has made a difference in your life, or that was a major turning point?
… my journey in sport. To be #1 in the world in my sport. My dad. Little victories along the way. Learning to be strong, assertive, competitive. And with each disappointment, becoming a better person, a better athlete.
Work-life balance, do you have it?
… I like working – can’t see the point of retiring …
… spending time at our condo in Canmore – hiking, skating, snow-shoeing. I love watching tennis and PGA Tour golf. Walking my dog Tia – a Bichon Shi Tzu. Three children, counting John.
What do you read?
… non-fiction. I love biographies. Like to be taken to a different country, to a different place in time.
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