Sharon Firth has been a lot of places she never thought she would be, but she never expected to see herself in a cartoon.
In this particular episode, Sharon teaches 10-year-old Molly about the power of determination by telling the story of she and her sister’s adventures in cross country skiing. It aired April 18.
“It’s a new animated show and TV series with indigenous characters,” said Firth. “The character, Molly, is 10 years old, is so positive and exciting. She never lets anything get in her way. She tries hard because she says Shirley and Sharon tried it.
“We’re here to help one another and promote each other as we can. It’s up to each one of us to encourage and help one another. You don’t have to be an athlete or in sports, but everything you do in life, just do the best you can. We’re going to trip and fall, but as the show says just stand back up.”
She and her late sister Shirley are the focus in a new episode of Molly of Denali, a budding children’s show about a Gwich’in / Koyukon / Dena’ina Athabascan family who run the Denali Trading post in rural Alaska. It’s produced in partnership between PBS and CBC and airs Saturday mornings on CBC and CBC Gem.
Although just in its first season, the show has been many years in the making. Firth said she was approached by the show’s creator, Gwich’in artist Princess Daazhraii Johnson, several years back and the idea snowballed from there.
“It is so wonderful and amazing, it was the right place at the right time,” said Firth. “Princess Daazhraii knows my niece Tanya, Shirley’s daughter. Tanya was talking about it and this sparked Princess’ name and she asked me if I would be interested. We got so inspired about it, because we’re trying to inspire young people.
“It was a long process, two to three years.”
After collecting 79 medals over four Olympic appearances for Team Canada, as well as three World Cup runs and a World Championship, the sisters have plenty of experience to draw on over 20 years of racing. Born and raised in Aklavik, Sharon said she was drawn into the skiing world as a child both for the love of being outside and the travel.
Being an Olympian did require some sacrifices, however.
“When we were training, it was sort of like a lock down. We really had to separate ourselves from the party scene. We had to be so disciplined,” she said. “You’re competing with the giants of the world and it was all about promoting the north and indigenous people, showing we are in that category too and can do great things in our lives.”
When Sharon’s not inspiring children in cartoons, she’s doing it in real life. As a Youth Program Advisor for the Northwest Territories, Firth said she was still skiing daily as part of both her physical health and maintaining good social distancing.
She said the most important thing for her was to show kids growing up that they can do anything they set their minds to if their hearts are in it.
But now she can also look back at her time as a cartoon.
“I was just so proud of it,” she said. “We used our traditional clothing and we used wooden skis, and that’s what Molly used.
“It’s come full circle.”