Firth sisters support adult literacy with new biography

Firth sisters support adult literacy with new biography
The NWT Literacy Council’s newest Northern Biographies publication, Hard work and dreams: Skiing around the world, tells the story of sisters Shirley Firth-Larsson, left, and Sharon Firth, both Olympic cross-country skiers from Aklavik.Photo: courtesy of Darren Horn Photography.

A new book documenting the life and times of two of the NWT’s top athletic siblings is set to launch this week, showcasing a tale of adversity and hard work with an optimistic, if painful, culmination.

Sharon Firth and the late Shirley Firth-Larsson, Aklavik-born twin sisters who rose to popularity through their professional cross-country skiing careers, are featured in the latest release of the NWT Literacy Council’s Northern Biographies series, Hard work and dreams: Skiing around the world.

“Our story is whole; it’s real,” said Firth, who cherishes both the highlights and struggles she has faced. “Life is all about practicing over and over and over until you get it, and then if you get it, you practice more so you can be better at it. It’s not only in sports, it’s in everything you do; it’s always perfecting yourself and challenging yourself.”

The book pieces together the puzzle of the sisters’ lives over 75 pages, starting with their experiences living on the land as daughters of a trapper, to their first time slipping around in a pair of skis, through four rounds of the Olympics and, finally, as they retire from the field of professional sports.

The sisters decided to document their lives at the request of the NWT Literacy Council, in the hopes that their story might inspire others as they face their own challenges, in athletics and in life. For this reason, it will be sent out to community learning centres during NWT Adult Learner’s Week, which runs from Apr. 11 to 19.

“It was for adult literacy, to help the adults with their reading and learning,” Firth said. “When you can read, it’s a gateway to a better future. I thought it was a huge thing that Shirley and I were doing to help people.”
Encouraging education has been a top priority for Firth for years. As a touring representative of the department of Municipal and Community Affairs, Firth regularly travels the territory inspiring new generations to work hard and succeed at their goals.

“I talk about kids finishing school and learning as much as they possibly can while they’re young,” she said. “The brain is still developing and kids need to put some good things into it. They need to plan their futures because life is not always just fun, fun, fun; it requires work and development.”

After enjoying support from fans in the NWT and beyond over the years, Firth said the duo felt it important to contribute what they could to society.

“I’ve learned that when you reach a certain age in your life, it’s all chalked up to experience,” Firth said. “Shirley and I, we’ve been very fortunate that people have been following us. You could just keep all your knowledge to yourself, but who benefits from it?”

To compile the book, the council conducted separate interviews with the Olympians, a necessity as Firth-Larsson was going through cancer treatments during its production. In the end, she succumbed to the disease on Apr. 30, 2013. The book was ultimately dedicated to her as one of the final projects released to the public on which the Firth sisters were able to collaborate.

That Hard work and dreams is being officially released during Daffodil Month, a time dedicated to cancer fundraising and awareness, was not lost on Firth. To this day, she still contends with the loss of her twin.

“I’m still in my grieving process. People have asked me to come and fundraise; well I can’t even do that, I’m not ready for it,” she said. “I’m not ready to get out there and run those kilometres and get all the money for cancer. I’m just not prepared mentally or physically. For me that’s not being selfish; I have to take care of my mental health and my well-being before I can help other people.”

Even going through the painful experience of losing her sister has provided Firth with fodder for lessons to motivate others.

“I would rather do something like read this novel to people and get them excited about healthy eating or getting into a daily exercise program, just taking care of your appearance and how you work with people, how you treat people,” she said. “I want to make it a positive experience.”

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