Diane Clement – Olympian and Sports Pioneer

By June 16, 2020 Features, News

Still paving the way for Women in Sport and beyond.

Here are some of the highlights from a recent online interview with Olympian Diane Clement. She is the author of eight bestselling cookbooks, 2019 member of the order of Canada and a pioneer for women and sport. Diane talked about her recipe for fitness, food and fun.


Q: What inspired you to write eight best-selling cookbooks?

Well, it started actually, way back when with Western Living Magazine, with Liz and Jack Bryan, way back in the early 90s. And they said, “Look, we need a food person to do the food feature. Would you do a menu for each of the magazine issues?” I said, “I’d love to.” So we literally went all over Vancouver, went to our friend’s homes and shot the dinners, went down to the beach, and it was a great success. And then decided, well, let’s start and put it into a book. So that became the first book, Chef on the Run, and then More Chef. And then Chef and Doctor with Doug and I, and right through to eight Canadian best-selling cookbooks. So, I think about 170,000 across Canada. So it’s been amazing decades of food, fitness, and I think most important, and family and friends.

Q: Diane, tell us about the cooking schools?

Well, when Doug interned, when he graduated in medicine from UBC, he interned in San Francisco. So while he was on call at the hospital, I started taking cooking classes, and there was an Early Sunset magazine. And in San Francisco, there were starting people to entertain on patios and whatever. So, taking those classes were great. Then when Doug would take his UBC relay team, the men, to the Madison Square indoor games in New York every year. Then my sister in law from Toronto would join me, and we took cooking classes in New York with the famous James Beard. And many other great chefs in New York, so that became my background.

Then, as team manager of our track and field team, we would travel the world to training camps and to the Olympic games and Commonwealth games. I would go early or stay on and take classes internationally, all over the world. So, it really gave me an opportunity in those early days of cooking internationally, but also as an Olympic athlete, Doug and I, of eating healthy. So there’s a good balance that we can’t eat Christmas dinner every day. And the balance of exercise and enjoying good food became our mantra.

Q: What is your secret ingredient for keeping healthy and ageless?

Well, I think I use the food, fitness, and fun, and I’ve got one of our best sellers to start fresh with, Chef and Doctor. I think keeping active physically is good mentally. Our family is very important, we have three wonderful grandchildren. And our son Rand, and his wife, Susie, and Jen and her husband, Vince. We’re very close knit. My family across Canada, I have a twin brother, believe it or not.

He’s in Toronto with his wife, Diane. And we traveled just recently in February to Halifax, to our brother’s 90th birthday. And he, fit every day, he works out. So I think we always felt that we had to eat healthy, growing up in the Maritimes. It didn’t hurt having lobsters at Shediac Beach at our cottage, and fresh garden greens from our farmers, way back when. So it was the early beginnings for me, and then continued through to today that we to have a balance, but enjoy our little sweet tooth like we’re going to. I mentioned we did my Fonzie’s brownies, and that’s another story. But we can have treat day if we keep active and have a balance of our diet.

Q: Diane, tell us the story about the Fonzie’s brownies?

Well, in the busy Tomato Cafe, my brownies became famous. And again, an old recipe for my mom, in Moncton. So I had a call, he was shooting a movie with his crew and his team. And they phoned, they said, “Well, we’re having a party tonight.” And the person knew me and knew my brownies. He said, “Would you send down some brownies? I said, “It’s a busy like job, but I’ll see what I can do.” So I whipped up two batches, sent them down. And then two days later we were shooting, The Discovery Channel were interviewing Jenny and I. Busy lunch hour, and in walks Henry. And everybody’s turning around and going, “Oh my gosh, it’s Henry Winkler.” Then he sees The Discovery Channel crew going, “How does they know I was coming to Tomato?”

So they said, “Can we interview you with Diane?” He said, “Well, as long as you don’t use it for a commercial.” So he opened the interview and he said, “I’m here to thank this wonderful mama Tomato. Those are the best brownies I’ve ever eaten the world.” He said, “I’m not going back to shoot. I’m going back to each some more brownies.” So two days later, they were flying to Victoria to do a shoot. And one of our dear friends. Who was a pilot for the private companies, were flying him. Moved him up to the front so he could see the islands as they went into Victoria. And he’s sitting there with my friend, the pilot, and he’s got this brown paper bag. My friend told me, he said, “Look, you’ve got to try these brownies.” He said, “That wonderful mama Tomato. They’re the best in the world.” He said, “I know, I’ve been eating them for the last 20 years.”

Q: You’ve done such amazing work for paving the way for women in sport, and beyond sport. You were the president of the Athletics Canada, the first woman. And also the first woman for the UBC track and field, tell us about that?

Well, that was a challenge. It was in 1975 and we had actually got a national track and field conference in Vancouver. So it was now, they were appointing a new president. Ironically enough, that our coach Fred Foot from Toronto, in 1976 was running for president. And then all of the federations, including Quebec, came up to me and said, “Diane, we want you to run.” And I said, “Look, I’ve got a family. We’ve got our Rich McKay track club. I can’t do it. I thank you for the compliment.” So they said, “Well, we are $85,000 or something in debt, or over $100,000 in debt to Sport Canada. And our president is saying, you know what? If Sport Canada spearheaded by Roger Jackson, that led the grower. We’ll just tell them if you don’t erase our debt, we’re not going to have a track and field team in Montreal.” And I went, “This is ridiculous.” So I said, “Okay, then I’ll run.” I got in as president and I taxed every province of the debt they owed. And I went to every province and said, “We’re paying off our debt.”

So eventually we did. We paraded our team in 76, and of course, we had the great Greg Joy winning the bronze medal in the high jump. So it was a challenge, and for a woman to spearhead a sport federation was unheard of. I think there was one woman, I think in Europe, I think it might’ve been actually from, Greece that was honored. And in fact, she invited me in 2002 to go to Greece, to speak at a World Congress in Sport. And I had to speak on behalf of the women around the world, spearheading sport federation. It was quite an honor, and it went over very well. It was in the early decades of women spearheading any key federation, key business, in anything. Women were like, “Well, they should be home looking after the household or whatever.” So, I really led the way, and I think that it was very satisfying to me. And I had a strong support from Doug and he said, “Yes, Diane. Yes, you can.” And we’ve come a long way for women in sport, that’s for sure.

Q: It feels so good to see other women following or looking up to you, as a role model. Also for racing too, right, back when you were in the 1956 Olympics. Can you tell us about women running, they weren’t able to run beyond a half marathon or a marathon?

Well, at the time when I was competing, and I was running as… Again, and going to university in Montreal, and training at the Montreal with our track club. Women had a choice of two running events, 100 or 200. Again, which you mentioned, if we trained for more than that, we may not bear children. So it took from that point, that era, gradually. Finally, up into 1984, it was going to be the first women’s marathon at the Olympic games in LA. I was team manager, Doug team Doctor/Coach, and Charmaine Crooks was part of our team at that time, as well. And this little tiny, five foot Joan Benoit from the U.S., had broken the world record in the marathon the month before. A woman from Denmark had broken the world record, as well.

So now these two were coming together. As you know, the last two events are the women’s marathon, and then the men. They were the big headlines, “What woman is going to win the Olympic marathon?” So, we ate in the dining room at the USC campus with the American team. So we got to know Joan, and we call her Joanie. We didn’t have a woman marathoner, so we said, “Joanie, all of Canada will be cheering for you tomorrow.” So we did, and of course she won, and it was an amazing event. About seven years or five years after, Charmaine and Doug and I were at a sports conference in Edmonton, she was the keynote speaker. So over a glass of champagne, Charmaine and I, we raised our glasses with her. And she said, “Can you imagine what the women are doing now in sport? And we couldn’t run more than 400 meters, because we may not have children.”

She said, “Diane, how many do you have?” I said, “We have two.” She said, “We have three.” And she raised her glass and she said, “We God damn proved them wrong.” I’ve gone through quite an era of seeing the advancement of women, how far they actually have gone, when you think I could not run more than a half a lap in 1976.

Q: What advice would you give to women? 

Well, I think that again, I have very strong support from my family across Canada, from Doug, and my family here. And women, I think are feeling stronger. They’re spearheading companies. I think we’re getting more confident. I think there’s still also a big backlash of women, not being able or allowed to proceed to be president of the company or to whatever, be a key leader. I think it’s changing gradually, and we’ve come a long way since I was president of Athletics Canada. I admire the companies, whether it’s a law firm, whether it’s a department store, whatever it is. Any company that the men are looking at women as equals and saying, “Yes, I want you to be part of my strong team.” So that’s very rewarding to me, to see how far we’ve gone, not only in sport, but in business. In any walks of life where, I think women are being recognized for their value and their dedication, and their strength.

Q: What about some fitness and health tips, would you like to share? 

Again, I think one of the… I’ve got to go back to our eating and our diet. We can’t eat Christmas dinner every day, we have to eat healthy. And on the weekends, for example, my Fonzie’s brownies. I mean, those are treat days and those are special for the family. Special birthday cakes on their occasion, but we eat very healthy. We eat a lot of salads, fresh seafood, and we eat smaller portions. I find, well, let’s face it. When we go to a restaurant, Doug and I order one order for two because they’re so big, it’s ridiculous. We eat small portions, and I think it’s a good lesson that you start off with a nice salad. And on the weekends we enjoy our glass of wine, and the Heart and Stroke Foundation say one glass of wine a day, no problem.

So we eat… Before we work out, that’s the other thing. And I’ve always, as an athlete, I could never eat before I worked out. My mom and dad would say, “You’ve got to eat something.” And I remember, when we were at the Olympic training program, that the top athletes from across Canada were in Toronto. And we had a big track and field meet. Those days, it was like, everybody had to eat a big steak. We needed protein before we competed. So my dad, in Toronto we went to a restaurant, and I was just going to have a little soft drink or whatever. He said, “Diane, you better have your steak.” I said, “Nope. There’s no way I can eat steak, and turn around in a half an hour and run a 200 meters.”

So that, we’ve changed a lot. And I think that everybody, every athlete, learns what fuel food they need and not to over fuel. I mean, if you’re playing basketball or if you’re playing football, of course. A lot of them are eating heavier, but for most athletes, we have to eat healthy. And everybody, and eat smaller portions.

Q: Thank you, Diane. Is there anything else you’d like to add?

Well, I think one of the memorable moments for me in 2002, when I was invited to go to Greece. I had met the head of sport, there was woman spearheading sport in Greece, it was a World Congress of sport. And she said, “Diane, would you…” This was in, I think it was at the trials, wherever it was, at a conference. And she said, “Would you come to Greece and speak at this World Congress?” I said, “I’d love to.” And again, it was, men were, “Why are they having a woman speaking at this Congress?” But having said that, when I did speak, many men afterwards came up and just said, “We appreciate your giving us a perspective of how important it is for women to be equal, in sport and in business, and in everything we do.” So that meant a lot to me, to receive a compliment after that Congress. But I think again, we go back and I think it’s just enjoying life, teamwork. I’m only as strong as the team that have supported me over these many decades.

And our Achilles Track and Field Society that we put on our Harry Jerome meet, and our First Nations walk/run last year. We come together as a team, and unfortunately, we’ve just been phoning around. We had to cancel our Harry Jerome International track classic, which is disappointing. But as a team, we said, “Look, next year, we’ll be stronger and we can do it next year, hopefully.” We’re going to do our indoor meet at the Olympic Oval. That’s planned for February, for track and field at the Olympic Oval, at the indoor track. So we have to keep going. And my message to everyone is that we have to keep active, keep close to your friends and family, and take one day at a time. But keep moving, keep healthy, and stay happy.

Christine is a nationally published health and fitness writer. She writes a weekly column in the Sherbrooke Record, Quebec’s second-largest English language newspaper. In addition, Christine is the creator, producer, and host of B.C.’s only Running, Fitness and Health show called Run With It airing on Novus (TELUS) and YouTube channel.