Marion Thenault: Olympian aims for carbon-neutral podium

By Kerry Turner

Currently studying to become an aerospace engineer at Montreal’s Concordia University, Marion Thénault
made her Olympic debut at Beijing in 2022 placing seventh in the individual competition and winning a bronze in the mixed team aerials.

Unlike many of her teammates, Thénault’s early sport experience wasn’t skiing but as a gymnast. It was her air awareness, and acrobatic and trampoline skills that drew the attention of coaches at an RBC Training Ground event in her hometown of Sherbrooke, QC. After trying aerials at the water ramps, the 17-year-old fell in love with the sport she once thought people had to be crazy to do.

Just four years later, at the beginning of her first season on the 2020/2021 World Cup tour, Thénault was
relatively unknown but that changed very quickly. “By the end I had two podiums and one win and people started to know who I was,” recalls Thénault. She has seized the opportunity to use her platform to promote awareness of climate change, and the aerospace industry. Referring to a recent partnership agreement she signed with the engineering firm WSP, Thénault says, “I’m building partnerships that are interesting as they connect both fields. I would not have the sponsorship with WSP if it wasn’t for my engineering background. I could not have that mix if I was only in school or only in sports.”

But the demands of competing and training, along with her university courses, are challenging. “I absolutely love my lifestyle and travelling for competitions and training and pushing myself and all that comes with this sport. But I do know I am missing some of the university life because I do my classes, but I’m rarely on campus. I also know I don’t do as much science. At the same time, I am still involved in the program I want to do and that I am really passionate about. And I have a platform that allows me to add some visibility for what I do. I think I can also help the aerospace field.

“I love to accomplish things I’m not sure I can. It’s like in aerials. Let’s say I watch other athletes do jumps and
I don’t feel I’m ever going to be able to do this, but I’m going to give myself a chance. I’m going to try and
train towards it. I did every single jump that I wanted to do so far, and I’m working on bigger ones and there’s
always the next challenge, and that’s something I really like. And this is the same thing at school with math
classes, programming classes and classes in areas that are a challenge every time. But I love to do it.”

The sport and science mix comes naturally to Thénault. Her parents were elite athletes and pursued careers
in science. “My mom has a degree in chemistry and a master’s in environment. My dad has a bachelor’s in
kinesiology and he does biomechanical research. I lived with both fields and growing up I did a lot of science
fairs − that was my thing,” says Thénault.

Today, Thénault hopes young women will look at her experience and say, I can do this − I can be an
aerospace engineer and possibly go flying off a jump. “Engineering is now dominantly male, it’s not a surprise.
My sport is also male dominant. I feel like I’m always finding myself in situations where there’s really not a lot
of girls. But it’s something that is not an issue for me. I just want more girls in the field. I want these fields to
not be as intimidating. While they’re male dominant, once you’re in it doesn’t make a difference. You can
inspire and be inspired by what the men do and they learn from it as well.”

WSP’s partnership with Thénault is focused on supporting her dreams of returning to the 2026 Winter Olympics in Milan, becoming an engineer, and being one of Canada’s first carbon-neutral athletes. Thénault is working alongside members of the engineering firm’s Earth and Environment team to determine the carbon footprint of her freestyle skiing activities as she travels around the world to events on the World Cup circuit.

“I am excited to work with WSP to try and become one of Canada’s first carbon-neutral Olympians. It started because I was thinking I wanted to be carbon neutral. I feel it’s the next big challenge for everyone. After the games, I had the opportunity to do a presentation at WSP for its Earth and Environment team about my sport and how I train for the Olympics, and finally my vision of being a carbon neutral athlete. At the end they said yes, we can help you do that. We had never spoken before. We worked together to create the partnership we wanted,” says Thénault.

The firm’s climate change experts will quantify the emissions associated with her activities, look for ways to reduce this footprint, and find solutions to offset her actions. As part of this process, Thénault will develop a better understanding of the environmental cost of athletic competition and the financial cost of offsetting the emissions generated during her Olympic pursuit. “Travelling around the world comes with an environmental impact, one that we need to reduce to minimize the impact of climate change. Hopefully the research we are doing will help athletes around the world take action to reduce their carbon footprint,” says Thénault.

Over the next four years, both WSP and Thénault will provide updates on the journey to carbon neutrality on their respective social media channels.

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