May 11, 2020

Former military pilot leads Olympic Oval at University of Calgary

New director Peter McCrory has passion for high-performance sport
A Royal Airforce helicopter: SA 300 Puma
A Royal Airforce helicopter: SA 300 Puma Wikimedia Commons

One look at the flight deck, and seven-year-old Peter McCrory knew he wanted to fly. It was his first time on a plane and he stayed with the pilots for the landing. He was travelling with his family to Spain for a summer holiday.

McCrory followed his dream. After finishing his university degree in international business and Spanish, he joined Britain's Royal Air Force (RAF) and spent 17 years flying all over the world.

The new director of the Olympic Oval at the University of Calgary grew up in Belfast, Northern Ireland. He spent three years in England, and every winter headed to Norway to train people in Arctic survival. As a pilot, he was deployed to Hungary, Italy, France, Germany and Denmark. He also represented the RAF in swimming, water polo, rowing and triathlon.

Lessons from flying career

Years of flying taught McCrory two valuable lessons: the importance of respecting yourself and your team, and the need to get people focused on delivering to the highest possible standard.

“In the air force, we would always say ‘on time and on target’ when we were executing flying missions, and that’s something I’ve taken with me throughout my professional life. One of the most important things when trying to complete a task is having a team that is all working towards a common goal, making sure the right people are in the right roles.”

In 2003, McCrory stopped flying and started teaching leadership development for pilots and aircrew, sharing the knowledge he gained over the years. McCrory also completed a master’s degree in sport and exercise science through a distance-learning program while he continued to teach in the military.

New job, new country

What comes with a military career is the need to move location every two years, and after 17 years, McCrory started to wonder what else the world had to offer. With his master’s degree and military experience in hand, he made the courageous move to immigrate to Canada and start a job in consulting.

Moving into a new job while also moving to a new country proved to be a steep learning curve, but McCrory chose to make the most of his new experiences. “If I’m being completely honest, coming out of the military I didn’t really know what career, other than a sporting career, I wanted to have. Consulting was a great stepping-stone into corporate life and I learned a ton,” he says .

“I was able to use what I learned while consulting and began to actively look for a role in sport where I could use my master’s degree in some capacity. When the opportunity to become the director of sport at the Repsol Sport Centre came up, it was a no-brainer.”

Passionate about sport

McCrory doesn’t shy away from an active life, competing in triathlons since he was 15 years old. He says he didn’t actually finish his first triathlon, recalling how badly his calves cramped after getting off his bike — a feeling many Oval athletes can relate to — but he continued to train and compete in the gruelling sport and won a local triathlon event in Edmonton in 2018.

He also competed in an Ironman (a four-kilometre swim, 180-kilometre bike and a 42-kilometre run) and participated in the the Race Across America, a non-stop cycling race deemed to be the world’s toughest bike race. McCrory, along with three other team members, did the race in six days and 23 hours in 2010.

Peter McCrory cycling in the 3000 mile Race Across America

Peter McCrory competes in the 3,000-mile Race Across America

McCrory worked at the Repsol Sport Centre for a couple of years before starting his role at the Olympic Oval. He says the energy and buzz of the Repsol Sport Centre underlined for him the passion he has for being a part of a sports facility and a sport team, being surrounded by so many dedicated and hard-working people who also shared his interest in sport and active living.

The Olympic Oval is known for its legacy from the ’88 Olympic Games while also being a part of the University of Calgary’s Faculty of Kinesiology. The faculty is world-renowned for sports innovation and research and is ranked Number 1 in North America and seventh globally for schools of movement and sport science.

“The fact that we are able to cater to high-performance athletes, varsity athletes and public guests is so important. The sustainability of sport relies on all levels of ability being able to participate, and I’m really happy to be a part of a team that is constantly pushing to improve all levels of sport while extending the existing legacy here at the Oval,” McCrory says.

Interview with Peter McCrory, Olympic Oval director

Kristen Fong

About the Olympic Oval: An Olympic legacy

Over the university’s 50-year history, one of the key legacies of the Faculty of Kinesiology has been its leading role in bringing the 1988 Winter Olympic Games to Calgary. The faculty’s extraordinary drive and vision ensured the success of the Games and, ultimately, created a permanent legacy for the university: the Olympic Oval. As a direct result, the faculty was able to develop a world-class environment for both basic and applied research, an excellent teaching and learning environment for undergraduate and graduate students, and superb training facilities for coaches and athletes at the varsity, community and Olympic level.