Jenna Marks: art student and athlete
December 20, 2012

 Sprint canoeist Jenna Marks.

From early on, Jenna Marks knew if she wanted to be a world-ranked sprint canoeist it would be a hard row.

That knowledge stems from a conversation her older sister had with her parents about which sport she should pursue: canoeing or kayaking. Her parents, after all, were simply pointing out that women’s canoe, unlike men’s canoe and unlike women’s kayaking, is not an Olympic sport, and thus doesn’t get the support that other sports do.

“She was told, ’You can’t really go anywhere with canoeing if you’re a girl,’” recalls Jenna, 22, who is in her fourth year at NSCAD, majoring in film.  “I didn’t think it was fair that my brother could canoe but my sister couldn’t. And that made me more determined than ever.”

Jenna is using her talents as animator to press her case for equitable treatment and raise money. She’s created a video with the aim of gathering $5,000 by the end of January. She needs the funds to cover fees, travel and expenses to attend two sets of trials in the spring. “Without raising the money, it will be difficult to compete and make it to the national team.”

But she doesn’t expect donations without working for them. She’ll show her appreciation in creative ways—including making a film or animation for gifts of $1,000 or more.

“I knew when I started that women didn’t really canoe, but I like the idea that I’m doing something that bigger than myself, that it’s not just about winning,” says Jenna, who would like to see women’s canoe at the Olympics in 2016. It’s about fairness for our sport.”

Being an athlete and an art student isn’t easy; in addition to completing her degree in film—a time intensive program especially in fourth year—she trains. She swims, paddles, lifts weights and runs. Throughout the fall term, she was often on the water at 7 a.m. for practice. If assignments and projects took time away from training, she’d squeeze in her exercise by running to school—“You kind of have to not care if you come to school sweaty,” laughs Jenna, a Dartmouth resident who trains at Lake Banook.

Jenna’s passion to fight for a cause is also the impetus behind her thesis film project, an animation about Esther Roan, who died from injuries sustained during the Halifax Explosion in 1917. She’ll begin production on the film, What Happened to Esther?, in the new year.

“When I came across her—she was poor, black, female, a midwife—I knew that she had a point of view not always considered,” says Jenna. “I am fascinated by women’s empowerment in that era.”

See Jenna's campaign on Pursuit:

For his thesis film project, Jenna Marks is making an animation about a woman who died during the Halifax Explosion.