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HIGH ACHIEVERS: Glebe CI’s Zoe Gardiner wins OFSAA Character Athlete Award

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Zoe Gardiner. File photo

By Martin Cleary

The name Zoe comes from the Greek and means ‘life.’ The parents of Zoe Gardiner certainly picked the proper name for her as she is filled with life and motivated to breathe life into projects all around her.

Whether Gardiner is wearing the Glebe Collegiate Institute jersey for cross-country running, rugby, soccer, athletics or touch football, serving on student council, helping her peers, or being active in her community, she’s a leader.

Glebe teacher/coach Kirk Dillabaugh saw all those qualities in Gardiner and nominated her for the Ontario Federation of School Athletic Associations’ Character Athlete Award for student-athletes who best exemplify the founding characteristics of the provincial high school sports body.

Gardiner and Emmanuel Adegboyega of Chaminade College School in Toronto recently were named the recipients of the Character Athlete Award, which brings a $1,000 grant from Jostens and a commemorative plaque. OFSAA received more than 64 award nominations.

“Zoe is a strong, charismatic young woman whose quiet example and work ethic naturally make her a leader amongst her peers,” OFSAA wrote in a press release. “Zoe’s countless hours of service to helping others had a great impact within her school, community and around the world!”

Athletically, Gardiner’s final time representing Glebe was during the 2019 cross-country running season. She was the Gryphons’ top senior girls’ runner at OFSAA in 46th, and helped the team place fifth and the school second overall.

At the National Capital Secondary School Athletic Association championships, she was ninth in the senior girls’ race. The Gryphons won the senior girls’ team title, which helped the school capture its 11th consecutive aggregate title.

Gardiner ran for the Gryphons to help her friends and teammates and also used running – she was a reluctant runner at the start – to improve and maintain her fitness for soccer, which was her first love in sports.

Her passion for soccer motivated her to raise more than $6,000 to create a Sport Development Centre for girls in Pasla, India. Her efforts earned her an Award of Honour for Leadership and Philanthropy from the English Football League, EDI Football and the Kabaddi League in Punjab, India. Earlier, she collected more than 250 pairs of new and used soccer cleats, which she donated to young players in Rurka Kalan, an Indian village.

“Zoe works hard to ensure others have equal opportunities, as evidenced by her work in India, and she strives to ensure everyone is respected and valued,” the OFSAA release added.

Gardiner has served on the Glebe student council for four years, the final two as secretary, and has been a member of the Link Crew to assist Grade 9 students and ensure a smooth transition into high school.

During the 15-month COVID-19 pandemic period, Gardiner was instrumental in organizing Mental Health Panels, which helped students confronted by issues related to the pandemic and online schooling.

Gardiner has been a driving force behind the school’s Mental Health Initiative by staging the Information Fair, workshops and information sessions.

Glebe and the community also benefited, when Gardiner spearheaded the school’s inaugural Sexual Assault Campaign to support victims and raise awareness.

She has raised money for Harmony House, a women’s shelter, “showing her desire to help those that need an opportunity to heal and be nurtured in a culturally sensitive, accessible and healing environment,” OFSAA added.

Gardiner’s community volunteer work has seen her raise more than $10,000 in the past five years for KidSport, Crock-Pot, Harmony House, the Ottawa Hospital and a reconciliation village in Rwanda.

“Whatever task Zoe undertakes, she does so not only to learn and develop into a strong student-athlete and person, but (also) to assist others in helping them to be the best version of themselves,” OFSAA said.

Martin Cleary has written about amateur sports for 50 years. A past Canadian sportswriter of the year and Ottawa Sports Awards Lifetime Achievement in Sport Media honouree, Martin retired from full-time work at the Ottawa Citizen in 2012, but continued to write a bi-weekly “High Achievers” column for the Citizen/Sun.

When the pandemic struck, Martin created the High Achievers “Stay-Safe Edition” to provide some positive news during tough times, via his Twitter account at first and now here at

Martin can be reached by e-mail at and on Twitter @martincleary.

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