The “City of Champions” moniker has long represented our great city. Many associate it with the glory days when the Oilers and Eskimos were winning cups nearly every season. Others attribute it to Black Friday in 1987 when the tornado tore through Edmonton and mayor Laurence Decore popularized it in his response to the outpouring of support from the community, pulling together after the disaster.
Regardless of which version is correct, we all know that Edmonton is home to a wide range of champions. It’s home to everyone from Olympic athletes and business moguls, to upstart entrepreneurs and philanthropists. We all pull together to support the many things happening in our city to make it an amazing place to live.
Shane Fennessey was born into the spirit of the City of Champions. Son of Oilers great Kevin Lowe, he moved to Vancouver with his mom early on where he grew up trying a variety of sports, despite being a self-proclaimed poor athlete. Baseball was not much fun for him because of his terrible eyesight. For the slow kid with glasses, gym class wasn’t much fun. His absence of athletic talent was exacerbated by an affinity for junk food and video games.
Hockey was the one sport Shane always enjoyed. Though he wasn’t the most skilled player in the league, he made sure nobody ever outworked him on the ice. In his grade 12 year, he won the BC Provincial Championship, although it wasn’t until men’s league that I really hit my stride.
“People assume it was my dad who played a big part in my love for hockey and, of course, what young boy doesn’t want to follow in the footsteps of their father,” he says. That dream is all the more appealing when your father happens to be a legendary hockey player. “The reality is that my mom deserves huge credit in this department.”
Growing up with a single parent, it was Shane’s mom that took him to every practice and game, and who spent countless tournament weekends over the years sitting in a cold rink. Don’t forget, this was Vancouver, where unlike Edmonton, the weather outside of the rink is always nicer than inside. She sacrificed a lot so that he could play out his vision of following his dad.
Once the realization that he didn’t have the potential to play in the NHL, he adjusted his career aspirations slightly. While still in university, he had the good fortune of landing a gig with Hockey Canada during the 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympics where he worked in the Molson Canadian Hockey House and oversaw VIP Services for Team Canada and their families. After university, his first job was with Hockey Canada for the 2012 World Juniors in Alberta. Moving to Edmonton was a massive change for Shane but there was more at play than just a cool job.
“The only reason I considered the job in the first place was because of my four younger half-siblings,” he says.
Growing up, the highlight of every year was the week he would head to his dad’s place in the Shuswaps and get to spend time with the brother and sisters whom he missed the other 51 weeks of the year.
“I saw coming to Edmonton at 22 as a chance to get to know them better before years passed and I became the estranged older brother.”
After the World Juniors in 2012, Shane followed that up with the obligatory “discover yourself” travel experience in Southeast Asia. He and two of his friends bounced around Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos for four months, consuming far too many beers on far too many beaches. They had their fun, but by the end of it he was desperate to get back to Canada and become a contributing member of society once more. The trip turned out to be a valuable life lesson, after all, revealing that life as one big party quickly loses its meaning.
At 25, Shane took a complete career left turn and found himself back in Edmonton working in the transportation industry as an Operation Specialist for a bulk carrier trucking company. The work he was doing was moderately engaging, but unquestionably unfulfilling. He was making good money and had a well-defined career path ahead of himself that would see him become a VP in the company within the decade, but things were going downhill without brakes.
“I took no satisfaction in my weekday work endeavors,” he says. “I focused all my energy on living for the weekend.”
This involved having fun at the expense of his wallet and liver. While fitness maintained a place in his life throughout this, his health suffered both physically and psychologically. He didn’t realize how desperate of a place he had gotten himself to until his poor decisions ultimately cost him his position at the trucking company.
“This was the best thing that’s ever happened to me. I made a promise to myself that this would be the lowest I’d allow my life to go; this would be my rock bottom. I spent the next couple of months with a renewed commitment to focus on improving myself in every way possible,” he explains.
Shane decided to put a full stop to his drinking until he sorted his life out. He began reading for the first time in his life outside of academic required reading. He consumed books on leadership, psychology, business, and philosophy at a voracious pace. He was also in the gym everyday pushing myself and dropped 18 pounds in two months.
“Friends asked if I was sick. Ironic, given that I was the healthiest I had ever been in my life. I began engaging with people on a meaningful, and sober, level. For the first time in my life I felt free and empowered by living life on my own schedule and on my own terms.”
In the middle of a workout Shane got the call that set him down his current career path. A friend, one who is a very talented director and to whom he will forever feel indebted to, called and asked if he wanted to get into the movie business. After a laugh and a sarcastic response of, “sure, who wouldn’t, the friend told him about a short video for the Oilers that needed a producer. When he explained that he didn’t know anything about producing, he assured Shane that he already had the skills and personality needed to succeed. His unflinching confidence in Shane’s abilities was the final stone in the foundation he needed to begin building his new career.
That short video that Shane produced was the iconic “Thank You, Fans” video for the Oiler’s opening season at Rogers Place. Every home game, his modest piece of art preceded his friend’s opening video masterpiece.
With a production stint under his belt and some work in television shortly after, it was time to work his way onto a movie set. HIs director friend was kicking off production of his very first feature film shooting in Edmonton. The plan worked perfectly, and Shane spent the next three months working with the two producers from LA through 16-hour days, night shoots, and the blistering Edmonton cold.
Shane’s journey into his latest venture; the City of Champions podcast takes his producing experience to a whole other level. Podcasts have played a huge role in his life, essentially jumpstarting a pursuit of knowledge, which eventually lead to his obsession with reading. Having been a loyal listener of both Tim Ferriss and Joe Rogan for years now and more recently, the Gary Vaynerchuk train, Shane has realized that there is a common thread among them all in that they simultaneously bridge his interest into fields that he wouldn’t normally consider, and also motivate the hell out of him.
“I was approached by a friend last year to start our own podcast,” he explains. “I loved the idea of producing something that had benefited my life so much, and that could hopefully have a similar modicum of positivity on someone else’s life.”
The friend wanted to do a sports talk show, which didn’t particularly interest Shane, but he agreed to a 5-episode test run, after which he decided to go out on his own. Taking inspiration from his favourites, he decided to create a one-on-one, fireside chat format podcast, that wasn’t quite as structured as Ferriss, but had a bit more direction than Rogan. With that, the City of Champions Podcast was born.
With the podcast as his backdrop, Shane can reach out to strangers, and ask to meet up to talk about their interests. The only two criteria he has for his guests are that they must be from or related to Edmonton in some way and that they must be doing something inspiring. His lineup has drawn from mostly athletically oriented guests, but he’s also enjoyed the wide-ranging company of doctors, entrepreneurs, filmmakers, and rockstars.
“Looking back at my lineup of guests is overwhelmingly humbling,” he says.
If asked to pick a favourite, there’s not a chance that he could but a few that come to mind are the never masking her emotions Jamie Salé who she wears her heart on her sleeve, Othieno Chi Bey for being the coolest person around who doesn’t try to act cool and Brett Kissel for being as genuine and humble as they come, not just for being a rockstar, but for a human being as well.
Podcasting is on the rise because of its simplicity and depth. There is no need to dress it up with visual pageantry, and anyone can get started with a basic, cost-effective setup. On the consumption side, podcasts are portable, and only require your passive attention, allowing you to be able to listen while you drive, cook, or workout, surpassing that of TV or reading.
Content wise, the context you’re able to provide your audience via podcast is deeper than that if the written word, and more time effective. The stories behind our brands are far more powerful than most realize. As Simon Sinek contends, “people don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it”. In a podcast the conversation is able to evolve through discussion and debate, and it’s really hard to pull one over on your audience for any extended period of time, especially if you host established and trustworthy guests. Furthermore, podcasts bring FREE VALUE to both your audience, and your guest, by offering up an opportunity for them to discuss relevant topics in a form so rarely deployed in everyday life: the long-format conversation. Therefore, the podcast provides an exceptional platform for sharing your narrative with your audience in a meaningful and truthful way.
“To build a community requires trust. To build trust requires truth. The most effective way to speak your truth is, simply that, to speak it. And, of course, be tasked with defending it if need be.”
Last year, Shane was extraordinarily fortunate to cross paths with a producer who brought him on as co-producer for his next feature documentary, “Making Coco: The Grant Fuhr Story”, about the Oiler’s 5-time Stanley Cup winning goalie. Grant is the first, and only, black player in the Hockey Hall of Fame as he played for 5 teams over a 20-year NHL career. He dealt with countless injuries, a drug suspension, and a career resurgence at the end of his career that nobody expected. Wayne Gretzky maintains that Grant is the best goalie to have ever played the game. Perhaps most unbelievable of all, you won’t find one person with a single bad word to say about Grant. We had Grant on the cover of one of our first editions of YEG Fitness and we have remained in touch ever since.
When your job allows you to spend time interviewing the likes of Wayne Gretzky, Mark Messier, Paul Coffey, and Brett Hull, you can’t help but feel excessively fortunate. It was also a special experience for Shane to be able to include his dad in the project. The film is currently in post-production, and I’m personally very excited to see the end product after getting a first view of the trailer that had not yet been released. Making Coco will be premiering during the Toronto International Film Festival in September 2018 and be back to Edmonton to premiere shortly thereafter.
Shane’s initial endeavor into the world of fitness is somewhat of a sad story. In the summer between his grade 10 and 11 year, he and his best friend met a girl that they both fell hard for. What made matters complicated is that she admitted to having feelings for both of them. Not wanting to let something like that get in the way of their friendship, they made a pact to respect whatever decision she made. Unfortunately for Shane, that decision was his friend.
“I had never been popular, or particularly confident around girls, so her decision didn’t shock me. I was, however, shocked a week later when she came to me and confessed she had made a mistake.”
She told him that she picked the good-looking athlete over the guy that made her smile and laugh. As backhanded a compliment as that was, they ended up spending many good years together and this is the moment he decided to never let a lack of physical fitness hold him back from anything in life. He signed up for his first gym membership that summer and began reading all fitness-related material he could get his hands on.
“If only I had the YEG Fitness magazine as a resource at the time!” he says.
During the winter, Shane is in the gym 6 or 7 times per week, and he skis as much as he can. His focus in the gym always revolves around big compound moves like deadlifts, squats, bench, and rows which should be a staple for anyone who lifts. When the temperature rises, and the sun comes out to play, he spends as much time outside as his pale Irish skin will allow. In the city, the river valley is an absolute gem as there are countless ways to mix up your bike route to keep things novel and challenging. He’s also a huge fan of stair sprints on a hot day.
“It’s motivating to see people of all shapes and sizes, and from different walks of life, pushing themselves towards a goal. It has a real community feel, which is something Edmonton is never short on,” he says.
Family was the biggest influence in bringing Shane back to Edmonton. Getting to know his younger siblings, and spending time with his dad, stepmom, and other relatives was such a massive draw that outweighed any negative preconceived notions he had about the city. It’s tough to put into words what a city like Edmonton means to people, but everyone who lives here knows it.
At the end of the day, I’m not romantic about a physical location,” says Shane. “For me, it’s the quality of interaction that makes a place worth living and, right now, the quality in Edmonton is second to none.”
TJ Sadler – Editor – YEG Fitness