From the cattle ranch to the world stage

This Canadian Olympian uses lessons she learned on her family’s cattle ranch to help her compete at the highest level of track and field.

By Jackie Clark

Sage Watson is a fierce competitor on the track.

She has represented Canada at the Pan American Games and World Championships. At the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio, Watson finished eleventh in the 400-metre hurdles and anchored the 4x400-metre relay team to a fourth-place finish. She set the Canadian record of 54.32 seconds for the 400-metre hurdles in Doha, Qatar at the 2019 IAAF World Athletics Championships.

Sage Watson holding Canadian flag in Lima, Peru

    Sage Watson won the 400-metre hurdles in a time of 55.16 seconds at the 2019 Pan American Games in Lima, Peru - Sage Watson photo

She’s known for her speed and signature red lipstick. But what some fans of the sport may not know is where Watson comes from.

Waylan & Sage Watson
    Sage Watson photo

“I grew up on a cattle ranch in southern Alberta with my mom, dad and my brother Waylan,” she tells Better Farming.

Watson’s parents, Wade and Jolene Watson, started Watson Cattle Company from the ground up.

“My dad said his dream growing up was to always be a rancher,” Watson explains. Their ranch is southwest of Medicine Hat, and they raise Red Gelbvieh and Red Angus cattle.

The Watson family
    Sage Watson photo

“We run over 300 head of pure-bred and commercial cattle,” she adds. “My family has been in Canada for over 100 years. It’s always been part of my family’s heritage to run cattle. I’m the sixth generation of Watsons.”

Watson grew up participating in 4-H.

“That got me into raising and learning about animals and knowing what it took to run the farm,” she says. Her agricultural background taught her how to work toward goals all seven days of the week.

“Farming and ranching is a lot of work and you really don’t get days off. If something goes wrong, you have to fix it. It’s not like a nine-to-five job,” Watson adds.

“Any farmer and rancher knows that the weekend is when you get to put in the most work,” she explains. “I feel like working on the weekends and having busy weeks is what really instilled my motivation. Everything I’ve taken from the ranch, I’ve really used in my running career. My parents taught me a lot about hard work.”

Those lessons from the ranch serve Watson well in her track career. In high school, she became determined to excel at running.

“My goal was to get a full-ride scholarship and move down to the U.S., so I got my education 100 per cent paid for and I still got to compete in track and field,” she explains. Watson didn’t consider that she could take running even further until she was in university.

She had a successful college career running for Florida State University, and then the University of Arizona. While attending the University of Arizona, she made her first Olympic team.

“I’m in my fourth year of being a professional track and field athlete, trying to make my second Olympic team. I made the Olympics in 2016, I’ve made three world championships and two world championship finals,” Watson explains.

“The goal for my running career is to keep running and keep enjoying it as long as I can,” she adds.

She’s currently training in Arizona, focused on qualifying to compete at the Olympics in Tokyo. She trains once or twice a day and spends the rest of her time focusing on nutrition, sleep and treatment to help her body recover in time to take on more training.

Watson is also a volunteer assistant coach at the University of Arizona.

“To help these young athletes grow and achieve their performance goals has been really fun,” she says.

Though laser-focused on her Olympic bid and wrapped up in the running world, Watson stays connected to her roots.

“I am sponsored by Canada Beef,” she explains. “It’s honestly been one of my favourite sponsorships because I like to be with brands I truly believe in and beef has been a part of my whole life.”

Watson uses the opportunity to share information about ranching in Canada and the nutritional benefits of beef that she’s seen first-hand as an athlete. She shares recipes and information about how to properly cook and store beef.

“I’m definitely still really connected to the farm and what my family does,” Watson explains. “Everybody’s been so supportive of me and I always just get the nicest welcome home.”

When possible, “I love to go back home during the fall,” she says. “We round up all of our cattle with our horses. It’s just something really fun we do as a family.”

Because of the uncertainty at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, Watson returned home to the ranch from March to July 2020.

“It was fun because I kind of got to go back to my roots,” she says. She ran on gravel back roads and made a home gym in the ranch shop.

After eight years of living away from home, “I really got more connected to my family and the ranch again,” she explains. “To train for the Olympics at home was a special time in my life. It was really cool to have the support of the community and my friends and family.”

Though Watson is busy chasing big running goals on tracks all around the world, “I know that one day I really want to be back at the ranch,” she says. “I really love being around animals … and I really miss my family when I’m away.” BF

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