“I was really quiet, painfully shy and really insecure.”
After watching Sudbury native Gail Prosser serve as the carpentry expert on the panel of Canada’s Worst Handyman for three years or so, some may be inclined to call her out on the quote noted above.
After all, the owner and operator of Women Who Build Stuff in Toronto is nothing, these days, if not an effervescent collage of emotion and character, an accomplished go-getter blessed with the charisma to spin a yarn like few others can.
But that was definitely not the case as the precocious early teen first stepped foot in Marymount Academy some three decades ago.
“At home, I was like every person in my family: loud and sarcastic - everyone was always at each other, with lots of jokes,” said the 44 year old who grew up in Wahnapitae. At that time, however, that side of her personality was availed to family and family only - until she entered the high-school setting that produced just the right fit.
“There was something about the culture at Marymount that I would just try stuff,” she said. “If a sports team didn’t exist at the school, you just had to ask a teacher and the sport would get started.”
While her time as a Regal would run parallel to the launch of a girls soccer program in which she was actively involved, it was an indoor sport that drew Prosser in and would propel her to much greater heights.
“Someone at the school asked me to play badminton,” she stated. “I tried it, loved it, and was somehow a natural at it. Once I saw a little bit of success, that brought me out of my shell. Then I joined everything.”
Though she remains unsure of exactly how she managed to make early morning practices, Prosser still recalls with fondness a high-school experience that would see her spend far more time at her school than her home.
“My life at Marymount was getting to school for 7:00 a.m. or 7:30 a.m. practices,” she said. “Then I had another practice right after school, but always before badminton. Badminton was not the cool sport, so we didn’t get the good gym times.”
Early evening workouts were not about to deter the eldest of two children in the family (her brother is 11 years younger) who was just starting to make her way in her newfound athletic pursuit.
“The thing about playing badminton in the north is that all of the places - Kapuskasing, Timmins, New Liskeard - they all had very strong players who had played since they were like eight,” said Prosser. “I didn’t have the technical experience to beat them - but I could outrun them.”
The technical expertise would come a few short years later, primarily courtesy of the man who was beginning to put Cambrian College on the badminton map. “Rob (McCann) has a gift for coaching and assembling a team, without question,” said Prosser. “Before I got to Cambrian, I was a good athlete that could hit birds and place them pretty well - and I could run.”
“We (Rob and I) worked very hard on how I was hitting, hitting the bird in front of me instead of behind me. Rob would force me to workout to be more explosive on the floor, because I already had the cardio. And to this day, even when I play just once a year, my serve is still perfect. He would have us run drills blindfolded to improve our footwork.”
The proof, as they say, is in the pudding.
Gail Prosser would compete for three years as a member of the Golden Shield badminton team, all while working on her degree in Creative Advertising. In both 1995-1996 and 1996-1997, she would be crowned OCAA Women’s Singles champion. The following year, she teamed-up with Maureen Buck, capturing Women’s Doubles honours.
She has two national silver medals to her credit, along with a bronze. And then her life got interesting.
Yes, that’s hyperbole, but there is no doubt that her badminton career was about to take a backseat to excursions that would take her far and wide. Upon graduation, Prosser would move to Beaver Creek (Yukon), mere miles from the Alaskan border. While the change of scenery would launch a three year stint in the hospitality industry (with a winter of backpacking South America mixed in for good measure), badminton was no longer an option.
“Other than playing baseball games at midnight, with 24 hour daylight in the Yukon, my athletic career came to a sudden stop and my career in hospitality started.”
By the time that Y2K was a thing, Prosser had returned to Ontario, helping to transform a small Toronto cafe into a four star restaurant and spending a number of years in the sale of wine and rare Belgian beers - long before micro breweries were popping up right across the province.
“I sold the crap out of that product and had a lot of time off,” noted Prosser, as we begin to near another change of career in the offing. “Growing up in the bush, we were building tree forts all the time. I enjoyed trying to build things or fix things up in the house, but I was terrible at it.”
Looking to return to school for some sort of carpentry course, the mother of twin teenage daughters would see the stars align, one more time. The Centre for Skilled Trades in Burlington had launched a program through the Ontario Women’s Directorate, one which could not have suited Prosser more perfectly.
Just days into her studies, she registered the business name that she holds dear to this day. And while it has taken a few detours to arrive at this point, the ultra friendly and quite talkative entrepreneur can connect some dots dating back to her days in Sudbury, on the courts and on the fields.
“There is an element of being rewarded for your work, in the same way that you would after a competition in sport,” said Prosser. “The reward of building something is a pretty nice high. And I think what drew me to Creative Advertising initially was the brainstorming of ideas. The renovation business, especially in this town, with these houses, is all problem solving.”
“I love that.”
Not to mention the fact that personal interaction is paramount for anyone who is self-employed. “My skill set for that, I believe, comes from being part of a team,” suggested Prosser. “I’m a good carpenter, not the best, but people like me and that’s been a key to the success of my business.”
In many ways, her time on the Discovery Channel would draw upon many of the same character traits. “You need to know how to use the tools, but really, it’s all personality.”
And that, my friends, Gail Prosser has in spades.