Claire Hanna is an avid supporter of never giving up on your dreams. Growing up out west, Claire has spent time living in Vancouver, Calgary, Saskatchewan, and Winnipeg. After winning 3 National Titles with the UBC Women’s Volleyball team, Claire went on to have a career with the Canadian Women’s National Volleyball team.
While she was playing volleyball, Claire also showed an interest in broadcasting. Over the years she has done colour commentary for the UBC Men’s Varsity Volleyball team, in-house broadcasting for the Canadian Olympic Committee and sideline reporting for the CFL on TSN.
Claire currently lives in Ottawa, covering the Senators for TSN. We caught up with her to talk about her volleyball career, broadcasting memories, and how she’s enjoying The Capital.
Photography by Sean Sisk
Born in Vancouver, raised in Calgary. What was it like growing up out west?
Growing up in Vancouver was a dream. I come from an outdoorsy family, so spending time at Jericho, Locarno, and Kitsilano beach or exploring the forests of UBC’s endowment land and Stanley Park was a typical weekend in our family. I still get a sense of comfort from the rain because it reminds me of puddle jumping and that lush sweet smell of the West Coast. We moved to Calgary when I was 10 years old and that was a dramatic change in scenery but also culture. Watching bull riders at the Calgary Stampede hits differently than waiting hours to glimpse a whale. I’m still not sure which city feels more like home… so when people ask where I’m from, I switch up my answer depending on my mood. You also have to remember I’ve lived in Saskatchewan for six years and Winnipeg for almost four years. I’m definitely a “western” kid.
You had a walk-on tryout for the UBC Volleyball team but got cut in year 2. How hard was that and how much did it motivate you?
I was devastated when I was cut. I knew I was disposable, but that didn’t make it any easier. In my first and second year at UBC, we had an older team so my coach (Doug Reimer) was preparing for this massive turnover. He’d recruited more players than he needed for the upcoming years so it was really competitive amongst us younger bench players. I remember asking if I could have a meeting with him a few months into my second year at UBC to discuss my goals with the team and what I needed to do to improve. Instead, he cut me. He even told me he didn’t see me as a part of the future of the program and that I didn’t have potential like the other players. Reimer was a former Team Canada head coach as well, so he was pretty good at identifying talent. What’s even more awkward is that I was ashamed to admit what had happened, so I didn’t tell my teammates. Reimer said I could keep practicing at two of the four practices per week so I just kept showing up on those days but people wondered why I wasn’t there at the other two. I wanted him to tell the team he’d cut me, not the other way around. Eventually, people figured it out. But I was completely gutted. I didn’t want to give up on my dream of playing University volleyball so I joined the junior varsity team. It was a glorified club team that competed in some adult tournaments. The great part is it allowed me to get better and actually touch the court, something a lot of the younger players on the Varsity team weren’t getting a chance to do. I had one goal, to prove Reimer wrong and make the team somehow.
You went on to win three CIS (now USports) National Championships at UBC. How did that feel and do any stand out more than another?
Long story short, the way I finally made it onto UBC’s volleyball team was switching positions from hitter to libero. The libero is a defensive position in volleyball with a focus on receiving the serves, passing the ball, and playing badass defence. I wasn’t tall enough and my vertical wasn’t strong enough to give me elite hitting or blocking angles, so I played to my strengths and became a defensive specialist.
Given how crushing it was for me when I was cut from the team, stepping onto the court for the first time wearing that Thunderbird jersey was one of the proudest moments of my volleyball career.
Everybody assumes my favourite national championship would be in 2010 when we had a perfect season (25-0). But winning that first national championship in Fredericton, New Brunswick in 2008 was utter ecstasy. My favourite of the three. We (the T-Birds) were the underdogs, not a single one of us had been named to any All-star team, but we were such a great unit. Each of us understood our role on the team, we adapted quickly to hitting patterns and angles from the opposition but most importantly, we knew that until that final point was scored, we were still in the game. Statistically speaking we were out of that tournament so many times in 2008, but somehow came back to win games. Our backup setter, Katie Tyzuk, made these clutch serves when she subbed in. One of our outside hitters, Olympic beach volleyball player Jamie Broder, had the most insane shot placement and we blocked like wild. Volleyball is best three out of five sets and our final against the University of Montreal went to a fifth set tiebreaker. The fifth set goes to 15 points but you have to win by two and we won 20-18 in the fifth. I couldn’t wipe the smile off my face in that fifth set, it was the pressure situation you dream of. We weren’t perfect but the moment was.
You wrote and did colour commentary while you played. What interested you about the media side of things?
I remember randomly walking into the campus radio station, CiTR, one day in my first year at UBC, getting a quick tour. I met a few of the radio DJ’s but the sports guys were the best. One of them, Jeff Sergeant, asked me if I wanted to do colour for him during the men’s volleyball games (which were right after we played) and I agreed immediately. Remember, I didn’t have much of a role on the volleyball team in my first two seasons, so doing the radio broadcasts gave me more of a sense of belonging.
Then in 2008, there was a moment that completely changed my perception of sports media. We had just won our first national championship since 1978-79 in women’s volleyball. It was a huge moment for the program but also for UBC. When the student newspaper, the Ubyssey, was printed that week, I was eager to read the article about our success. When I got my hands on a copy, there was a big feature on the men’s basketball team winning (in my opinion) an insignificant game on the cover. It wasn’t even a playoff game. I had to flip to page 12 until I found any reference to our Canadian title and even then it was this tiny picture with a small caption. I was livid and so was the team. I went to the student newspaper editors and complained. That’s when they asked if I’d like to write some student-athlete features for them. I began helping with a weekly column that highlighted exceptional performances by a male and female athlete of the week. It’s the major basis for my passion for sports journalism, especially making sure female athletes get the attention and press they deserve.
How special was it to cover both the 2012 and 2014 Olympics?
The BEST. When Team Canada women’s volleyball didn’t qualify for the 2012 London Olympics, I reached out to the Olympic committee and asked if they had any roles open because I desperately wanted to be a part of the Games. When they saw some of my journalism experience, they asked me if I wanted to interview all of the Canadian medalists. I remember my first interview was with Catriona LeMay Doan (who wasn’t competing) but I was like, is this real life? In 2014 my role was very different and involved making sure media didn’t overstep their boundaries within the Canada House. I also gave out passes to the media for press conferences within the Olympic Broadcasting Centre, so it was a cool way of networking with some fantastic reporters and writers. I still have all these crazy videos on my phone, like Mark McMorris chugging a beer before doing interviews and Vladimir Putin trash-talking the Canadian hockey team, it was wild.
Had you spent any time in Ottawa before moving here?
I came here on a family vacation in 2002. We did the classics: skated the Rideau Canal, visited parliament, ate a thousand BeaverTails, watched Question Period when Paul Martin was PM. MP Sheila Copps waved to us and I thought that was a big deal (laughs).
Then I was in Ottawa for a week during the 2017 Olympic Curling Trials. A few friends joined me to watch my partner, Kirk, who was curling with Team Steve Laycock at the time. It was a stressful experience, they lost, but fortunately, I could throw back a few beers, possibly the only opportunity I’ll have to enjoy some cool beverages at the Canadian Tire Centre.
What have you enjoyed most about Ottawa so far and do you have any favourite spots?
Whalesbone, Suzy Q, Heartbreakers, and Bridgestone are my favourites so far. Also the parks. I can’t walk for 2 minutes without stumbling on some gorgeous green space. It’s impossible to choose which is my favourite. Ask my dog, Hank, he can decide. I will say he took a poop on Parliament Hill when we strolled by on one of our first walks.
What are some things you’ve yet to do since you’ve been in Ottawa?
Eat a BeaverTail! Are they still as good as they were back in 2002? Big to-do list items are to paddleboard on the Rideau Canal in the summer and take one of those buses that turns into a boat on the Ottawa River. I’ve also heard there are some great hikes in Gatineau Park.
How much fun have you had covering the Sens on TSN this year?
It’s been a blast. I’m going to give it a 7/10, and I can’t wait until this team gets into the playoffs again and the city goes wild. Watching a young team grow and find its identity is going to be a cool experience.
What do you like to do when you’re not working?
I love biking and cross country skiing. Word on the street is I’m in the right place for those things.
What advice do you give people when they ask you about getting into broadcasting?
Make sure you’re getting into it for the right reasons. If it’s so you can see yourself on television, nope. You have to ask tough questions sometimes. Have a deep curiosity, love storytelling, and be willing to work long tough shifts during a lot of evenings and weekends. Be dynamic and don’t be afraid to test out unconventional storytelling platforms (TikTok, Facebook Live, video blogs, etc).