Photography bu Ming Siu

Olympic Medallist Phylicia George on Walking in Her First Ever Runway Show

"It’s similar to the Olympics in that I know how to perform in front of people, how to go out there and do my own thing.”

Even if Phylicia George wasn’t the first black Canadian woman to compete in both the Summer and Winter Olympics – which she totally is – her resume would still be impressive. The 30-year-old Markham native placed 6th and 8th at the London and Rio Olympics in track and field, respectively. But when bobsled superstar Kaillie Humphries asked her to join her sled team, George jumped at the chance to return to the Games two years later – and managed to snag a bronze medal competing in a completely different sport. But one thing the multi-talented athlete has never done before? Walked in a fashion show.

That changed earlier this week when Phylicia perfected her Blue Steel face earlier this week at the Pascal Labelle show at Toronto Women’s Fashion Week. Labelle is a Montreal-based designer who creates luxurious bespoke coats out of leather and – often recycled – fur.

Photography by Ming Siu

Did Phylicia feel intimidated walking the runway for the first time? “I thought at first I would be nervous, but as soon as the moment came, I knew what to do,” she says. “I guess it’s similar [to the Olympics] in that I know how to perform in front of people, how to go out there and do my own thing.”

Another similarity between modeling and being an Olympian, Phylicia says, is “body awareness.” While Olympic athletes train their bodies to accomplish great feats of athleticism, models too need to be conscious of the way their physicality affects the presentation of clothing. Phylicia’s strategy for conquering the runway: “You know, to try to have attitude,” she says. “In the back of your head you’re thinking, ‘I’m a badass.’”

Phylicia nailed her catwalk stomp as she conquered the runway in flat boots and a down parka jacket with red furry accents. But if her runway performance exuded fierceness, the snarl had completely melted off her face by the time I met her backstage after the show. “[Modeling is] something I’ve always wanted to do so I’m so happy to have the opportunity, especially in Toronto,” she says. “I’m really proud to wear a Canadian designer.”

Looks like the respect is mutual. “The slogan of our brand is ‘United by Difference,’” says designer Pascal Labelle. “As a professional woman athlete medalist at the Olympics who has worked extremely hard to get to the top of her game, I respect her enormously.”