North Saskatchewan RiverKeeper President and Olympic medallist Karen Percy Lowe pulls up her winter bootstraps to walk in style
By Fawnda Mithrush | January 1, 2012
It’s been over two decades since her glory days as the famed “Bronze Bomber” of Calgary’s 1988 Winter Olympics, but Karen Percy Lowe still recalls every second of her downhill and super G slalom skiing triumphs. “It was the best thing that ever happened to me,” she says, but later says the same thing about her husband Kevin Lowe, whom she met at age 22 when he was an Oilers’ defenceman.
Now 45, she’s looking after six youngsters between 13 and 23 – all living in the Lowe’s palatial home with an ice rink in the backyard and a view of the river valley in the front. She has four children, one stepson and another billeting “son” from the Oil Kings who plays, and now stays, with 18-year-old Keegan Lowe, a Carolina Hurricanes draft pick. But despite the high profile of her husband, the Oilers’ president of hockey operations, there’s more to her than being a hockey mom -a title she openly embraces.
Last year the Order of Canada member founded the North Saskatchewan River chapter of the international WaterKeepers Alliance, which encourages the public to act as hands-on stewards for the world’s water supply. As the local chapter’s president, Percy Lowe fundraised enough for the organization to hire a full-time Riverkeeper and executive director, Glenn Isaac, to monitor the river year-round and ensure it’s suitable for swimming, fishing and, of course, drinking.
Though there’s not much time to pause and think about fashion, she says her three daughters, Devyn, Darby and Karly, help her out in that regard, setting her up with a wardrobe of clean lines, textured wool coats and two shelves of chunky-heeled boots.
Having skied mountains all over the world, are the Rockies special to you?
Yes! Real snow, real winter, real everything. Every time I drive up to Banff, that last half-hour drive into the mountains, I think about how lucky I was to grow up there. It’s so beautiful and magical and pretty.I’d love to always have some connection to that place.
I like to go to Banff once a year with the kids. I like Vail and Aspen. I’d like to show the kids what the mountains are like there, but with Kevin’s schedule and hockey … you know how busy that time of year is.
You’re a big advocate of preserving Canada’s rivers with WaterKeepers. Why are water issues important to you?
I realized that a lot of people didn’t know that the North Saskatchewan is where we get our drinking water. In 30 years if somebody doesn’t [preserve it] , what’s going to happen? The North Saskatchewan is a beautiful river: You can walk in it, you can swim, you can fish. To keep it healthy, number one,is something that I can teach my kids and, number two, will help the whole city know how valuable water is. I decided to walk the talk and do my own chapter here.
What exactly does a Riverkeeper do?
Say something is polluting the [river] , and there was a problem with a company that wouldn’t coincide with efforts to clean it up, then money raised by the Riverkeepers would go to hire lawyers and professionals in terms of fixing that problem. In the case of the Hudson River, it worked. It’s all according to the law, the Clean Water Act and the Fisheries Act in Canada.
Did you have a plan of attack when starting the North Saskatchewan branch?
I knew I had to start by concentrating on education here. People need to learn and see that we’re cool; we’re working with the government and we’re not against business. I’ve worked for tons of charities, but I’ve never been in charge of one. It’s a huge thing that I got to come up with this much money by myself and still be a mom, and do all that.
With the history of many hockey names leaving the city, what’s made you and your family stay?
We did go to New York for five years, but home is always home. Edmonton is an amazing city. It’s a beautiful, wonderful place to bring up kids. I’ve been to a lot of places and I don’t think I’d pick any other spot to bring my children up. Winters can be a little bit long, but …
So how do you cope with winter?
I do a couple ski trips with the kids. We try to enjoy the outdoors as much as we can. I spend lots of nights out watering the rink. Dealing with winter, it’s what Canadians do. You just make the best of it.
Any winter style advice?
The worst fashion mistakes I’ve made in the winter are when you get in the car in the garage and then get outside and go “my god, why did I wear this?” You have to wear something that grips on the snow and keeps you warm. I love scarves or cool hats. Every year I try to buy a nice coat – not long or fur – but a nice coat that you can wear in the car. Missoni coats, I like.
How would you define your style now?
I’m hippie chic. Style, to me, is being who I am. Jeans and boots and a fun top, that’s me. I’m never trying to dress too young, never trying to dress too old. If I have to do a speech I’ll put my suit on, but that’s pretty much it.
Do you have a favourite outfit?
I love wearing high boots with shorter dresses. If I go to a hockey game, maybe I’ll wear a blazer, a little bit of layering. I’m stuck on Frye boots, you know the ones with the chunky heel? Those and a nice dress.
How about for dressing up for a charity gala?
I would wear something like a nice, fitted Chanel dress. Nothing “froofy” like Lady Gaga – more simple and classic, more Jackie Kennedy.
Any other fashion habits?
I’m five-foot-four-and-a-half, so I like to wear a bit of a heel, that’s why I like Frye. I wear Uggs during the day in the car when I’m picking up the kids. The other designer I love is Prada, I can’t buy all their stuff, but I really love Prada. I have one pair of black boots. I try not to spend too much money, but if I love something I’ll get it, and it’ll be my one thing every year. I don’t spend a lot of money on clothes; I’m pretty simple that way.
Where do you like to shop?
I like Who Cares? Wear, even though it’s kind of mesmerizing because they have so many clothes. My friend, Carla Buchberger [wife of Oilers’ assistant coach Kelly Buchberger] , works there and she knows what I like. I like Holt Renfrew, and I love Michael Kors.
Are you a shoe or a bag person? Or neither?
I have turned into a bit of a bag person. I think my daughters have enlightened me. When I get a new purse, I look around and all of a sudden one of them has the same thing, so I know it’s cool and funky. That’s when you know you’re buying the right stuff, right? When you have girls who are 15 and 20 that want to wear your clothes.
Ever look back at the old skiing photos? There are lots of you in 1980s ski-suits and feathered hair from your competition days.
Oh god, they’re terrible – all of them! The funny thing about all those images is that I would have just finished a downhill race and taken my helmet off. Who looks good like that?
Place to Ski: Banff
Olympic Event to Watch: Men’s Hockey
Musician: Gord Downie
Local Event: Festival of Trees
Restaurant: Lux Steakhouse
Local Boutique: Who Cares? Wear
Chain Store: Anthropologie
Shoe Brand: Frye
Outerwear Brand: Descente
Movie: The Great Outdoors
NHL Player: Ryan Smyth
Escape: Light the fireplace, put on some music and play Scrabble with my kids
Cashmere sweater by La Fe Verte; jeans by Hudson Jeans; cashmere scarf by We Are Owls; and boots by Kelsi Dagger. All are available at Who Cares? Wear.
Photography by Curtis Comeau; Styling by Jared Tabler; Hair by Mandi James, Mousy Browns; Makeup by Nickol Walkemeyer; Location Victoria Park Oval Ice Skating Rink
Ski pants and jacket by Desecente. Boots by Jungla.