Published on May 15th, 2004 | by Lorraine Leslie0
Silken Laumann – Dare to Dream…You can too!
It was Saturday May 15th, 2004…a cool day for spring…a little overcast…only 10 degrees. Not a great day for a ‘walk in the park’ which some of my friends refer to as a game of golf.
At three o’clock in the afternoon, upon entering the Gayety Theatre in downtown Collingwood, something was telling me that the next day and half of my life was going to be filled with inspiration, motivation and many more affirmations that dreams do come true.
I sat waiting with anticipation for the keynote speaker to appear. My morning had been spent doing research on the internet trying to find out how I was going to approach a world class athlete, someone that is a Canadian Idol.
As the Mistress of Ceremonies finished her introduction, the audience stood for a standing ovation. Seconds later a tall slim statue of a woman, dressed very casually in grey dress pants and a tailored pink shirt walked onto the stage. Within seconds I knew that this woman and I shared something in common.
Before moving to Collingwood ten years ago my family lived just around the corner from this amazing athlete….
Silken Laumann was born in Lorne Park, on Indian Road in Mississauga, Ontario on November 14th 1964. She attended Tecumseth Public School and then Lorne Park Secondary School, two of the same schools that my three children attended.
When my boys were very young I used to take them down to the Credit River, which runs below the Queen Elizabeth Way (QEW) to stand along the shoreline and watch the teams of rowers as they practiced their techniques. You could see the strength and determination on each rower’s face. A face of a winner in every way. Focused, demanding of their bodies and visions of standing on the podium receiving their medals. Little did I know that one day I would meet one of the scullers who trained on this quiet river…one who became an Olympic Champion, a Bronze Medallist.
Silken Laumann is well known for her accomplishments as an athlete. Even as a young child she was involved in a running program called the 100-mile club, which in later life had a significant part to play in her life. Her determination and inner strength has taken her through some very rough times while representing our country at various international rowing events.
Later that May evening I attended a fundraising dinner where I listened intently to Silken’s story for a second time. Her presentation was powerful and informative. Her sense of humor tailored to fit the needs of her audience and her evening dialogue certainly had some entertaining highlights. The following afternoon I was given the privilege of driving Silken to Midland for another speaking engagement, the next day, to 800 school children.
There we were, just the two of us, chatting, laughing and reminiscing…
Thanks to the organizers of the Collingwood Trails Day I had the opportunity to get to know the woman behind the medal, behind the podium, behind the microphone and away from the paparazzi.
Silken is one of three children. Her sister Danielle (her partner in the `84 L.A. Olympics) lives in the Maritimes and her brother lives in Toronto. Her parents, now divorced, did however encourage her to take up rowing since her sister was already involved with the sport.
When I asked Silken what motivated her she shared with me what she had stated in both of her speeches… “When I was eleven years old I was watching the Olympic gymnast Nadia Comanche get the perfect score of 10. That’s when I decided that I was going to be an Olympian. When I first started rowing with the Don Rowing Club in 1964, there was only one small change room so the girls had to change in a tiny bathroom. I remember a poster by Roger Jackson stuck to the wall of the bathroom that had a picture with a caption ‘You can too…’ That’s all it took, a mindset and self-determination. I eventually took the poster home.”
Mike Sracklen, a national coach, trained Silken at the same time as coaching the men’s team (which consisted of 30 men) from 1990 to 1992 in Elk Lake, Victoria BC. Their training was year-round, which included rowing during the winter months. The coach’s boat would break up the ice while the scullers donned layers of clothing to keep warm. Luckily they were all expert rowers and none of the boats tipped.
Silken held the world record in single rowing: 7 minutes and 25 seconds, which equals 250 strokes per minute. The single is the slowest boat through the water. It has only two spoons (blades on the end of the oar) therefore it gives more resistance in the water. Imagine a racing rate of 30-34 strokes per minute, one stroke every two seconds. Sixty strokes would take her 500 meters which is 8-10 meters per stroke. In an 8 person boat it works out to 38-40 strokes per minute which equals five and a half minutes or 220 strokes.
During Silken’s “A” Card rowing days (1984) she was sponsored by the government with only $650 per month. It was hard to make ends meet so most athletes depended on sponsorship and family support.
Half way to Midland I turned on the tape recorder and asked Silken:
WHAT WOULD YOU SHARE WITH WOMEN ABOUT FOLLOWING THEIR DREAM?
Most of us tend to look at other people and think that they have something more than us, or they are more intelligent, or they have more opportunity, or they are just ‘more’. At some point in our life, hopefully we realize that we have everything that we need to pursue the things that we really want. We have to be clear about what we want, and be willing to make choices along the way. We have to put ourselves in the position to get what we want. A lot of the time, that changes as we go along; we have a vision of what it is and as we get closer to it we change our minds. Sometimes we meet really unexpected challenges and our path gets altered, but, in the end I think we do find that maybe what we got doesn’t look exactly the way we thought it was going to look but it’s still what we want.
WHAT FIVE WORDS BEST DESCRIBE YOU?
I’m compassionate, determined, energetic, driven and persistent.
DID YOUR PARENTS GO TO ALL of YOUR COMPETITIONS?
They were at the important ones. My mother was concerned that I would get big muscles but she got over that one.
WHAT WENT THROUGH YOUR MIND WHEN YOU LOOKED UP AT THE SIGN BOARD AT THE OLYMPICS?
Relief that I had done what I wanted to do and I could just go to sleep now for a little while. I felt relief. Excitement was second and exhaustion was third.
DO YOU RE-LIVE THE BOATING EXPERIENCE EACH TIME YOU TELL YOUR STORY AND ARE THERE THINGS THAT YOU DON’T SHARE WITH THE PUBLIC?
When I’m telling the story, I relate to a girlfriend who lost a child who said to me, “When you go through some sort of trauma, you visit that place; you remember things, but you don’t live there”. So when I speak to audiences I choose to visit those places and remember as much of the moment as possible – how I felt, what I was thinking. There are stories I choose to tell and stories I choose not to tell…and in some cases the stories can’t be translated; not so much because I want them to be private, but because they only mean something to me.
We continued on our journey. One minute chatting about her goals and the next minute talking about how important it is for children today to be physically fit…
WHERE DO YOU SEE YOURSELF GOING WITH THE INITIATIVE YOU HAVE GIVEN YOUR NAME TO?
I can leverage my profile to bring the issue more attention and to spread the good news of what is happening. When you hear how under-active kids are today…It will be important to create things that are the right things.
SILKEN LAUMANN ANNOUNCES
CANADIAN HEALTHY CHILD INITIATIVE
Play is essential to child health!
On November 20, 2003 Silken Laumann announced that she will set up a Foundation directed at childhood physical inactivity. The Foundation’s goal is to positively impact the quality of life of children through re-introducing play and creating a positive experience around physical activity and sport.
Silken shared, “Statistics from The Canadian Institute of Health state that obesity has increased 5-fold in two decades, one third (2 million) Canadian children aged 2-11 are overweight and more than half of Canadian kids are dangerously inactive. We need to encourage parents to become playmates, to share simple activities with their children who will, over time, strengthen the whole family.”
Over the next few years Silken will work to change the behaviour of our children by sharing with parents, some simple fun ideas to increase activity through Right to Play. She will do this by working with the Foundation and policy makers at the federal, provincial and community level to increase children’s access to good quality, physical activity programs. While in Ottawa, Silken was the recipient of The 2003 National Child Day Award from the Canadian Institute of Child Health.
Silken went on to be one of Canada’s most inspirational leaders. A woman of class and courage. So much courage that in ten weeks, after a traumatic boating accident, she made the greatest comeback in Canadian Sports History and became a symbol of spirit and hope to all Canadian athletes. Since winning the bronze medal at the 1994 Summer Olympics in Barcelona, Silken has continued to act as an inspirational force; encouraging people to dream big, live in the moment and embrace failure as a stepping stone to future success.
Throughout her ordeal in the hospital Silken pursued her passion and maintained a steadfast dedication to a goal that offered no guarantee of financial gain. Her broken bones and shredded muscles brought forth a determination to go on and be the best that she could be. She demonstrated an incredible perseverance to achieve Olympic Glory.
“I would sit on the edge of my bed with a makeshift peddling device to keep my cardiovascular endurance up. With one leg sticking out to the side I would rotate the pedals as fast as I could for as long as I could. I kept the vision as I did this. I was not going to let the accident beat me.”
“I’ve achieved pretty well everything I’ve wanted to from sport. I’ve learned so much from it and I’ve enjoyed it. But I think it’s time to move on. You move on and somebody takes your place. I’m happy with myself and that’s the most important thing. I don’t think I’ve disappointed anybody.”
WHAT DOES THE FUTURE HOLD FOR SILKEN LAUMANN?
“For the next year I’m going to do a little bit of this and a little bit of that and spend some time coming up with a game plan for the next four or five years. I’m used to thinking in four-year cycles so I’ll probably do that with my life from now on.”
Silken has given her name to an initiative to get children more involved in physical fitness. She is presently on a speaking tour to promote Right to Play www.righttoplay.com. Silken shares, “From ages 1 to 5 children discover their world through play, and between the ages of 6 to 8 children are not cognitively ready to do sports, but through instructional play in classrooms and through parental guidance, children excel in other daily activities and have an increased awareness of what’s going on around them. Girls who play sports are less likely to become pregnant, tend to be non-smokers and non-drinkers. Parents have to empower their children to be fit.”
“Separated from their homeland and often from their families, refugee and returnee children and youth face tremendous barriers to healthy physical and psychological development”, said the Prime Minister. “Through the power of play, recreation and sport, Right To Play’s programs are bringing new life to these young people, and I am very proud that Canada is a partner in this groundbreaking work.” -Prime Minister Chrétien
Today Silken Laumann is one of Canada’s most recognizable female athletes. Silken demonstrates, daily, how the lessons of sport apply so aptly to the world of business. It is not just the language, such as teamwork, coaching and goal-setting, that cross both worlds but the underlying principles of achieving success in life.
Silken has touched the hearts of many and is in high demand across the country as she inspires thousands of Canadians every day to continually strive for their dreams.
Thank you Silken for your candid response during our interview and continued success with the vision…I hope our paths cross again in the future.