This past weekend I was in Ottawa for the Canadian Olympic Committee's "Beijing Olympic Excellence Series".
Every Canadian podium potential athlete was invited to the event and it was good times! There were swimmers, triathletes, kayakers, rowers, water polo players, synchro swimmers, divers, a fencer (Sherraine Schalm...one of the coolest fencers in the world!), shooters, archers, trampolinists, gymnasts, track and field athletes, softball players...so many sports were represented! The cool thing was that every athlete had demonstrated in the past year that they could place within the top 5 in the world. It was a pretty passionate and determined group to spend a weekend with!
Heading into the weekend, I didn't really know what to expect, but I was pleasantly surprised! We were very spoiled. We got to listen to some of Canada's best athlete speakers and take part in tons of fun and creative team building sessions.
The speakers list was stacked. Veronica Brenner (Silver in Aerials skiing in 2002), Marianne Limpert (1996 Olympic Silver Medallist in Swimming), Daniel Igali (2000 Olympic Gold in wrestling), Ron Maclean (CBC's Hockey Night in Canada) were just a few. All of them were outstanding, but there was one speaker who leaped out in my mind...and that was Sylvie Frechette. I don't know how many of you know her story, but it is one that is extremely captivating and almost inconceivable.
Here is how it begins:
5 days before the 1992 Olympic Games, Sylvie's fiance committed suicide.
Think about that for a minute.
I can't even imagine.
I don't know if I would have the strength to pull through something like that. But she did. She was courageous, determined and somehow found a reason to continue and chase her Olympic dream. She explained that she had worked for 18 years to have an opportunity to become an Olympic Champion. She was ready and there was nothing in the world that could take that chance away from her.
I was just enthralled and captivated when she spoke. I could feel every emotion that she explained. I could hear the sounds, feel the pain...I almost felt like I was in her head as she was explaining her thoughts. It was very moving.
And then, to add insult to injury, her story takes another dark turn when a judging error places her in second. Bastards!
Luckily, after 16 months and 9 days (who's counting eh??) she received the Olympic Gold Medal that she had rightfully earned in Barcelona. I felt like jumping up and down and cheering for her when she came to this part in the story!
The whole group of us did give her a simultaneous standing ovation when she was done! It went on for a long time and it was soooooo well deserved! Talk about inspirational!
We had a lot of team building and discussion sessions as well. We talked about preparing for all possible scenario's before, during and after the games and I feel like I gained some valuable tools.
During one of our team building sessions, we talked about what we want Team Canada to be projected as at the 2008 Games. Professional, Tenacious and Supportive were some of the key words that we came up with. I thought that this was an awesome exercise to do because we all agreed and committed to upholding our Canadian reputation! I really wanted one of the describing words to be simply, "Canadian". I don't know why it is, but that could truly be an adjective. Everyone knows what it means to be Canadian. If you are travelling and you have a maple leaf on your backpack then people automatically think of you as honest, kind, approachable and a good beer drinker! haha. But really, Canadianism is something everyone in Canada and I believe around the world understands and appreciates. What can I say? We are just good people! In fact, I have declared many of my nice American friends as honorary Canadians!
There were some pretty special moments that were had over the weekend. At one point there was a male wrestler and a female water polo player learning how to fence from Sherraine in the hallway as I taught some of the triathletes and water polo girls how to do handstands against the wall. At another point we were all hanging out together and one of the water polo girls was singing her heart out for us all to hear. It's moments like these that I believe are priceless...to me, moments like these carry so much underlying meaning about friendships, respect and interaction. I believe that in some odd way, something like this is the epitome of the human experience...at least the Olympic experience. Random people who are seamlessly connected because of their passion for sport and for their country. Pretty cool.
After the Excellence Series weekend, I feel that the fire inside of me, my desire to represent Canada and deliver another great performance in 2008, has some newly added fuel.
That's a great feeling!