Tuesday, March 25, 2008

A Letter For Kyle

Olympic gold medallist Kyle Shewfelt wheels his way to a news conference last September to discuss his injuries and recovery time for 2008 Olympics. The Canadian gymnast broke both of his knees and suffered ligament damage after an awkward landing while training for the 2007 world championships in Germany. (Jeff McIntosh/Canadian Press)

A Letter for Kyle

Even Olympic champions can face roadblocks

By Scott Russell, CBC Sports Weekend
Monday, March 24, 2008

This is just to say I'm cheering for you, Kyle Shewfelt. I know that, technically, I'm not supposed to. You're an athlete and I'm a broadcaster. Convention says my relationship with you should be an impartial one. Let's pray that no one reads this then. I'm behind you a hundred percent my friend! You are a champion and I know that you can be again.

When you won that gold medal on the floor exercise in gymnastics at the Athens Olympics, well, it was something I'll never forget. You took on the Russians, the Romanians and the Americans, all the "big boys" of your sport, and you were just that much better. To see you standing there with the laurel wreath on your head, the gold medal hanging from your neck, having become the first Canadian gymnast to ascend Olympic podium was simply awe inspiring.

To hear you say what you did at the end of the day was like music to my ears. "I love gymnastics," you said. "This means the world to me."

That's why it hurt so much to arrive in Stuttgart, Germany, last September to cover the attempts by the men's team to qualify for the Beijing Games and find out that you had broken both of your legs in a training exercise. But there you were, in the wheelchair, locked into horrible looking splints and full of confidence that the guys would qualify without you. Then you figured you'd be back in no time and you'd all win a medal together in China.

Have confidence, Kyle

I guess it's been a little tougher than you first imagined. Still, I know you'll figure it out. I have confidence in you.

Hey, I was speaking with your old coach the other day. Kelly Manjak feels your pain, I'm positive of that. How could he not? After working with you from the time you were six-years-old until you won that medal, he became your "rock." Then he moved to Ontario to have a family and left you in good hands back in Calgary but, as you know, he's followed your every move since.

Kelly told me, during the course of our conversation, that he thinks you were even better just before the injury than you were when you won the Olympic medal. The moves were more difficult, the routines more intricate and your preparation to take on Beijing was beyond question. "It was very difficult for me," Kelly said when he heard about the broken legs. "Kyle phoned me just before the Stuttgart championships and he was so happy and excited!"

Kyle Shewfelt wears his gold medal after winning the floor exercise at the 2004 Olympic Games in Athens. (Kevork Djansezian/Associated Press)

So now, I know you're coming here to hang with Kelly for a week or so and get a little advice. Good idea. After all, you always told me that he was so important to you when things got rough.

"Kelly is a part of my family," you said. "I guess he's my comfort zone and I know that his love for me as a person and as an athlete is unconditional."

For his part, Kelly Manjak is squarely in your corner Kyle. He's a believer. Get set for a week of "blue sky" thinking because that's what this is going to take. Kelly is counting on the fact there's no time to waste with fretting about whether or not the comeback is worth it. "He has to see something good in everything right now," Kelly figures. "I will encourage him to make the best of each day."

This is all wrapped up in your significance as a Canadian athlete, Kyle, your place in history, if that doesn't sound too high and mighty. After all, you became a symbol to a lot of people in this country when you won in Athens. I'd covered gymnastics at the Olympics for quite awhile and the thought that a Canadian could be "top dog" ... well, it was just a pipe dream!
Canada found its champion

Then you came along.

Kelly Manjak knew that in you he had lightning in a bottle.

"Kyle has been so important for Canada because of what he has proven to younger gymnasts," Kelly said. "He has proven that winning is possible. That you are what you think you are."

It's up to you Kyle. You are what you think you are. I can't imagine the pain you must be enduring. I've seen the pictures of the physiotherapist bending your scarred legs and you stifling the screams. I hurt every time I see you trying to run and I wince when I understand that an excruciating hobble brings a smile to your face because you believe you're making progress. I wonder how you do it. I wonder why you even try.

You once told me something about winning that gold medal in Athens. As I recall, you always believed that the victory was not the end of the story but just another chapter in the book.

"Being an Olympic champion doesn't completely define a person," you said. "But I also know because of it that anything I want to achieve in my life is possible and I guess that has given me confidence to move forward."

Shewfelt became an international force on both the floor and vault exercises. (Getty Images)

Always looking ahead and never retracing your steps - that's you Kyle! This struggle is just another plot point in your drama. It's like that old Japanese marathoner once claimed. "Welcome the suffering - only then will you know how to reach your limits." That's sage advice for someone who wants to be a champion!

I'm sure you're heading back to the gym, Kyle, to continue the grind. Just wanted to let you know that I was thinking of you and hoping for the best. If anyone can make this happen, you will. I understand that you can't continue to send your video diary because you've really got to get down to business and concentrate on making this comeback happen. But don't forget to keep me up to date with those little beacons of hope that you rattle off from time to time.

You know, the little messages you send ... like this one: "Regardless of the way everything turns out, I think that this journey is going to define me far beyond my athletic accomplishments. I am becoming the person I have always aspired to be. But, no need to worry, I'm not quite done yet."
I won't worry Kyle. I'll just keep cheering for you and wish you all the best with your efforts to get to the Olympics in Beijing.

Just keep it to yourself ... will you?



Thank you for writing this incredible column. I appreciate your support, I envy your passion and I am truly honoured to know you. What you do for amateur sport in Canada goes far beyond your broadcasting contributions...you are one of our biggest fans! That is clearly evident by the enthusiasm you display when it comes to our results and our journeys. So, thank you Scott. Not only for writing this inspiring article, but for believing in the potential of all of Canada's athletes. Keep up the amazing work. You are truly one of a kind!


ps- There's no way I can keep something as special as this to myself (Plus, Simon Whitfield blogged it before I did...Simon thinks I'm a ninja! I think Simon is the fittest person (and one of the funniest) on the planet)! I guess I've always felt inclined to share anything and everything that inspires me... and this is definitely something that NEEDS to be shared! Thanks again!

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