After working for CBC as Special Analyst for the Rio 2016 Olympics I’m left with many emotions. Many memories. So much inspiration and reflection. I went back into some writings to share what the whole Olympic thing has meant to me. I’m sure many of the current and future Olympians can relate, as I did to them.
On six different occasions I experienced the utter joy and absolute relied of being names to Canada’s Olympic Team. Summer and winter, cycling and speed skating, pre-qualified or not, each and every time it was an experience of being filled with the reality that a dream became reality. This sensation was always short lived, and immediately followed with the total motivation looking at the real opportunity: to stand on the start line with the maple leaf on my back knowing I had the chance to show what is possible to an entire nation.
Leading into an Olympics the final touches on physical and mental preparation were always bizarre. That last training camp always felt a little bit too easy because the taper of mind body and spirit had begun. It was always a test to find ways to pass time, to train less, to keep the fragile balance of being in the moment each step of the way and not losing appreciation for the steps taken. Always a process of storing energy that would be unleashed in the performance on the day it mattered. Realizing every minute passed was a minute closer to the chance to try.
Receiving the Team Canada clothing package was like Christmas, Halloween and all birthdays combined. I never got sick of getting bags of Maple Leaf splattered clothing. Always exciting. I was usually with teammates and we all became like little kids playing dress up. For an hour or so we could let go of the razor sharp focus on training and tapering and let ourselves be goofy. I’ve kept at least one thing from each Games, from a pair of socks from the Sydney Olympics to a leather jacket from Salt Lake City or a wool sweater from Vancouver, these things always make me smile.
Living in the athlete’s village was like being in a sea of the fittest humans on earth. It was an awesome place to people watch. In the summer games you could easily pick out the volleyball players, swimmers and gymnasts; in the winter it was more difficult to see who did what sport by musculature and stature because, well, it’s winter and people wear more clothes. Canada always stood out with our massive red on white maple leaf flag hanging with pride everywhere on Team Canada turf. Our presence made me feel like I could take on the world.
I remember the excitement rippling through the Canadian Team marching into our home Olympics in Vancouver, 2010. I was the flag-bearer. I could see little soap bubbles falling like snow from the sky, a magical faux-winter wonderland in the unfathomable hugeness of BC Place. I looked over my head at the perfect red-on-white Maple Leaf. I wanted to laugh. I wanted to cry. I wanted to shout with joy. I held our flag for the whole world to see, knowing that I had morphed into something much bigger, stronger and more beautiful than I could ever be. I felt I was Canada in that moment and it’s a moment I will never forget.
I’ll never forget each time I stood on the starting line at the Olympics the moment of overwhelming nervousness and fear that I might give into the pain. I remember vividly standing on my skates or sitting on my bike, knowing ‘this is it’. What was I going to do with the opportunity? I thought of the kids watching and how Gaetan Boucher inspired me when I was 16. I let go of the fear by remembering the chance I had to try. The opportunity to set an example of excellence, no matter the result.
Competing at the Olympics was a very solitary and focused thing for me. Family and friends knew the enormous pressure I was under. Sharing the Olympics was done after my races. My races were grueling tests of endurance and skill. I never felt alone while representing Canada because I was part of a much larger family, that of a team, that of a nation.
Walking in the closing ceremony in the sea of nations intermingling after the Games ended was one of my favorite times. There was no more pressure and no matter the result, it was over, the sun rose that next day, and the celebration of the human spirit was flowing through the air. Knowing the Games were over and now it was time to enjoy the show always felt like an incredible relief.
Returning to Canada after the Games was always unique. Not just the days after, but weeks, months, years and even decades, Canadians have shared with me what the their Olympic moments were. It always amazes me to hear what people connect to. From new Canadian immigrant families feeling they were a part of their new home because of this connection to Canadian performances, to parents exposing their kids to the Games, to youth being inspired to dream because of what they’re seen. This always reminded me when I had the chance to represent Canada again that the real opportunity were the connections made by others to my races and the absolute necessity of setting an example of dignity, respect and pride, win or lose.
After the vancouver 2010 Games my racing season was over. I stayed in the city for ten days with my husband and we were a part of the letting go of what was. It was like the whole city was in an energy lull because everyone wanted the Games to keep going on and on because of the dynamic energy that filled the nation for those sixteen days. Yet I also sensed a level of relief that it was over, that things went so well, that we did it, we really showed the world what sport and sportsmanship is. I felt in those days that it was not just me who had performed, but the cities and people of the west coast, and our nation, had achieved that level of elusive peak performance. We were all proud yet relieved it was over.