Laumann: Persistence leads to life's 'gold-medal moments'

By Jason Winders, Western News
June 18, 2013

Talent might get you to the starting line, but it’s what’s inside that drives you to become a champion, said three-time Olympic medalist Silken Laumann.
“Success is not just based on talent, or the length of your limbs or your lung capacity,” she said. “The greatest factor in any of our success is the way we think, what we believe about ourselves and our abilities, and what we tell ourselves about our future. You stand here today as graduates and anything is possible.”
Laumann spoke to graduates from the Faculty of Health Sciences and the School of Graduate & Postdoctoral Studies at the Tuesday, June 18, afternoon session of Western’s 301st Convocation.
Western conferred an honorary Doctor of Laws, honoris causa (LL.D.), upon Laumann in recognition of her remarkable athletic career and for her advocacy for children's health and their right to play.
She told graduates that while it may not seem like it in this moment, they have the tools to lead “magical and extraordinary lives.” But it won’t always be easy.
“For me, it’s a little man that sits on my shoulder, my gremlin telling me what we can’t do, that the goal is too big, that the things we are imagining as we sit here today and start to think about what’s ahead, that gremlin is asking us, ‘Who do we think we are? How audacious is that to think we can accomplish that thing in our heads?’
“But who are we not to? Who are we not to achieve the very dreams we have today?”
The fastest female rower in the world, Laumann – who received her BA from Western in 1988 – is an advocate of children, a speaker, writer and life coach. Her life has been dedicated to achieving her own potential and helping others achieve theirs.
One of Canada’s best-known athletes, Laumann, a four-time Olympian, came back from a devastating rowing accident to win a bronze medal in the 1992 Summer Olympics in Barcelona. The courage she displayed during her 10-week recovery inspired Canadians and she was inducted into the Canadian Sports Hall of Fame in 1998.
She has won three Olympic medals, 1996 (silver), 1984 (bronze) and 1992 (bronze); two Pan Am Games medals, 1987 and 1995 (both gold); and four World Championships. Laumann was named the Canadian Female Athlete of the Year two times and received the Lou Marsh Award in 1992 as Canada’s top athlete.
But Laumann’s success in sport isn’t the only thing that sets her apart. Her strength in her personal life has likewise made her into an inspirational model for Canadians. Suffering the loss of a business venture, parenting a profoundly autistic child, among the challenges that come with balancing a fulfilling career with a family life, have all proved opportunities for Laumann to think positively and to continue to dream big.
Laumann has worked to raise money and awareness for a number of causes, serving on the International Board of Right To Play, an organization that brings sport and play to the most disadvantaged children in the world. She is also an advocate for healthy active kids, and works with GoodLife Kids Foundation as their Kids Champion to advance these opportunities. She is also an advocate for mental health awareness.
She was a member of the Board of Directors for Ronald McDonald House Charities from 2003-06 and won the Canadian Institute of Child Health Award and the National Child Day Award in 2003. In 2006, she published a Canadian best-selling book, Child's Play.
One of Canada’s most inspirational leaders, Laumann lives in Victoria with her partner David Patchell-Evans and their children.
“(One) talent we need in life is persistence. Persistence to overcome the inevitable challenges that are as much a part of life as those gold-medal moments,” Laumann said. “No matter what your dream is today, no matter what you’re thinking of doing, you are going to be sideswiped. In those moments, we have an opportunity to reveal what’s inside us.”
In his citation, Health Sciences professor Kevin Wamsley called Laumann a champion whose life has been marked by perseverance, overcoming obstacles and inspiring others.
“During a warm up prior to a World Cup race in Germany, in the lead up to the 1992 Olympics, a pairs boat broadsided Laumann's rowing shell. The impact shredded her calf muscle and shattered her ankle. Her doctor informed her that the Barcelona Olympics were not even a remote possibility- maybe she would not row again,” he said. “Just 22 days after the accident, Laumann got out of her wheelchair and back into the boat. Seven weeks later in Barcelona, Laumann won a bronze medal in single sculls rowing. The Montreal Gazette called it the greatest comeback in the history of Canadian sport.”
Laumann encouraged graduates to instill a feeling of belief in themselves.
“In our life, we are always going to have that contrast. We are going to have our dreams, the things that inspire us, our vision of the future we hold so strong. But then, we are going to have the challenges that we have right now, the things we have to go through, the things that are disappointing us,” she said. “And what lies between where we are now and where we are going is belief, belief that somehow, some way we are going to get there.
“I ask you today to keep dreaming, dream big, audacious dreams for your life. And to focus on that task you have today and do it to the best of your abilities is because what lies between where you are right now and the dreams you are aiming for is belief.”