Not all gifts come in shiny packages, and not every accomplishment is rewarded with a medal. These Olympics represented something totally unique to my kayaking career, an experience that is so fresh that I still don’t know exactly what to make of it.

I had a bad race in my semi-final. I hesitated, and while I’ll never know if it was that first stroke that cost me my last chance at an Olympic podium appearance, I know that it didn’t help. The semis were harder than ever this year. Our K1 1000m field is the deepest it’s ever been and we can all be proud of that.

It wasn’t until the day of my B-Final that I thought of it as more than just a consolation race. I warmed up casually, didn’t bring sandals to wear to the dock, or even a shirt to warm up in. When I left the hotel I wasn’t sure I’d even do a pre-warm up paddle. With about a minute to start I looked down my lane, 1000m of flat blue water with the Hill of Two Brothers just off to the right. I reconsidered my intention, and thought about how this was probably going to be the last time I got to race at the Olympic Games. I decided that my relegation to the B-Final was actually a great opportunity. A gift, even. I had a chance to perform my event, in front of an Olympic audience , on this Olympic racecourse, with world-class opponents for no reason but out of love.

It could be the purest race I’ve ever completed. I had no expectations. No pressure from myself or anyone else. There would be no medal ceremony, no flags or anthems. I was going to paddle 1000m because I love to. Because it’s what I do and who I am and I’ve practiced for 20 years and I prepared the best I ever have. I stole my moment back from that disappointing semi-final. I took my first stroke, crisp and well timed, put my shoulders down, applied pressure to my footrest, cranked it back and drove my boat forward three hundred and fifty times with my paddle.  

I went through the 500m mark and I relaxed. I saw the 200m mark go by and I felt no pain. I increased my stroke rate and pushed hard to the finish line without any discomfort. I won, 9th place. It was perfect, and painless and an absolute pleasure.

After the A-Final results came down, I heard that I had the second fastest time of the day. Good enough for silver had I been in the A-Final. Some people might expect me to be disappointed or have some regrets, but I understand racing. I know that it isn’t as simple as a time on a piece of paper. There is strategy and nerves and wind and a hundred other things. I also know that you need to earn a spot in the final and that I didn’t. I earned a chance to perform under virtually no pressure, and I believe that helped me a lot. I also don’t feel that a medal would validate my preparation or my performance any more than my strokes did today. I’m content knowing that I did my best, and it was pretty good.

I have zero regrets. I wouldn’t change a thing about my 2016 Olympic experience. I was given the gift of a lifetime. It came wrapped in ugly brown paper without a ribbon, and it was difficult to even see it as a gift at first. But that’s what I’ve left Rio with, having embraced the chance to race the purest one-thousand of my career without any tangible reward.  None except for a few really solid handshakes from men and women with strong, battle hardened hands from millions of hard strokes. Those individuals make up our paddling community. Our family of driven, talented brothers and sisters are an awe inspiring bunch to say the very least. The friends I’ve met through my years as a paddler are absolutely the greatest reward that this journey has provided me with. Having a friend in almost every country in the world is an amazing thing, and I couldn’t be more grateful.

Our sport has taught me every lesson I’ve learnt in my life. It’s ripped my heart out and sent my heart racing with joy and excitement. My highest highs and my lowest lows were all as a result of my time in the boat. Sport has been my teacher, my girlfriend, my best friend and my worst enemy. It’s been my obsession, my emotional baggage, my strength and my weakness. Sport has kicked me in the teeth when I’ve been down, and stuck out her arm when I needed help to get up. All of these life lessons, taught by strokes. Thousands and thousands a day, tiny lessons, one at a time.

All of those strokes have led to a tremendously fulfilling athletic career. As I reflect, I’m struck with how complete it has been. I’ve lined up as a relatively unknown youngster and as seasoned veteran. I’ve won each colour of Olympic medal, but I’ve also missed out on the podium a couple of times. I made O Canada play, but I’ve also got the tune to the Norwegian national anthem committed to memory.  And the German anthem. And the Aussie’s. (Ours is my favourite) I’ve had the honour and privilege of carrying our flag at the Opening and Closing Ceremonies. I’ve exceeded my expectations, met them square-on, and fallen short a couple of times as well. I have felt every single emotion that an athlete can feel. I think I’ve had the most holistic Olympic experience an athlete could ever ask for. I have only gratitude to express to everyone who I’ve met along the way, and I couldn’t dream of asking for anything more.

After four Olympics I’m thinking that I need a new kind of challenge. Being an athlete is a very selfish endeavour. I worry about what I eat, rather than that some people don’t have enough. I think about my fitness, not about issues like childhood obesity and inactive lifestyles. I have always wanted to be first, and as a result I’ve failed to put others first in my life. I have always loved Martin Luther King Jr.’s famous quote about “Life’s most persistent and urgent question… What are you doing for others?”. I don’t know what the future holds for me or what will get me out of bed in a few weeks or a few years, but I know that MLK’s question will guide my future endeavours.

All good things must come to an end. As I walk away from my career as an Olympic athlete I have heartfelt congratulations to everyone I’ve ever had the pleasure of sharing a racecourse with. Our collective effort has created history, and I’m honoured to have been a part of it. 








Oh hi there. Thanks for coming back.
I wrote a pro-TO-Olympic Bid thing last week and shopped it around and it was printed by the Toronto Sun and some others, but it was edited down... and some little things were changed, so I wanted to chuck it up on here in it's virginal form. I'm going to use my blog for blogging! :)

There is absolutely no denying what a fantastic success the 2015 Pan Am/Para Pan Ams were. TO2015 was probably the best party Toronto has ever thrown. The organizing committee pulled off an incredible spectacle, the volunteers were tireless and gracious (and numerous! 23,000!) and our Athletes performed exceptionally well. Panamania was also a kick-ass success (but I loooove music and fireworks). Best of all though, Toronto got behind the whole show and Torontonians and Greater Torontonians hosted the Americas in the most welcoming and open-hearted way I've ever seen a city host a multi-sport games. Nice one TO!

Toronto is quickly becoming a truly Global city. I mentioned that to a good friend recently and he quickly stopped me "what does that even mean?". It's a valid question, because it's certainly a subjective affirmation. In my opinion, a Global city is one that gets talked about and written about in the international media as a city that stands out for doing things well, and differently. Global cities innovate, and change the game. They invite people over, and ensure that they leave bragging about their trip. I brag about Toronto all the time, but I want to hear the world brag about us the way I hear friends returning from London, New York, Istanbul, Copenhagen, Tokyo, Sydney and Berlin brag about their metropolitan adventures. (Future ideal conversation I hope happens in say, Paris: Pierre: hey Pascale where you going for New Year's Eve? Pascale: Toronto! Pierre: jealousssss.)

The clearest victor of TO2015 is Toronto. Dozens of countries and hundreds of athletes left our city with medals and records and ‎stories and new friends. But Toronto gets all these sparkling new sports venues, this beautiful new neighbourhood called the west Donlands, a finished Queen's Quay project, a finished Front Street, a Union Station complete with a train to our airport, that insanely instagram-friendly Toronto sign at Nathan Phillips and bragging rights that we threw the best Pan Am/Para Pan Am Games ever. Pretty sweet deal actually.

I was lifting weights in the new Scarborough facility this past winter‎ and I was struck by how fully the community adopted it as their own, right away. I looked out on the track to see new mothers pushing their strollers around the outside, and some elderly folks walking in the middle lanes, as some university students jogged in the middle (it was January, wayyy to cold to walk/run/be outside, REMEMBER??). About 60 kids were playing basketball on 6 courts just below that and others were playing table tennis and badminton. I didn't even check out the two 50m swimming pools or the dive tank, but I guarantee they were full of people young and old practicing and exercising and being happier and healthier. 

The same is true for all the new built-for-Pan-Am venues ‎we've got. People are paddling in Welland, Miltonians are riding their bikes in tiny circles at the Velodrome and York University has a speedy new track. They were built FOR Pan Ams because of Pan Ams but the community wins in the long run.

So my position is clear. Pan Ams left Toronto a way better place. Are you convinced? 

So what now? Is that all we've got? I think we should start planning the next big show, and set our sights on an even bigger goal. 

People sometimes call this great city "Toronto the Good". I love that because I think it's true. We are a good city, and it's because of WHO we are, not where we are or what we do. When I say that I think Toronto can host the best summer Olympics ever it's because I trust the people who I know‎ and call my neighbours to do an awesome job.  

The new IOC president, Thomas Bach has set out some new priorities for host cities to abide by. His 2020 agenda mandates that the costs remain reasonable, that all facilities are sustainable and wherever possible, existing sport venues be utilized. Fancy, cause we just built a whole bunch of sweet new sports venues (see above).

Toronto has an amazing opportunity, that of a lifetime. Not just to win a bid and host the world and take more awesome instagrams in front of city hall. But to change the game. We can innovate and become even more World Class. We can host the most socially responsible, financially sustainable and environmentally friendly Olympic Games in the history of the world. We'll make that our first priority, and the IOC will be stoked we did.

Why am I so confident? Because Toronto, we are awesome.

My fellow Torontonians, we deserve nice things. Let's be proud of what we did together and be ambitious about the future. Let's take on a new challenge and be confident that our public and private sectors have the expertise and ability to execute an Olympics we can all brag about forever. Because afterall, those aren't really sectors, they're us. We can do it, together. Let's invite the world over again for some sports, and send them home bragging about their trip to Toronto the Great.



Pain Train

I realized that the CBC Olympics site that I blogged on during the Sochi Games isn't up anymore, so I thought I'd re-post the blogs that don't exist anywhere else on the internet anymore!


The Pain Train

Of all the attributes that differ sport from sport, I believe the most significant distinguishing factor, is pain. 

My objective is not to compare sports on their merits of anguish.  I detest that arbitrary discussion; “which sport is the hardest?” or “Who is a better athlete, a 100m sprinter, or a freestyle swimmer”.  I don’t like questions that don’t have answers, I prefer to analyze the relevant differences, and consider what unique role pain plays in different sports.

Every Olympic sport is hard.  They all take immense skill, effort, practice and determination.  But they don’t all inflict pain, and the type of pain they cause is as distinct as the event.

Endurance sport has a special relationship with pain.  It’s in the name. The whole idea of cross-country skiing is predicated on training your body to endure as much pain as possible, and then manage to keep skiing fast while you inflict a maximal dose during a race. 

That’s the game; maximum pain, everyday in training.  This causes a training effect known as enzymatic up-regulation.  The enzymes in your muscles responsible for turning all that glucose and oxygen stuff into power and energy become more plentiful and efficient.  Endurance athletes not only have a higher capacity to create lactic acid (a necessary evil unfortunately), but they’re also better at clearing it out of their muscles, and better at tolerating high amounts as well.

If you’ve been watching the Olympics, then you’ve probably seen a few cross-country skiers and biathletes embracing the white stuff in a heaving pile of torment only meters past the line.

It’s not soccer.  There’s no foul-call.  They are just completely empty.  Their throats are raw from hauling as much oxygen as possible into their barrel-like lungs, which are heavy and hot like molten iron. Their hearts are pounding on the inside of their ribcage like a subwoofer in a high school parking lot.  I haven’t even started to think about their legs, their backs and triceps from poling madly, over 100 times per minute in the final stretches of the race.  Cross-country is as tough as it gets from a pain perspective. It’s full-body and mostly uphill.  In a word: ouch!

The result of falling down after a race is the same as what happens when you faint.  Someone faints because their brain isn’t getting enough blood.  Putting your heart and brain at the same level means that your pumper isn’t fighting gravity anymore.  When skiers cross the finish line in a world of hurt, collapsing into a suffering mess of spandex accomplishes that same goal.  And misery loves company, so why not lie down with all your friends on the snow and experience that euphoric excruciation en masse?

I watched the cross-country team sprint today.  It’s two skiers per team; they do 3 legs each, head-to-head with 9 other countries. They tag off with a touch, and wait for their partners to return, and retrace their steps. While they wait the athletes jog lightly, shake their legs, some get massages and others hop on a stationary bike to keep the blood flowing, clearing poisonous lactic acid and CO2 from their muscles.

For the women, the course interval is about two and a half minutes, for the men it’s a touch less than four minutes.  So the work-rest ratio is equal, just enough rest to go 100% again, and then once more, for around 16minutes for the women and 24minutes for the men.  

Sound fun? Only cross-country skiers would call that a “sprint”.

For sports on the other side of the pain continuum, pain isn’t the main objective, it’s actually the thing they’re trying hardest to avoid experiencing.  If an athlete in freestyle aerials skiing experiences pain, it’s almost certainly due to trauma.  A fall or a tear owed to a slight miscalculation in the air or at the landing.  They screwed up. Put simply, pain in almost any sport involving tricks is to be avoided at all costs.

That’s an interesting difference. On one end of the spectrum pain is to be avoided, and on the other side experiencing maximal pain is tantamount to victory.

At the Winter Olympics, endurance sports are certainly a minority. Speed-skating and cross-country (including biathlon and Nordic-combined) are the lone-wolves of the winter games. While the summer enjoys running in distances from 400m to the marathon, cycling in myriad forms, rowing, swimming, canoe/kayak, and combinations thereof.       

Wait, I’ve got some good news.  These painful sports are still good for you, and fun (some may say even more so) at only moderate levels of discomfort!  So get out there and up-regulate some enzymes; your heart and lungs and brain will all thank you at some point, hopefully not by fainting.

Thanks for reading. I hope it wasn’t too painful. :)



Sacrificial Spam

This isn't junk-mail. I'm actually writing a blog. It seems as though Marshall MacLuhan was right (at least about me) when he famously said that the “blurb” would one day replace the book. Twitter has given me fewer and fewer reasons to write a blog, now that I can get my thoughts out to the world in 140 characters from my phone... I suppose my creative outlet has been stifled by that modern convenience. I’ve promised this in the past, so it’s probably best not to hold me to it – but I’m going to write more.

Since my trip to Sochi with CBC in February I’ve been back in the boat, training my heart and muscles and lungs and brain to be great at kayaking. I was in Florida for about 8 weeks, raced and won the trials in Gainesville, Georgia (in K1 1000m). Since then I’ve been in Europe, racing some world cups (Milan ITA, Racice CZE and Szeged, HUN). A track n field pal of mine told me I could “race myself into shape”, which I have been trying my best to do. I came over to Europe with no expectations, I only wanted to get back into racing K1, and focus on what I could do in my boat, in my lane. After 2.5 World Cups (I’m racing the 500m and 5000m K1s tomorrow, Sunday) I have a really clear indication of where I’m at in my training and conditioning, and I know what I need to do... MORE HARD WORK!

What inspired me to tap these keys again, however, wasn’t a burning desire to update the blogosphere on my daily goings-on over here on the continent. I wanted to write and reflect on a decision I made last week, and the concept of sacrifice.

In January 2013 I decided to stop eating meat. My choice wasn’t borne out of a need to discuss dietary needs, decisions or my personal reasoning for cutting meat out, but that was definitely one of the most significant outcomes. People LOVE talking about food. It is the new religion. For the record, I decided to stop eating land-meats. Anything with feet, basically... Or hooves, I suppose. Are hooves feet? Whatever. I was to rely on fish and dairy and legumes for my protein. It was motivated simply by having more reasons in the “No Thanks” column than in the “Yes Please” column. Reasons for yes please include “tastes good, it’s available, it’s protein, I like it...”. Reasons for no thanks were more numerous, and also more complex; “it was making my stomach hurt, it sucks for the environment, the way we treat animals that we are going to eat is atrocious and terrible, my Dad beat colon cancer and veggie diets are good for colon health, and the list goes on. Health, Enviro, Ethical... they were all good reasons to say no thanks, and eat some fish/eggs/tofu instead.

Until this week, I was sticking to it, and I insisted that it was the right thing to do.

The Eggplant in the Room...

My primary concern now that I am preparing whole-heartedly for Rio, is my performance and physical condition. As I have mentioned in previous writings, being an athlete is one of the most selfish endeavours. It is all about oneself. Of course we have opportunities to be great ambassadors and involved in our communities (and I am truly thankful for these occasions for social-penance), but at its core... focusing solely on moving MY skinny boat in fast straight lines is quite self-centred.

For that reason, I’ve often danced around questions about sacrifice. Interviewers will ask about all the sacrifices I’ve had to make as an athlete, and since I’m enjoying myself and have everything I need, I answer that I don’t feel like I’ve had to make any. But it takes a tremendous amount of time to do a sport at this level, and the commitment is very much full-time. This has left me unable (or perhaps unwilling) to pursue education beyond my undergraduate degree, a career outside sport, or much of a relationship that could one day lead to a family of my own (yes, I’m referring to romance). All this to say, yes... I’ve made a sacrifice or two to have accomplished many of my goals, and to continue pursuing the ones that lie ahead.

However, I’ve never had to sacrifice a strongly held personal conviction.

I’ve always conducted myself in training and competition with integrity to the best of my ability. I am outspoken when I feel it is important to be outspoken. Fortunately, I’ve been able to do and say mostly what I want for most of my professional sports career.

But for the first time, I feel that I need to sacrifice a deeply held personal conviction to ensure my performance is where I want it to be. Last week I started eating meat again. Of course I know and believe that it is possible to be a great athlete and a vegetarian at the same time. But for so many reasons, I’ve decided that I need it to continue to race and train at a world-class level.

My teammates and friends and family have been supremely supportive, often choosing fish and veggie meals over heartier yummier meatier ones in order to eat together. For all of those times, thanks guys... I really appreciate it.

I’m going to continue to be an (only slightly hypocritical) advocate for the environment and the treatment of animals. When I have a choice, I am going to make every effort to make one that limits my footprint, and the degree to which I am a party to the mistreatment of our furry and feathered friends.

And for the next two years or so, I’m going to continue trying to be the best kayaker I’ve ever been.

Stoked to be racing here again tomorrow! Thanks for following along! :)