CBC Sports

Amateur sportsFive people you meet on our field of play

Posted: Friday, October 14, 2011 | 10:57 AM

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With the Olympics less than 300 days away, Canadian swimmer Julia Wilkinson has recommitted to the lifestyle of a high-performance athlete. (Francois Xavier Marit/AFP/Getty Images) With the Olympics less than 300 days away, Canadian swimmer Julia Wilkinson has recommitted to the lifestyle of a high-performance athlete. (Francois Xavier Marit/AFP/Getty Images)

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What variety there is in sport. And if you travel to see the athletes in their natural habitat there's a boatload of wisdom to be found in their collective experience.

What variety there is in sport!

And if you travel to see the athletes in their natural habitat there's a boatload of wisdom to be found in their collective experience.

This past week I met with five Canadian Olympians in the space of 36 hours.  I ventured to Victoria to my way of thinking, one of the greatest Canadian sporting communities. The host city of the 1994 Commonwealth Games, Victoria has become the training base for a number of Canada's high profile Olympians and consistently attracts major championships in this kind of sport.

Victoria gets it when it comes to celebrating Canadian achievers on a wide variety of playing surfaces. Before I got on the plane, however, I had the chance to meet with another Olympian who's still running a good race in Mississauga, Ont.

Here are a few nuggets with five of the many people we'll encounter throughout the season on Sports Weekend.

Peter Fonseca: Endurance Counts

He's the former Ontario Minister of Labour who gave up his portfolio to run for the Liberals in the last federal election in a Mississauga riding. Peter Fonseca lost by about 600 votes but vows that one day, if the opportunity presents itself, he'll return to politics.

It's not likely that anyone will count him out should he decide to get back in the race.

Fonseca is one of the fastest Canadian marathoners of all-time who clocked at two hours, 11 minutes and 34 seconds in the mid 1990s.  He also represented Canada at the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta, finishing 21st.

"It is the common man's Everest," Fonseca said of the marathon challenge.  "The mountain that is there before you [is] just begging to be overcome."

More and more Canadians are climbing the marathon mountain these days and Peter Fonseca helped lead the charge through his exploits with a Maple Leaf emblazoned on his chest.

Ryan Cochrane: The Big Fish

Canadian swimmers had been in the Olympic doldrums until Ryan Cochrane of Victoria delivered a bronze medal in the 1500-metre freestyle in Beijing in 2008.

He was only 19-years-old but along the way set a new Olympic record in the event until the previous holder, Grant Hackett took it back.

"As a 19-year-old I was frustrated that I hadn't been chosen to be one of the Canadian swimmers in the spotlight in the lead up to the Games," Cochrane recalls.  "Now I am one of the favourites and I welcome the opportunity to bear the expectations."

Cochrane has since won four world championship medals and stood on top of the podium twice at the Commonwealth Games. As Canada's big fish heading to London 2012, he shows every indication he can go the distance again.

Bruce Deacon: The Last Marathon Man

In many ways it was a love-hate affair that Bruce Deacon had with the marathon distance. The former school principal and coordinator of the Canadian Olympic Committee's education program is the last marathon man to have represented Canada at the Olympics, which he did in 2000 in Sydney, Australia.

He also won a silver medal at the 2003 Pan American Games in the Dominican Republic. At 44 years of age, Deacon is returning to distance running following recovery from tricky surgery on his heel.

"It is a painful experience to be a marathoner. Everything in your body and your mind is telling you to stop," Deacon explains.  "But if you get through the pain and you finish the race then the exhilaration of success is wonderful."

Bruce Deacon's quest to continue the long run is still on course and he can be found hitting the trails on Vancouver Island each and every morning.

Julia Wilkinson: Try Harder

She had a terrific collegiate career at Texas A&M University but swimmer Julia Wilkinson is All-Canadian. She arrives at an interview at Saanich Commonwealth Place in a bright red t-shirt bearing "Canada" as the lone script.

"I went to Roots and horded as much Canadian stuff as I could," she says of visits home to Stratford, Ont., on school break. "I attended school in Texas but in the end I wanted to become this 'Super Canadian.'"

She is one of the most promising of the current generation of Canadian women's swimmers. At her first Olympics in Beijing she made a pair of finals (200 IM and a relay) but that only gave her a hunger to be better.

"I believed that I did everything I could and that got me to seventh place [200 IM]," Wilkinson reckons of her Beijing experience. "Now I've got to do that much again and more so that I can get to the podium."

There is a light in Julia Wilkinson's eye that makes you believe she can get there. For her it's all about the effort to get to the destination.

Silken Laumann: Legend

Many Canadians can recall the exploits of the phenomenal rower Silken Laumann.

She won a bronze medal at the 1992 Olympics in Barcelona a mere 10 weeks after nearly having her leg severed in a freak training accident as her scull collided with a German boat.

Undaunted, Laumann persevered through five surgeries and a three-week hospital stay to make it to the starting line in Barcelona. But she went the extra mile and rowed to a miraculous bronze medal finish that was as good as gold.

Now she coaches rowing near her home in Victoria and draws strength from her renewed connection to competitive days.

"At times I found myself forgetting what it was like to be an athlete," Laumann admits.  "Now when I get back on the water it all comes rushing back, a feeling of strength, a feeling of almost invincibility. It didn't last forever but it was wonderful. A moment in time."

It strikes me that all of these athletes have so much to offer to our appreciation of sport. They exhibit focus, determination and a will to succeed. They have contributed to Canadian folklore in the absence of untold riches and, in most cases, eternal fame.

They are just five of the people you meet on Sports Weekend and there are thousands more like them to be found on our national fields of play.

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