Bruny Surin is one of the most decorated athletes of his time.
Two-time world silver medallist in the 100 metres and back-to-back world 60-metre indoor champion, to this day he remains the 11th fastest sprinter of all time. And the Canadian 100 and 60 record holder. He competed four times at the Olympic Games, where he won the gold medal in the 4x100 relay in 1996 in one of the greatest athletic moments Canada has ever seen. Earlier that same year in February, I was born. From that day, I was Bruny Surin’s daughter.
I remember seeing my father’s face everywhere when I was younger. He was on television, billboards, ads, on the radio, we even did a Sunny D commercial together, as a family. I wasn’t isolated from the reality my father was living, but I had no idea how strong his global appeal really was.
My father was my father, not a celebrity. My parents raised me like any other kid and I thought every family was just like mine. It was only when I grew older that I realized who my father was, and the importance he held in the sporting landscape of Canada.
By the age of four, I already knew I wanted to run like my father. I was such a “daddy’s girl”. I wanted to be exactly like him. I loved going to the track with him and watching his workouts. I would try so hard to beat him in races, but he never let me win.
He always told me that I was way too young for track and field, but if track was what I really wanted to do, I could get back to him when I was old enough. Meantime, he introduced me to other sports, and especially tennis.
The best part about tennis practice was running around the court to warm up. Tennis was my passion for many years, but as I grew older, my love for the sport faded away. I realized that I didn’t want to play anymore when practice became the worst part of my day. It was a struggle to get motivated in training, and to mentally prepare for the day.
When you are no longer happy, it’s time for a change. I felt heavy anxiety announcing to my parents that I wanted to detach from the sport that had played such a big role in my life for eight years. I felt guilty about the time and money they had invested in my development. I didn’t want to disappoint them. But my parents backed my decision 100 per cent. and within a few months, I exited the tennis court and moved into the fast lane and started my career in track; something that I had wanted since I was a young girl.
I had just turned 16 years old. It was only fair, with all my father’s experience, that people assumed he would coach me. I don’t think he ever wanted that responsibility, and I didn’t want him to have it either. Instead, he put me in a trusted track club and always made sure that I was happy with my training. More importantly, he also made sure that I was having fun. My father does an excellent job of letting my coach do his job. He never jumps in to tell me what I should do or second guess my practices. Unless I ask him something, he respects his role.
The first day of practice, my coach asked me what my athletic goals were. Without hesitation, I told him that I wanted to compete in the first division of the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) on a full athletic scholarship. It was very bold of me, considering I hadn’t even warmed up yet and I still didn’t know what event I would be doing, but it had always been my dream to go to school in the United States and compete with some of the best athletes in the world.
Competing in the NCAA was very different from running at local meets. I wasn’t “Bruny’s daughter” any more. I was finally my own person. The stares and whispers around my name stopped, and I thought there would be less pressure to perform, but I quickly realized that I was the one applying the most pressure. That hasn’t changed through the years.
This year was important. Not just my final year of eligibility at the University of Connecticut, but also an opportunity to qualify for the IAAF World Championships. I set big goals and I was determined to achieve them. But the pressure I put on myself can be unbearable. The closer I am to my goals, the harder I am on myself. Every personal record is followed by disappointment. Every small victory is followed by a bigger goal. I always tell myself that I could’ve done better.
I drain myself mentally and physically, fearing that others are performing better than me. My desire to be the best is not healthy. The pressure that I felt as Bruny’s daughter was nowhere near the pressure I put on myself. I have worked too hard to be scared of disappointing my father or to dwell on surpassing other people’s expectations of me.
I hit a wall after my final collegiate season. It became harder and harder to finish workouts. It felt like my body was failing me. I almost wanted to end my season early, but I couldn’t. There was too much on the table. The World Championship trials were going to be held in Montreal, at the very same track where twenty years earlier, my father had set the 100m meet record.
My goal to reach the highest step of the podium was still alive, but I was worried. I did not want to embarrass myself in front of my family and my home crowd. I didn’t want to let myself down. Race day was around the corner and I became more and more distant. I could tell my parents were nervous.
The only thing my father told me on the day of the finals was to go out there and have fun. I remember thinking “a 400m is never really fun, but okay.” I was going to try my best and I was just hoping it would be enough to make my first national team.
The starter’s gun went off and I strangely felt good. I hadn’t felt that way in months.
I was in last place with 100m to go, but I had so much energy left that I wasn’t even worried. I caught up and crossed the line in third place, with a new personal record.
I was smiling so much that my mouth was sore. I met my parents just outside the track, and gave them the biggest hug. Deep down, I knew I could do it. I knew this year was going to be better than any other.
I achieved every goal that I set for myself. I broke my school’s indoor and outdoor 400m record. I am the indoor and outdoor American Athletic Conference Champion. I am a second team All-American. I finished third at my second National Championship, and I am on my way to my first World Championships in Doha, Qatar.
Being Bruny’s daughter is just like any other good father-daughter relationship, but it comes with a lot of expectations from others. People may think that because of my name, I don’t work as hard as my competition, but trust me, I work as hard as anyone else. Maybe harder.
I’ve always been treated as Bruny’s daughter. I’m used to it and it won’t break me. Who knows, maybe one day I’ll outshine him and he’ll be known as Kat Surin’s father.
(Large images submitted by Kat Surin)
The Kat Surin edition
Q: The best book you've ever read?
A: The Age of Surveillance Capitalism
Q: Must-listen podcast?
A: Brilliant Idiots
Q: Best advice you've ever received?
A: The me I see, the me I’ll be.
Q: If your life was a movie, what would it be called?
A: Life in the fast lane.
Q: What word or phrase do you over use?
Q: What is a skill you wish you had?
A: I wish I could dance.
Q: What's something no one would guess about you?
A: I have an ice cream problem. Once I start, I can’t stop.
Q: What scares you?
Q: If you could have the ultimate influential dinner party, who would you invite?
A: Beyonce, Colin Kapernick, Frank Ocean, Ava Duvernay, Robert Downey Jr.
Q: What makes you cry, every time?
A: The Notebook.
Q: What's the next goal you want to accomplish?
A: To compete in the open 400m and both relays at the 2020 Olympic Games.