The date Feb. 10, 2014 will go down as one of the biggest moments of my life.
On that night, I sent one text message that tied me to one of the biggest Canadian stories of the 2014 Winter Olympics. That night changed my life forever.
For most people, the exact details of those few days have been lost in a nether realm of Olympic lore, but I’ll make a long story short. One speed skater gave up his spot to race an event, and his teammate captured a silver medal because of it.
The story went viral, and upon returning to Canada, for the next six months, Denny Morrison — aforementioned medal winner, and I — aforementioned spot giver, were almost inseparable.
For half a year, we travelled the country doing interviews, appearances, keynotes, awards shows, and even parades. What we experienced, I thought, was reserved for million-dollar professional athletes and celebrities — but there we were, living like rock stars.
Three years later, the brunt of the hype has passed and I’ve returned to relative anonymity. On occasion, the story will be recalled in an article, or the odd person will recognize me and chat about the Olympics and what “the gesture” meant to them.
Even now, I am still so humbled and flattered by how much Denny and my story resonated with Canadians. I always enjoy sharing it with those who want to listen. To have played a part in giving Canada something to celebrate and cheer for is truly why I gave up my spot in the first place.
However, constantly looking at the past is a form of stagnation, and to quote author Leonard Sweet, “stagnation is death.” Moving forward is to live and grow, and I am determined to make sure that Feb. 10, 2014 doesn’t define my legacy and who I am.
More than Olympics
As an athlete who doesn’t compete in the North American Big Four sports, sometimes I feel the need to remind people that our athletic lives and drive to achieve more does not stop when the Olympic flame is extinguished.
Outside of the Olympic Rings, and during the four years between Games, there are races to go to, a country to represent, and medals to win.
I have had the privilege to represent Canada for seven seasons on the long track speed skating team. During my tenure, I have accomplished a lot and have had what many in the sport would consider a successful career. I have stood on podiums, held trophies, and heard the roar of crowds cheering for (and against) me, but those things are rarely mentioned when people hear my name or know my story.
And while being a role model, a team player, and a good person are important parts of the legacy I want to leave, I also want people to remember me for being really, really fast. Fast enough to win medals, fast enough to break records, fast enough to achieve more beyond my sport. The Olympics are a huge part of proving that, but it is by no means the only part of what I desire my speed skating career to be remembered for.
What fuels athletes to train is the desire to achieve, to win, to accomplish. Canadian championships, World Cups, world championships — these are all competitions I want to win, again and again. Two years ago, I missed hoisting the 500-metre World Cup championship by 68 points — being so close to accomplishing a major goal, it is that small margin that motivates me to keep moving forward. Is a world record possible? Someone is bound to break it, why not me?
Canada is full of amazing athletes, both summer and winter. We are constantly accomplishing feats that create stirring stories that go beyond the 16 days of the Olympic Games. Within those stories, there are moments that can influence a culture on a much deeper level than a simple medal count … even an Olympic medal count. Moments like these should be celebrated more than every four years.
When anyone asks me what I do for a living, I always respond with a little bit of a guilty feeling. I am part of a lucky percentage who get to say they turned their hobby into a career. Hands down, Feb. 10, 2014 will be remembered as a special day in my life, but I hope Feb, 19, 2018 will be even more special — the day I win an Olympic medal. I also hope to add the day I win a World Cup championship or a world championship to the mix. How about the day I set a Canadian record or even a world record?
Whether these events actually happen remain to be seen, but I believe all of these days, taken as a whole, will define who I am and what my legacy will be. The drive to achieve more is still there, and I don’t know if the hunger will ever be satiated.
For right now, I’ll keep wearing skin tight suits and skating in circles — always forward, never backward.
(Large photos by The Canadian Press/Getty Images)