Something familiar: Canadian athletes remember Gord Downie

As the country pays tribute to Gord Downie after his death, a few well-known Canadian athletes share their fond memories of the Tragically Hip frontman.

Music icon's death a 'loss for Canada'

Gord Downie, who died at the age of 53 on Tuesday, created lasting memories for many Canadians, including athletes Adam van Koeverden, Rachel Homan, and Hayley Wickenheiser. (Evan Mitsui/CBC News)

The sadness in Adam van Koeverden's voice after learning about the passing of music icon Gord Downie reflects a sentiment likely shared by many fellow Canadians. 

Following a battle with brain cancer, the frontman for The Tragically Hip died Tuesday night at the age of 53.

"So many Canadians were just hoping he would get through it even though they said it was terminal," van Koeverden says. "Nobody really wanted to believe that, so it's still a shock."

The four-time Olympic kayak medallist, whose first love was music, says there is no band he has listened to more consistently throughout his life, dating back to when he purchased the album Up To Here.

"I was 12. I loved music," says van Koeverden. "I wasn't a sports kid. I grew up trying to be in bands and playing music. My mom sent me down to the canoe club because I was getting in trouble after school, but music was a way bigger part of my life than sports."

Having crossed paths with Downie several times in Toronto, van Koeverden also has high regard for him as a person, pointing out that his kindness was a good example for everyone.

"We watched him be so generous with his time and kind with other people and such an incredible artist," says van Koeverden. "I think it reminded a lot of Canadians, specifically a lot of Canadian artists and Canadians in general, that you can also be that kind.

"It sets the bar pretty high, but the guy was just too kind. That's the reminder, that's what I'm taking away from him: That he was a reminder to be good. It's within us. Everyone can just be good if they try."

Must-see show

Canadian curler Rachel Homan remembers her determination to get tickets for the Hip's final show in her hometown of Ottawa. It took place in the summer of 2016, when the band played one last tour after Downie's terminal illness was revealed.

"Tickets were sold out for the Ottawa show," says Homan. "My dad and I both tried to get them the second they were released months in advance. I set my alarm to make sure I didn't miss the release.

"But they were scooped up by scalpers online and the tickets were very expensive so I got us last-minute tickets to the show. They seemed good, but when we walked up to our seats we realized just how good they were. Our seats were second row from the stage and Gord Downie's wife was sitting right in front of me. All of the band members' families were one row in front of us."

The Man Machine Poem Tour made a stop in Toronto last August. (Evan Mitsui/CBC News)

A Tragically Hip song was also part of a special moment for Homan and husband, Shawn Germain.

"Long Time Running is one of my favourite songs. We picked it as the last song we played at our wedding," she says.

"We both love The Tragically Hip. It's Canadian and we wanted to have one of their songs be a part of our day. We both have so many memories listening to them growing up."

'The ultimate Canadian experience'

At the 2002 Winter Olympics, Downie pulled some members of the gold-medal winning Canadian women's hockey team on stage during a concert at the University of Utah.

"Our whole team was on stage with Gord and the whole band," Hayley Wickenheiser told The Canadian Press. "Nothing crazy [or] fancy ever. It was just those guys usually playing and all the athletes, the hockey team, sitting around and having a beer and chit-chatting.

"Just the ultimate Canadian experience when you think of how humble and understated they were and he was, but just so brilliant in terms of the lyrics and the stuff that he put together that really resonated with athletes and our team through the years."

Wickenheiser considers Downie's death is a "loss for Canada."

"We all knew he didn't have much time left," she said. "It's a big hole in the fabric of music and sport and who we are as Canadians."

With files from The Canadian Press


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