Often times world class athletes are asked to do more then eat right, train hard, and keep their bodies in top physical condition; they must also have a heart of gold.
The other day I was sitting on the couch with a friend of mine and we were discussing our jobs. He made significantly more than me working for an oil and gas company downtown Calgary. Meanwhile I don’t really have a “Job” in the traditional sense since I am a speed skater getting financial help from the government. I worked it out once and I could be making more money hourly working minimum wage at McDonald’s then I am currently as a speed skater. I do work a part time job on the side to make ends meet and to be able the stock the black hole that is my fridge, but I try my best not to complain about it.
My friend then started teasing me about how I am leach to society and I just wait for the government to pay me to skate around in circles in spandex all day. “What do you give me?” He asked. “Why should my hard earned tax dollars pay for you to go workout? Everyone else has to pay for their gym membership, why should I be paying for yours?”
He was kidding and getting a kick out of it, but it did make me wonder what purpose do I serve to society, and why should Canadians be helping me do nothing but prance around in spandex all day.
I further thought about what it means to be an amateur athlete in Canada. The job description goes well above and beyond what you see on TV. On top of countless hours of training, eating right and having the self discipline of a Jedi Ninja (those exist) it also requires you to give back to the community. Athletes are more than just workhorses they are also ambassadors to their sport and country. They are role models for kids and adults alike and can be used as inspiration to everyone.
Last month I was asked to talk at the KidSport charity golf tournament put on by Cohesion Media in High River, Alberta. I talked a great deal about what sport has given to me and how it has given me the tools to succeed in the future, regardless if I continue to pursue sports or not. The focal point of my speech was also how sport helps to build a community. Sport helps bring people out of their homes and onto the sidelines of soccer fields and on the bleachers of arenas.
Only a couple weeks after the charity event, High River became one of the hardest hit communities in the Alberta floods. My heart truly sank when I saw the pictures of the community. Most of the community lost everything they had, and are only now starting to piece back their lives. To put faces to those hit hardest by the floods difficult. However, along with the flood of the community, also came a flooding of generosity. All of a sudden that house down the road was not just another house, it was Sherry’s house from soccer practice, or John’s garage from figure skating. The community ties that sport has given to communities and the same ones that help each other in times of need. I truly believe that it that it takes a community to raise a child, but it takes sport to raise a community.
Today I was lucky enough to talk to kids at the summer speed camp that happens annually at the Olympic Oval in Calgary. This day camp offers the opportunity for kids to try out long track speed skating. People come from all over the country to take part. This talk meant a lot to me because I also attended the summer speed camp when I was a child and I vividly remember skaters from the national team talking to me. I could not believe that I was now going to be on the other side of the room giving the talk. My teammates and I talked to the older kids about what it takes to become an elite athlete and also the importance of living a balanced lifestyle. For the younger kids, I decided to put on a bit of a show and pretend that I had literally just come off the ice. I showed up late, dressed in my spandex, and pretended that the coaches had not let me off of practice on time. I thoroughly enjoyed talking to the kids of all different ages about not just speed skating, but doing what they love.
After a bit of reflection, I guess this is why amateur athletes get financial support from their country. People do not look up to amateur athletes for their physical abilities, but for their hard work and determination. I am proud to be at the level that I am at, and would not trade it for the world.
PS. In case what you were wondering what I look like to a nine year old, this pretty much sums it up.