Looking For Gold
I was safe just as long as I could find my validation and self-worth from the accolades and approval of others. My value as a person became dangerously intertwined with the sweep of a stopwatch or the stroke of a reporter’s pen. As far as I was concerned my reputation and list of accomplishments spoke for themselves . And thank goodness I never needed to repeat it because if anything I actually shied away from words preferring instead to just go ahead and prove it Introspection and self-doubt were for losers and I just didn’t have the time nor the desire to attend to such trivia when I had the Olympic Gold dead in my sights. Or so I thought…
Over time what had started out as my very own personal quest to win Olympic Gold had now become far greater than I had ever imagined. It had now become the dream of an entire nation and I was mentally unprepared to handle it.
How could one possibly prepare for such an immense undertaking? Where could I look for advice? I was only a very young 17 year old girl and back in the 1960’s there were no sport psychologists , no self-help books and certainly no mentors who could prepare me emotionally for what was about to unfold. All of a sudden my dream was quickly becoming a nightmare and I was rapidly becoming a victim of my own success…
Having moved back to our home in Vancouver BC when I was 9 I had been immensely proud to wear the Red Maple Leaf and see our Canadian Flag fly high on many a podium around the world. As the 1968 Games in Mexico City approached, Canada’s Olympic hopes for gold seemed once again to fall squarely on top of my shoulders alone… Rather than dreaming for gold it was now gold or bust… Somehow my chase to reach the top of the podium had just turned into a job description and it was up to me to deliver. There was no margin for error. Silver just wouldn’t cut it.
This scenario somehow felt hauntingly familiar… It was once again up to me alone to pull it off. But this time it felt much different. Not only was it my burden to uphold the foundation of my family but now the hopes and expectations of an entire country on top of it.
I slowly felt myself start to buckle… At first I thought I could manage the small seams of worry and doubt that began to creep in. Completely side tracked by the media circus and all the blunders of my pre-Olympic training due to poor decisions by my swimming association not least of which was denying any access to my own coach before and during the Games that my well-disciplined mind became overwhelmed.
My worst nightmare was beginning to unravel in front of me and so was my composure. Then to my dismay I began to recognize those old feelings of powerlessness and self-doubt. Having haunted me so long ago it was now about to take its vengeance upon me at the most important point in my entire life. I felt paralyzed but I was just too afraid to speak or admit I was quickly losing confidence in myself.