Meet Special Olympics Team Canada 2019 Honorary Coach: Three-time Olympic gold medalist Marnie McBean

An In the Spotlight interview on the Special Olympics Canada website

Marnie McBean with daughter Isabel and a Special Olympics Team Canada athlete.
Marnie McBean and daughter Isabel with Special Olympics Team Canada soccer player George Ricardo.

Canadian rower and three-time Olympic gold medalist Marnie McBean has passed on her expertise as an official Team Mentor to Canadian athletes at five Olympic Games and two Pan American Games. 

The Olympic champion is gearing up for her latest leadership role as Honorary Coach for all 109 athletes on Special Olympics Team Canada for the Special Olympics World Games Abu Dhabi 2019, taking place in the United Arab Emirates March 14 to 21.

Marnie and daughter Isabel try out some races at Athletics Training Camp.
Marnie McBean and daughter Isabel participate at a Team Canada training camp.

“I really want to bring my experiences of working with generic, high performance athletes and continue that on and pass the same knowledge through to the Special Olympics athletes,” McBean said. “They have the same fears and doubts and confidences that any other athlete I’ve ever worked with has.”

While it’s McBean’s first time as Honorary Coach at the Special Olympics World Games, she’s been involved with the movement since the early 1990s.

According to McBean, once she started to bring home medals from the Olympic Games, she was asked to attend a lot of events – and Special Olympics Canada events were her favourite, because she loved meeting the athletes.

“That sort of interaction always made it just so lovely and real,” she said. “I got to see them and their joy and as much as I was being asked to come and share my medals and my experiences – they were always super quick to share their medals and their experiences too.”

As Honorary Coach, McBean – with 3-and-a-half-year-old daughter Isabel in tow – has visited a number of Special Olympics Team Canada training camps over the past few months to offer words of wisdom as athletes prepare for the world stage.

She’ll also be in Abu Dhabi for the nine-day competition, offering inspiration, insight and, of course, to cheer on the team.

With less than 30 days until World Games kick off, McBean has three main messages for the team:

1. YOU ARE THE ROLE MODELS NOW.

In every speech she’s given so far, McBean assured Team Canada athletes they no longer need to look to the Champions Network – a group of Canadian celebrities and professional athletes, including McBean, who help promote the movement – for inspiration or guidance.“They are becoming their own Champions Network – they are community role models now,” she said.

2. FOCUS ON CONFIDENCE.

“For the last year or more they’ve been working on their competence and looking at all the things they need to do better,” McBean said. 

But now is the time to shift that perspective.

When they arrive in the UAE, Team Canada will look at their competitors and notice everything they’re doing right, she said, so they need to do the same for themselves.

“An ambitious person will always feel that there’s more to do,” she said. “That’s good to think when preparing, but a bad thing to think in the middle of a competition.”

“From now through to the Closing Ceremony, the consistent message will be to focus on our confidence and everything that we’re doing right – because we are prepared.”

3. ENJOY THE EXPERIENCE.

McBean cautioned athletes not to have “blinders” on while in the UAE.

“Have fun and be eyes open and meet people,” she said. “Take in the experience of travelling all the way to Abu Dhabi – there’s a lot to be taken in in a non-sport sense.”

Be Extraordinary – Western Alumni Gazette – A chat with Marnie

A chat with Marnie about Performance and Winning

by Jason Winders, MES’16, PhD’16 | October 13, 2017

One of the most decorated athletes in Canadian history – most notably as a three-time Olympic gold medalist – Marnie McBean, BA’97, LLD’03, shares what she learned from a life on the water at Western and beyond.

My ultimate thing was not to win, but to get better. Getting better all the time meant attention to detail, to learning, to figuring things out. And all that – that attention to things – took care of winning.

I was not a star athlete. I always made teams. But I was never the star. I was not a scorer or a playmaker. I was a grinder who moved things along. But I have come to understand that everyone is excellent at something; it is the lucky few who find what that is.

I had great water feel. I wasn’t a great rower at the beginning, but somebody saw something about me on the water. And that was me – it was being on the water, how rowing boats moved, knowing how a team moved together. I loved it from the first day.

Get a feel for your water. I cannot hit a three-pointer. I don’t have that kind of coordination. But I have water feel.

When you find that thing you are great at, it is easy to put time into it. It will always feel like a choice. It will always feel like you are choosing to be more. Continue reading

What Super Heroes Don’t Tell You

Aside

Speaking at TedXBelieving that we can achieve success and big, seemingly infinite, goals can seem impossible for us “normal*” people. For the likes of Super Hero Buzz Lightyear, who will readily leap “To INFINITY and Beyond!!!” it’s a breeze. How do they do that?!

This weekend I spoke at a TedX event at the University of Toronto’s Scarborough campus. I titled my presentation “What Super Heroes Don’t Tell You” and had a lot of fun delivering my message.

I used a few big-event examples from my rowing career that tended to push my ego to believing that I was special. It’s easy to think that crossing an Olympic finish line in 1st place can make a person believe in their own Super Hero status! But almost invariably for me, something happened immediately after each of my big achievements that served to remind me to put my feet back on the ground. I was just a normal person who was doing some pretty special things; not a special person, and certainly not a super hero.

Eventually I figured it out. Continue reading

Marriage, Medals and Mentorship – Toronto Star Article

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By: Lauren Pelley Staff Reporter, Published on Fri Nov 07 2014

photo : Catherine Farquharson

photo : Catherine Farquharson

Marnie McBean can still vividly recount her first gold medal Olympic win.
It was 1992, at the Barcelona Olympics, and McBean had just been through seven minutes of gruelling rowing — her heart racing at 204 beats per minute, with enough lactic acid buildup to make a normal person crumple up and cry for the rest of the day. She remembers standing on the podium alongside her rowing partner Kathleen Heddle, listening to the Canadian anthem with a gold medal for the pair event around her neck.
“It was at that moment, I was like holy crap, this is the Olympics,” says McBean. “And I just won it — we just won it.”
It’s a story the Olympic champion has told countless times — and it’s a story many Canadians remember well. But at a coffee shop near her Yonge St. and Eglinton Ave. home on Thursday, McBean told a different one: the story of how, a decade after that gold medal, she realized she was gay and started a new chapter in her life.
“It wasn’t ever part of my sports story, not because I was denying it, but I never investigated it,” McBean says.
She’ll be sharing her story in a keynote talk on Saturday at Game Changers, a one-day symposium co-hosted by the Toronto 2015 Pan Am and Parapan Am Games Organizing Committee, CIBC and the City of Toronto. Continue reading