Life Lessons from Kathleen Heddle

Kathleen Heddle Mother, Wife, Friend, 3x Olympic Champion 1965-2021

I’d like to share 2 life lessons I learned from Kathleen Heddle, a Canadian Olympic legend with 3 Summer Olympic gold medals as well as a bronze. Kathleen Heddle was my rowing partner for the better part of a decade. She passed away January 11th, after a brave 6-year battle with 4 different cancers.   Kathleen was quiet and unassuming and yet she was also the greatest Canadian, (if not one of the best global) rowers ever.  I am grateful not only for the sporting memories that we share but these and many other life lessons I drew from the time we shared.

  1. Fear and Doubt are part of a Champion’s path. Do not worry if, for a moment (or longer) you question yourself, your goal or your abilities; you are not alone. Your peers and competitors will be experiencing the same emotions. They are a normal part of an ambitious path.

On the eve of one of our first big wins, I shared with Kathleen that I was scared – the expectations for us to win were intimidating. When she, the GOAT that she is, shared with me that she was scared too, I knew I’d be okay. With my fear mixed in with my confidence – we won the next day, and (for the most part), for the next 5 years.

  • Relationships are not 50:50. Partnerships aren’t about meeting in the middle. They aren’t 50:50. You give 100% of what you’ve got and if you’re lucky you’ll be given 100% of what they’ve got.  

Kathleen was quiet, many would have described her as an introvert. She was never going to get 50% louder and I was never going to get 50% quieter – it just wasn’t in our natures. It took time and observation, but when I stopped expecting her to communicate to me in the way I communicated to her (and others), we began to click. (She learned that all the starboards (like me) had a speaking/ coordinating role and she stopped expecting me to say nothing.) We shifted our focus to each other’s strengths and quickly went from being a good combo to a great one.   

I’m a better Chef to this team because of her.

Kathleen Heddle 1965-2021

Tokyo 2020 postponed to 2021 // Tokyo 2020 reporté à 2021

<La version française suit>

In a move that was highly anticipated, the Tokyo 2020 Games have been postponed. We appreciate and are thankful that the IOC quickly clarified their position on protecting the health and safety of athletes and their communities.

“In the present circumstances and based on the information provided by the WHO today, the IOC President and the Prime Minister of Japan have concluded that the Games of the XXXII Olympiad in Tokyo must be rescheduled to a date beyond 2020 but not later than summer 2021, to safeguard the health of the athletes, everybody involved in the Olympic Games and the international community.

… It was also agreed that the Games will keep the name Olympic and Paralympic Games Tokyo 2020. “


This is the best news we could have hoped for given the circumstances.

Our understanding is that qualifications stand and we will request that be officially confirmed. For those who were expecting opportunities to qualify this spring/summer, your NSO and IF will determine and communicate to you what the new process to qualify will be. Please be patient. There remain many logistical elements to work out, but we should appreciate this clarity – you do not need to be ready to compete this summer. Follow the direction of our Federal and Provincial leaders – stay home, practice social distancing – flatten the curve.

I think as a team we can be extraordinarily proud of how we – how you – stood united in the last two days. The announcement that we made just 36 hours ago that Team Canada would not attend a July 2020 Olympic Games was shocking to all. I respect that many of your reactions were visceral and yet – each of you followed up your comments of disappointment and heartache with understanding. Thank you. It is incredible to watch a team come together like that. At this time, the health and safety of our communities comes first.

When the infection rate of COVID-19 has come down to a safe level for sport to resume, when you get to train properly and then compete with the maple leaf on your chest – the Olympic and Paralympic Games will once again be seen as a symbol of hope. Tokyo 2020 will be a celebration of all that we now seek to overcome. There may be no better way to move on from this most difficult time than seeing the world brought together through sport the way only an Olympic Games can. 

More information will come from your National Sport Organization and the Canadian Olympic Committee.
Postpone today, conquer tomorrow. We are all Team Canada.

C-A 👏👏 N-A 👏👏 D-A 👏👏 Let’s Go Canada!!  


Marnie McBean OC OLY
Chef de Mission Team Canada Tokyo 2020

Grâce à une décision qui était fort attendue, les Jeux olympiques de Tokyo 2020 ont été reportés. Nous sommes reconnaissants que le CIO ait rapidement clarifié sa position sur la protection de la santé et la sécurité des athlètes et de leurs communautés.

« Dans les circonstances actuelles et sur la base d’informations produites aujourd’hui par l’OMS, le président du CIO et le premier ministre du Japon ont conclu que les Jeux de la XXXIIe Olympiade à Tokyo doivent être reportés à une date au-delà de l’année 2020, mais pas plus tard qu’à l’été 2021, afin de protéger la santé des athlètes, de tous ceux impliqués aux Jeux olympiques et de la population mondiale. 

… Il est aussi entendu que les Jeux garderont le nom de Jeux olympiques et paralympiques de Tokyo 2020. »


C’est la meilleure nouvelle que nous pouvions espérer dans les circonstances.

Notre compréhension est que les qualifications seront respectées et nous demanderons que cela soit officiellement confirmé. Pour ceux qui s’attendaient à profiter d’occasions de se qualifier ce printemps et cet été, votre ONS et votre FI détermineront le nouveau processus de qualification et ils vous le communiqueront. Veuillez être patients. Il reste évidemment beaucoup d’éléments de logistiques à régler, mais nous devrions être reconnaissants pour la plus grande clarté dont nous profitons. Vous n’avez plus à vous préparer pour concourir aux Jeux cet été. Suivez les directives de vos responsables fédéraux et provinciaux, restez à la maison, pratiquez la distanciation sociale et contribuez à aplanir la courbe de propagation de cette maladie.

Je crois comme équipe que nous pouvons être extrêmement fiers de comment vous et nous avons été unis au cours des deux dernières journées. L’annonce que nous avons fait il y a seulement 36 heures qu’Équipe Canada ne participerait pas à des Jeux olympiques en juillet 2020 a provoqué une onde de choc qui nous a tous touchés. Je respecte que plusieurs de vos réactions ont été viscérales et que, malgré tout, chacun de vous a fait suivre ses commentaires de déceptions et son expression de déchirement par des mots de compréhension. Merci. Il est incroyable de voir une équipe se réunir comme cela. À ce moment précis, la santé et la sécurité de nos collectivités passent avant tout.

Quand le taux d’infection de la COVID-19 redescendra à un niveau sécuritaire permettant la reprise des activités sportives, quand vous aurez l’occasion de vous entraîner adéquatement et de concourir avec la feuille d’érable sur votre uniforme – les Jeux olympiques et paralympiques seront une fois de plus vus comme un symbole d’espoir. Tokyo 2020 sera une célébration de notre victoire sur tout ce que nous cherchons maintenant à surmonter.  Il n’existe possiblement pas de meilleur moyen de tourner la page sur la période très difficile que nous traversons actuellement que de réunir le monde entier autour du sport comme seuls les Jeux parviennent à le faire.

Plus d’informations suivront de votre organisme national de sport et du Comité olympique canadien.

Reporter aujourd’hui, triompher demain. Nous sommes tous Équipe Canada

C-A 👏👏 N-A 👏👏 D-A 👏👏 Let’s Go Canada!!  


Marnie McBean OC OLY
Chef de Mission Team Canada Tokyo 2020

Team Canada will not send athletes to Games in summer 2020 due to COVID-19 risks

These are not easy days. I’ve been on many calls today, listening to your Athletes’ Commission, your National Sports Organizations, Team Canada’s Chief Medical Officer Dr. Mike Wilkinson, the Canadian Olympic Committee and the Canadian Paralympic Committee discussing how they wanted to respond to today’s IOC statement and the global pandemic overall. It made me so incredibly proud to be the Chef de Mission of this team.

Together in harmony, the conversation was about making a strong statement; not about what will happen on July 24th, but about what is happening today in our communities, our country and globally. The desire to be role models and leaders in the efforts to flatten the curve and protect the vulnerable was repeated at all levels. The difficult decision was made to not send Canadian teams to the Olympic and Paralympic Games in the summer of 2020.

I can imagine this note is in part both crushing and a relief. We’ve been waiting for some real decisions. This is NOT about cancelling the Olympics. The COC’s position to the IOC will reiterate that qualified spots should remain qualified and that we look forward to the updated qualifying process for our remaining team members and that Team Canada is intent on participating. We will send our full team.

What we know about today is that there is no safe way for you to train for the Olympics. What we don’t want to do is put you, your coaches and your families at any risk by trying to be the exception to what is the consistent advice of our national health care professionals. The COC and the CPC are urgently calling on the IOC to postpone the Tokyo 2020 Olympic and Paralympic Games. This statement means that for now… stay safe, maintain your social distance, and or self-isolation.

Now is the time to stay home; to keep your body active in a home workout or, if possible, in an isolated open space workout. Talk to your NSOs about further direction for suggestions on staying active.

The IOC has suggested that they would provide postponement options in four weeks. We still look forward to those. The situation we are all in is incredibly fast-moving. We just didn’t feel it was fair or safe to keep you in the dark for so long.

The leadership and compassion from COC President Tricia Smith and David Shoemaker, CEO of the COC has been incredibly inclusive and transparent. Tricia herself was an athlete on the boycotted 1980 Olympics and knows what it’s like to have a Games taken from an athlete. She is steadfast in her efforts for that not to happen again.

There is still a lot to unfold and there will be more answers to come. Please remember we are all in this together as Team Canada, and as a nation. The key is for the Olympics to happen when it is safe and responsible for everyone.

Marnie McBean OC OLY
Chef de Mission Team Canada Tokyo 2020

Nous ne vivons pas une période facile. J’ai participé à plusieurs appels téléphoniques aujourd’hui où j’ai entendu votre Commission des athlètes, vos organismes nationaux de sport, le chef des services médicaux d’Équipe Canada Dr Mike Wilkinson, le Comité olympique canadien (COC) et le Comité paralympique canadien (CPC) discuter de leur réponse à la déclaration du CIO aujourd’hui et à la pandémie mondiale dans son ensemble. Cela m’a rendue incroyablement fière d’être la chef de mission de cette équipe.

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An Open Letter to Team Canada re:Covid19

March 17, 2020
Dear Team Canada,

 Earlier today, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) announced that it remains fully committed to the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020. With four months to go before the Games, it will refrain from making any further decisions at this time. We support this move by the IOC—we all hope and are continuing to plan for the Olympics to proceed in July—but our hope needs to be put in context.

The current pandemic is among the most challenging health issues that we have had to confront in many generations. Lives are at risk on a global basis, and there is an unprecedented level of worry and anxiety in our communities. Sport, understandably and appropriately, ranks low in terms of these priorities and we have seen many sport leagues and circuits suspend operations during this crisis without any clear sense of when normal operations will resume.  

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