Were you “pulling” for me then? Would you do it again?


Canada's Marnie McBean (L) and Kathleen Heddle, gold medal winners greet fans at the 1996 Atlanta Summer Olympic Games. (CP PHOTO/COA/Mike Ridewood)

Canada’s Marnie McBean (L) and Kathleen Heddle, gold medal winners greet fans at the 1996 Atlanta Summer Olympic Games. (CP PHOTO/COA/Mike Ridewood)

Many of the blog entries I’ve posted here are intended to share what I’ve learned, to help others when I can. In this post, I’m asking for your help.


20 years ago this July, I was part of something special.

At the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta, I was on a rowing team that won 6 Olympic medals; Canada set the rowing world on fire! When my rowing partner, Kathleen Heddle and I won our 3rd gold medal – and a bronze the next day – we set a standard that has yet to be met by any Canadian Summer Olympian. I was so fortunate to be part of such an incredible era in Canadian Rowing and I want to do something to recognize this 20th anniversary: I want to do something that gives back.

When the opportunity to ride in the 200km Ride to Conquer Cancer came along I knew that this was my opportunity. Many of my teammates and my family – and yes, my teammates are like family to me – have been affected by cancer. I’ve lost both of my grandmothers – one who inspired me to dream huge dreams and the other that I never had a chance to get to know — to cancer. I’m not going to name them as it is there story to tell, but too many rowers that I know have had to fight –and I’m so fortunate to say – and beat cancer. Cancer doesn’t care about your age or your fitness.

My father-in-law has recently beaten his 2nd cancer with the cutting-edge science of stem cell treatment. I want to be part of the team that sees way more victories like his.


I would be so grateful if you would help me to recognize the 20th anniversary of something special – by doing something special. It’s ambitious, but so is Olympic gold and conquering cancer; my goal is to raise $20,000.


Just as every stroke made a difference, so does every donation. When we got home from the Olympics and traveled from coast to coast to coast, Canadians told us that they had been pulling for us. Was this you? Were you screaming at your TV, dreaming our dreams and willing us to win Olympic Gold. Did our win make you feel proud to be Canadian and inspired to try something that challenges you? I’m hoping that if this group would pull for us then, maybe can “pull” for us now. I’d be honoured if you would.


Here is my donation page if you’d like to help



Thank you.

ps – why Team BMO? It’s pretty simple, a friend asked me to join her team and the idea caught my imagination. 200km will be tough for me. These days I spend my time parenting not training. My cardiovascular strength seems okay, but my strength???… I’ve got some work to do in the next month.

UPDATE –  $23,475 raised!!!! 

Over 70 people, and their families helped me to recognize something special and more importantly achieve something special.
On July 11th and 12th, Deanah and I rode in the Ride to Conquer Cancer where over $17.3 million was raised for the Princes Margaret Cancer Centre. This is one of the top 5 cancer research centres in the world.

As you know, my goal was to raise $20,000 for cancer research; recognizing the 20th anniversary of the success of Canadian rowing at the Atlanta Olympics, particularly the 3rd Olympic Gold Medal that Kathleen Heddle and I won. This disease has effected too many friends/team mates and family members.

Through my supporters – I was able to raise $23,475 – I am so grateful. The widespread support I received was remarkable. Together, Deanah and I raised $26,675, we are so thankful.

The ride ended up being about 220k. 98 on Saturday and 122 Sunday. The first day – Toronto to Hamilton was an effort!! A huge head wind made it a total grind. Sunday was lovely. Almost all flat and nice roads which lends to chatting and getting to hear peoples stories.

That part of the event – hearing peoples stories – was incredible. From the opening ceremony/start we had tears in our eyes. We heard stories of loved ones lost and battles won. There were many cyclists with yellow flags indicating that they are survivors and along the roads there were hundreds of people cheering, some with signs of encouragement and thanks. One sign that sticks in my brain was “thank you for saving my life, Pat”. She was a survivor thanking the riders for raising so much money for PMCC.

She was thanking you.


Finding Calm in the Midst of Chaos. Parenting vs Doing Nothing….a comment on my productivity



Confucius says "Doing Nothing" above the throne room in the Hall of Union and Peace

Confucius says “Doing Nothing” above the throne room in the Hall of Union and Peace

As an Olympic Champion who’s been to 9 Olympic Games in various roles, I’ve been physically exhausted, emotionally exhausted and mentally exhausted. Until I became a parent – I’d never been all three at the same time.

For the first 5 months of our daughter Isabel’s life, other than parenting, I felt that I was getting nothing done. It wasn’t that I didn’t want to do (or to create) something more… it’s that I wasn’t physically, emotionally or mentally capable of doing much of anything. My brain’s logical and creative side shut down, giving way – I assume – to let myself develop some survival techniques – aka-parenting skills. I’ve loved it, but at the same time it has been frustrating to feel so…limited. This wasn’t what I’d hoped for.

While I was pregnant I thought I’d have lots of time to write and read during my maternity leave. I was looking forward to the time that I would have to think stuff through – I get a lot done when I’m at peace and doing nothing. I was going to branch out and put all of my creative thoughts to page. After all – there would be huge chunks of time when I’d be doing nothing but watching a baby. (A naïve mistake I realize but this is what I thought.) Ha! While I did have time, small, randomly spaced blocks of time, I had no idea that I would have no thoughts! (None that I could remember 5 minutes later anyways!) Exhaustion has a way of throwing your mind into utter chaos.

I always find my most, creative thoughts in the steady beat of repetition; this is my idea of peace. Long steady-state rows, runs, bike rides and even walks provide my brain with the white noise that it needs to clear through the chaos of everything and find inspiration. In 2007 in Beijing, I learned the wisdom that accompanies making time for doing nothing. That year I went to China 5 times helping Canadian athletes and teams familiarize themselves with Beijing and the sports venues that would host the 2008 Olympic Games. I became quite the tour guide of the Great Wall, the Silk Market and the Forbidden City. The later, the Chinese imperial palace, was where the Emperor (and Empress) lived and presided over court. It is also where first became aware of the Confucius phrase Doing Nothing. Continue reading

Expectation Can Be the Enemy of Play


I learned more about the importance of Play from my bronze than any of the races in which I won.

I learned more about the importance of Play from a bronze medal than any of the races in which I won.

When I was asked to do a Tedx talk, I knew that getting a point across in 20minutes – being both informative and entertaining – would be tough. When the Walrus Magazine asked be to be part of their speaker series, WalrusTalks, where the speakers are only given 7minutes!, I was pretty sure that the task would be impossible. But… what kind of motivator would I be, if I turned down opportunities and challenges because they seemed to be a bit challenging! I had to heed my own words, break it down into bits – and… try.

The theme that the speakers were given was simply “Play”. I could do anything I wanted to from there.

I knew I could have addressed the value of play in the way that structured-play is used by Right to Play around the world to build communities. They use play to educate and empower children and youth to overcome the effects of poverty, conflict and disease in disadvantaged communities. Through Play one can teach important lessons such as disease prevention (HIV, Malaria, and other waterborne illnesses) and inclusion of those are living with those illnesses. 

I could also have discussed the importance of more unstructured-play for kids (and adults!) in our own communities. Our overly scheduled and observed lives leave less and less room for our imaginations and/or creative problem solving.

But I decided to address the play that should exist in, but to often is missing from, our work.

We all work. Whether that be in the form of a job from which we earn a paycheque, or work as school, sport, raising a family…  I don’t believe that work should always feel like a burden or a grind, there should be (must be?!) some part of it that is enjoyable – and even fun.  The people, what you get from it (intrinsic), what you get for it (altruistic), the mere act of doing or completing a task.. on any given day it might be different, but when we can recognize some element of what we are doing as enjoyable and even playful – the quality of not only our work – but of our lives goes up exponentially.

For my Walrus talk on play, I spoke about about my Olympic bronze medal, the one of four Olympic medals that I have that is not gold. I shared my observations that what was missing from that race was joy.

Play can exist in the hardest most challenging things that we are doing. It doesn’t have to be all skipping and smiles, it can be as competitive and focused as you choose. Try not to feel burdened by the expectations that come with work, but rather lifted and inspired by those expectations. Learn to frame joy and play as YOU like it.

It’s only 7 minutes… well – okay – I failed there… It’s about 11minutes, but it’s fairly short and to the point.

Expectation is (Can be!) the Enemy of Play 


As Your Career Matures, Anticipate That The Fun Will Too.


Winning my third gold medal wasn’t the same thrill as winning the first but that doesn’t mean that it wasn’t still fun to do. I had to learn/accept that it was just different. As a career matures, so must ones understanding of where the ‘fun’ comes from. If you think your career is void of joy chances are you’ll start feeling as if you’re grinding away, stuck in a rut and missing out on something. If you know how to find the joy in your career, even as that joy manifests itself differently over time, chances are you’ll remain curious, engaged and moving forward – and forward is fun!

Recently, when I was putting together a  presentation for the Ontario Bar Association (OBA) I wasn’t convinced that talking about Starting Happy so that you can Finish Happy would entice a bunch of lawyers to come to the luncheon where I was to speak. This topic isn’t about trying to be all skip-happy with a giddy smile but upon introduction it might sound that way. It is a discussion about confidence in your preparation, dealing with hard conversations, anticipating change and challenge and knowing that you are the ‘someone’ that you’ve been waiting for. These four pillars create a “Start happy” foundation that is likely to lead to accomplishing your goals thus “Finishing Happy”. Still, I felt that idea of a discussion of being happy wouldn’t draw the lawyers in.

I then considered going with my core message, which is about a relentless pursuit of more. I was pretty sure that if I came at the lawyers with a presentation on doing more I’d lose the room too. This is a group of people who pride themselves on an extended and grueling education followed by a career of long days often clocking 60hr workweeks. If I pushed ‘more’ on this group – they might start throwing their buns at me!

The Start Happy/Finish Happy presentation had come from a conversation that I’d had in Sochi, which turned out to have a great impact on more than one person. I often use moments like that, concepts or ideas that come from interactions with ambitious driven people, as the foundation for the various speaking presentations that I give. The concept of more was no different. It came from my own experiences and was reinforced over the years by observations and conversations with many athletes that I’ve worked with. The idea is that when you’ve ambition to achieve a goal, when you get to that point where you think you’ve done everything, there is always a bit more that you can do; do more, be more, try more, learn more. But happiness and more just didn’t seem to be right to use as the framework for my OBA presentation.

Both concepts ‘Start Happy’ and ‘More’ apply to lawyers as much as anyone but I wanted to come at them from a different angle. So my brain stepped back from lessons that I had taken from isolated moments and considered my whole career of observed (and experienced) moments. It was one of the first times that I’d looked at it that way and I was struck by a sort of a-ha moment. Continue reading