When asked if I wanted to be on the Canadian Olympic Committee’s float at the Toronto Pride Parade, I found myself, not for the first time, questioning what it really means to be a role model.
The first time I found myself considering if I was a role model I was 24 years old, a World and Olympic Champion, and talking about believing in yourself and being brave enough to chase your dreams. Just back from the 1992 Barcelona Olympics, I was talking to a group of grade 9 and 10 students about the ups and downs that preceded winning my 2 new shiny gold medals. Amid all the typical/easy questions like, “Are they made of real gold?”, “Where do you keep your medals?” or “How old were you when you started rowing?”…came a zinger. A student stood up, looked at me quite earnestly and asked, “Do you see yourself as a role model?”
I wanted to laugh – me? (Ha!) Sure I had won a race or two but a role model? I was just a rower; and when not rowing I thought of myself as really ‘normal’ and often lazy. I knew all of my flaws; I knew how much better I thought I could be – a better rower, a better friend, a better person. My inner-voice answered ‘no way’ to the role model question. But before I answered aloud I thought it through. What is a role model? Who were mine?
To me, role models demonstrate behaviours that we hope that we will demonstrate in the same, often challenging, situations. I couldn’t think of one person that was my all-encompassing role model – but I could think of many people and the different things that they had accomplished or said that I thought were pretty cool.
I’ve seen acts of focus, strength, kindness, bravery, generosity, humour, intelligence and thoughtfulness that have inspired me. I have tremendous admiration for those who have built and demonstrate strong, loving and lasting relationships. I want and hope for all of that. I watch people who demonstrate these traits and, when possible, I try to emulate them. Read on…