Wednesday, May 21, 2008

In A Word......

Sylvia was amazing!

Silvia is an Olympic athlete, who competed in the first ever women's marathon event in 1984 in Los Angeles, and placed 8th despite it being only her second time running a marathon!


Her talk was, in a word, FANTASTIC! Very heartfelt, with lots of good advice and personal stories on her road to the Olympics.

She also brought an 8 minute video of her Olympic run.


As much of what she writes frequently was in her talk, and because I enjoyed it so much, I've included it here.

In 1976, the Olympic Games were held in Montreal. As I was watching these games on our small black and white TV set, I was impressed by the level of excellence the athletes had achieved. I was particularly interested in athletics (the middle distance track events), and took note of the Canadian athletes competing in them. I was a young teenager at the time and had run cross-country and track in my first year of high school. However, I had a sporadic approach to training at the time. Watching these athletes caused me to ask myself some questions. What did I hope to achieve with my running? Did I just want to continue on as I had been or did I want to set some goals? I too decided that one day I wanted to represent Canada at the Olympic Games.

After the games were over, I found a scrap piece of paper in my room, wrote the date on it September 11th, 1976 and then a note indicating my intention to one day represent Canada at the Olympic Games. I didn't want to tell anyone about that goal, because I was afraid that if I failed to achieve it, I would have to explain my reason for failure to others. I did however want to keep the note as a commitment to myself. I grew up in an old farmhouse, and had floorboards in my room. I found a space between two of these floorboards, hid the note in the floor, covered it with tape (colouring it the same colour as the floor) and pulled my carpet over top of the note.From that day on I had a dream/goal, and began to work towards achieving it.

In those early years, I didn't know a lot about training, but I did know I had to be more committed and consistent. I started to get up early before school to run. However, because I grew up on a farm in the country, the absence of street lights meant that it was very dark. My mom, though not knowing about my dream, knew that I wanted to run. She would drive behind me in the car for 5 or 6 miles with the headlights on, so that I had a lit path to run in.

Running in the mid to late 70's even into the early 80's was not encouraged for girls. We had very few girls at our high school who ran, but we did have a guys cross-country team. I was able to go to high school competitions with them. The training began to pay off, and I saw encouraging results. By the end of high school I was winning provincial championships in the middle distance events and placing well in national events. Athletic Scholarship offers to American Universities, competing nationally and internationally and sponsorship by Adidas all were encouraging signs that perhaps one day that Olympic Dream would become reality. I stayed in Canada, went to U of Guelph and had a tremendous freshman year before becoming plagued with injuries. I would spend the next 2 1/2 years injured and unable to run.I finally overcame the injuries in 1983, and realized that the Olympic Games were the following year. I had maintained my fitness level with cross training activities but had to get my running legs back. By the end of 1983, I knew I was back to my pre-injury level of fitness.

It was then that I heard that for the first time in the history of the Olympic Games, a women's marathon would be offered for women. I felt that all of the cross training I had done had built incredible strength and endurance and that I had missed two years of track experience. It was then that I decided to move up to the marathon distance and try to make the Olympic Games in an event I had never done before. Four months before the Olympic Trials, in January of 1984, I got in touch with a marathon coach that I had heard about, and asked if he would help me prepare for the Olympic trials.The months leading up to the trials were grueling. I had to make major adjustments in my training which now included 115-120 miles per week and among other things 26 mile training runs. There were many days and weeks when I wondered if I could go on. God's strength and the assurance of his presence with me in this journey sustained me.

I won the Olympic Trials in 2 hours 30 minutes 37 seconds which at the time was the fastest debut marathon by a woman in the world. Winning the trials gave me the incredible honour and privilege of representing Canada at the Olympic Games in Los Angeles, 2 months later, in the historic first ever Olympic Women's Marathon.I

Although it was an incredible honour and the realization of a dream to be at the Olympic Games, the intensity of what lay before me culminated two nights before my event. Darkness had settled over the Olympic village, I was sitting at a pay phone in front of my dorm having just said goodbye to my family for the last time before I would compete in two days. The swimming stadium lay silent before me. Earlier in the day we had heard our anthem and seen our flag raised numerous times as our teammates, Alex Bauman, Vistor Davis, Anne Ottenbrite and others had competed. I was suddenly overcome with great fear. I started to question my readiness, I had seen the names of the 50 women I would be competing against. They included World Champions, World Record holders, Olympians, women I had read about. Was I good enough to be here? What if I didn't get my water? We knew the heat in Los Angeles would be severe, and dehydration was a real possibility. What if I disappointed my country, my family, my coach, my community? What if I disappointed myself? what if after all the training and sacrifices and work, I didn't do what I had prepared to do?When the fear and doubt became almost too much to bear, and I wondered if I would even have the courage to get to the starting line, I knew I needed to get my bible, find a quiet place somewhere in the busy Olympic Village to pray. God was so faithful. He came. Through his word and through my time with him in prayer, He brought a peace and assurance to my heart that only he could bring. I reflected on Psalm 33 verses 11" But the plans of the lord stand firm forever, the purposes of his heart through all generations."

The race was one of the most difficult events I have ever experienced. The intensity of the competition, the heat, the experience of running with the best in the world in only my second marathon. I reached a very difficult point in the race when 4 runners I was running with decided to pick up the pace at about the 21 mile mark, and I was left alone to wage the physical, mental, emotional and spiritual battle of whether I could go on. I found strength in the level of preparation I had done, but even more in God's word. I knew that the thoughts of "Quit, Quit, Quit" "You can't go on!" were not words from God.

I finished 8th setting a new Canadian record, and knew when I crossed the finish line, that I had given everything I had to give; there was absolutely nothing left. I was so grateful.

There was a part B on my note in the floor. Part A was to represent Canada at the Olympic Games, Part B was to win a medal for Canada. In 1984, I was the second youngest in the field, it was only my second marathon. I had hopes of going back to an Olympic Games and believed that with more experience and more training, a medal could be possible.I set the still existing Canadian women's Marathon record 6 months after the Olympic Games . The time of my third marathon, run in Houston was 2:28:36.

Two weeks after setting this record, I was involved in a very serious car accident. I was traveling back to Guelph from a training session in Toronto. It was a stormy January 24th night. My car hit a patch of ice, I lost control of my car, and the last thing I remember, was seeing the headlights of the oncoming car. I was impacted on the driver side door, was not wearing my seat belt, and got ejected from the car. When I regained consciousness, I was lying in a snowdrift in a ditch, and then was being rushed by Ambulance to the Hospital. It is a miracle that I survived the accident. a gentleman who was shoveling the snow at the end of his driveway witnessed the accident. He read about it in the newspaper, and several days later came to visit me in the hospital. He said that he saw my body bounce off the pavement twice, before I came to rest in the ditch. My injuries, given the serious nature of the accident were not that serious, however I would miss much of the following two years of running from various complications.I did return to running and competed, however I missed the 1988 and 1992 Olympics because of injuries. In 1994, I had to make a decision as to whether to continue and try to compete in the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta, or whether to retire.

I remember reading a quote at the time that said "How few of us are as brave as our dreams?" I knew that one of the things hindering my decision was the fear of it not working out. Making major sacrifices and "what if..." it didn't work. I made the decision to move to the states to train in the 2 years leading up to the games, to access excellent physical therapy and acclimatize to Atlanta weather. The plan didn't work as I had thought or hoped an after a series of setbacks I retired in the spring of 1996, without having achieved one of the main goals I had pursued since 1984.