Silken Laumann Encourages Manitoba Students with her Olympian Story

By: Jenn Wiebe
Garden Valley Collegiate
Winkler, MB

The student council leaders from Garden Valley Collegiate attended Manitoba's Rural Forum for Young People held at the Keystone Center in Brandon, MB on April 27, 2000. One of the featured speakers at the forum was Silken Laumann, a well-known Canadian athlete who challenged her listeners to "never give up".

Silken Laumann is a woman who is admired by many. A recipient of several Olympic medal's Laumann has not only proven herself to be an exceptional athlete; through her personal struggles and disappointments, she has also shown exceptional determination.


Being one of three children, young Silken found herself as the one with nothing special about her. When her sister took up rowing, Laumann gave it a try. Those at Don's Rowing Club in Mississauga, Ontario watched her improve after many, many spills into the water.

Laumann joined the Canadian Men's Olympic Rowing Team in 1990. She describes it as having 22 tall, athletic, gorgeous older brothers. Although this team came from coast to coast, the rowers had a common vision. They trained ten times a week. When they got a new coach, their workout doubled.

Laumann experienced motivation, mixed with a desire to just quit. But, even with the exhausting schedule, she refused to take a day off she couldn't break the team. The importance of teamwork is important, she says, in your environment and schools. Teams bring out the potential in everyone.

Five weeks before the Olympics, on May 16, 1992, Laumann was hit by another boat. The tendons and muscles in one of her lower legs were completely severed.

Reflecting on the matter, Laumann says, "everyone experiences failure". The key, she believes, to recover quickly. If you can bounce back faster than someone else can, you'll be one step ahead of them.

Even champions have fears and doubts, Laumann says. Her advice is to imagine who in your life needs encouragement. Then, encourage everybody, every day. She says that one thing to remember is that encouragement isn't solving problems; it's giving advice and listening.

After her accident, Laumann remained focussed on the Olympics. Two days after getting out of the hospital, she got into a boat and rowed! She couldn't stand or walk without pain, but she rowed. Day by day, Laumann took many small steps and in those five weeks between the accident to the Olympic Final, she got ready to compete.

She recalls that she was extremely nervous, and wanted to quit. But, she kept going, and through that race she pushed HARD. In the end, she was a victor; she won the bronze medal. "You don't get to choose your circumstances," says Laumann. The key to living life is working with what you've got and keeping life balanced. It's important to remember the things in life that are important to you, she says. Your accomplishments are only a small part of you. You will ALWAYS be yourself, regardless of what you do. It's you that you need to be proud of.

Silken Laumann now rows only recreationally and concentrates on being the best wife and mother possible. She advises others not to "pray for an easy life" but instead, "pray to be strong".