As Canadian athletes prepare to go for the gold at the 2014 Sochi Winter Games, an emotional story hits home. Silken Laumann, who became Canada’s sweetheart after a courageous bronze medal effort at the 1992 Barcelona Summer Games, is in the process of having her autobiography, titled Unsinkable, published. For the first time, Laumann publicly admits to dealing with various stresses in her younger years, including an eating disorder.
For a generation of Canadians, Laumann seemed indestructible. After a boat collision in 1992 ripped apart her leg, she would continue training in a cast, refusing to give up. Despite multiple surgeries, a miraculous comeback would take place 10 weeks after the accident, as Laumann captivated the imagination of Canadians with such courage. A TV-movie was made on her comeback, while various cities throughout Canada named streets after her.
While her post-athletic career has involved serving as a motivational speaker, the ability to come out publicly and discuss the black cloud that hovered over her personal life may be her most courageous effort yet. Having been featured on the popular Canadian news program W5 on January 18, her story also made the cover of MacLean’s magazine.
Growing up in Mississauga, Ontario, she faced a difficult relationship with her mother, who had horrible fits of rage. As her mother survived wartime Germany in her childhood, Laumann believes this may have caused many of the problems for her mother. This would result in a youth where Laumann was in fear of her mother. Facing fears of anxiety, this would translate into a downward spiral of depression, compounded by an eating disorder and self-loathing.
In her late teens, rowing would provide a form of release, almost occupational therapy. Within one year of beginning to row, she would compete in the Canadian championships. Eventually, she would overomce her earing disorder and reach her full potential as a rower, competing with her sister at the 1984 Los Angeles Summer Games.
Despite overcoming various demons in her life, success did not bring with it happiness. As she explained on W5, she had difficulty coping with the fact that others would come up to her and speak about how great they thought she was. The athletic glories of her life could not hide all the demons that haunted her.
Such fears would rise to the surface during a trip to Arizona with her children in tow. As told to Lloyd Robertson on W5, a series of bad events on one day of the trip resulted in Laumann locking her children in their hotel room while she sat on the floor outside the hotel room in tears. Afraid that she would have rage against her children, the traumatic realization forced her to call a friend and express her feelings. Seeking counseling after the event, it would prove to alleviate some of her woes.
Although later years would force her to deal with the end of her first marriage, she has remarried, able to find happiness. In her second marriage, she is once again providing inspiration, as she is a care-giver for her stepdaughter Keeley, who is suffering from autism.
While her struggles have covered many spectrums of anger, despair and hopelessness, she has emerged stronger for surviving. Today, she encourages people to get help and not be afraid to speak about their problems. From an athletic perspective, it proves that athletes are human, and that they also have their flaws. For the athletes that prepare for Sochi with feelings of anxiety or stress, they can find solace in the fact that they are not alone. The bravery of Laumann to publicly discuss such a difficult and personal problem is powerful, providing a unique message of hope, similar to the hope she delivered on the way to bronze in 1992.