Champion kayaker Adam van Koeverden first captured the world’s attention at the 2004 Olympic Games, where he was a double medalist, with gold and bronze victories. Since then, he has continued to dominate the sport, taking silver at both the 2008 and 2012 Olympic Games, earning two World Championship titles, and being named “Canada’s Athlete of the Year” in 2012. Adam shares his story of personal success—infusing it with insight that he’s gained both on the water and off—and how it integrates with strong leadership, overcoming challenges, and the importance of teamwork. We put Adam in our spotlight today:
What inspired you to want to be a speaker?
Hearing athletes like Larry Cain, Mark Tewksbury, and Marnie McBean tell their stories… normal people who worked extraordinarily hard, not only finding success in their sports but discovering so many of life’s lessons through their ups and downs. Being able to communicate that story in a relevant way to any audience is an exciting opportunity for me!
Any advice for aspiring speakers?
Always be 100% genuine and just have a conversation with the audience. Keep in mind that if you don’t find your story interesting, then the audience might not either.
What do you like to leave audiences with?
A laugh, a tear, some practical perspective, a inspiring or meaningful soundbite, clip, or quote…or all of the above!
How do you prepare before a talk? Any special rituals? A good luck talisman?
I make sure I’ve had a coffee, and that I’ve been to the washroom.
Do you have an especially memorable event you can tell us about?
So many great moments to choose from! I had the chance to keynote the Special Olympics Festival in Toronto a few years ago. In previous years I had listened to incredible talks from Mark Tewksbury and Pinball Clemons, two speakers I really admire. When I got up to speak I saw them both in the front row and all I could talk about was what an honour it was to be asked to provide a keynote after those guys. Once I gathered myself, I think I managed to get through my talk, but I was pretty emotional at first.
Another crazy one was in Halifax at a Sports Celebrity dinner. There was a pretty distinguished group of athletes speaking, and I felt a little out of place alongside Dennis Rodman and Frank Mahovlich. We were asked to talk for about five minutes each, so I just thought of one funny story to tell, made like six people laugh, probably out of pity, and sat back down next to Jim Kelly. Rodman was up next, I don’t know if he got different instructions, but he spoke for over 45 minutes….he broke down crying, he threw a hysterical tantrum, swore like crazy, but actually wrapped it all up and managed to get an applause. Then he invited everyone out for a drink, and he sang Funky Town on stage with the houseband.
Any funny or embarrassing situations you found yourself in as a speaker?
Yeah of course! I often leave stories half-told and unfinished because I go off on tangents, but I completely lost my train of thought once and had to ask somebody in the front row what I was talking about. She said “kayaking”… and I got back on track.
Is there a charitable cause that you feel passionate about? Why?
A few, as a matter of fact. Right to Play, because I’ve been really lucky to have carte blanche access to sport and play my whole life and I think every kid should be able to say the same; The David Suzuki Foundation, because I work and live outdoors, I care tremendously about our environment, and because David is a rockstar; Colon Cancer Canada and the Parkinson’s Society because those diseases have affected my family; and the Special Olympics because those athletes are awesome champions and it’s so fun to be a part of that celebration of sport….as well as many others!
If you had to choose a new career, what would it be?
I’d be a farmer.
Desert island album?
Can’t I bring an iPod instead of a phonograph player?
Best subject in school?
Last book you read?
I just started The Real World of Technology, Ursula M. Franklin’s Massey Lecture.
Last film you saw?
Muppets in Space (in case you think reading that book makes me sound brainy or something).
Alice Eve, please tell her.