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Unsinkable Silken Laumann Has No Regrets

Unsinkable Silken Laumann Has No Regrets

Four-time Olympian Silken Laumann is one of Canada’s most inspirational leaders, a bestselling author, and a highly recognizable and beloved athlete.  As an elite athlete, writer, and life coach, Silken has made her work reaching her own potential and helping others reach theirs.  Below, Silken discusses her new book, Unsinkable, with The Vancouver Sun:

Silken Laumann is one of Canada’s most decorated rowers, most famously competing at the 1992 Olympics just 10 weeks after her right leg was severely shredded when another boat collided with her own during warmup at a World Cup.

After retirement, the Vancouver Island resident became a child advocate, a writer and a motivational speaker. But she came to realize she wasn’t telling audiences the whole truth about how she developed the resiliency to overcome hardships.

In her brutally frank memoir Unsinkable, which was released in January, she writes about her battles with anorexia, depression and self-loathing. She also reveals the difficult relationship with an erratic mother prone to unpredictable rages, and how her father would deny or try to minimize the behavior.

In the days after book came out, her parents, who have been divorced for 30 years, and her sister wrote a joint letter to several newspapers claiming some of the incidents were not true or were exaggerated.

In an interview on Friday, Laumann discussed writing the book, her promotion of Multi-Grain Cheerios’ Never Say Dieting Oath and other issues.

Q: Many people were surprised by some of the revelations in the book and your family was obviously upset. Having seen all the reaction the book produced, how do you feel now?

A: “I feel so glad that I wrote Unsinkable, that I went through that journey, first of all the internal journey, processing and ultimately healing some of the experiences that had been unresolved, probably in my unconscious mind. Finding the courage to write it down, to not just be honest about the experiences growing up but also about my own weaknesses, my own foibles, my own bumps and bruises. I feel that it’s kind of been like dropping a weight that you’ve been carrying and feeling like I’ve regained my future.”

Q: Was there every a point during the five years writing the book that you thought ‘Maybe I shouldn’t do this?’

A: “Oh yeah, lots of time. I think that’s why it took me so long to write it. I would lose my courage and I would wonder if the book would help anybody. But if you’re going to tell your story . . . I knew I had to tell it as rawly, and as honestly as I can. Not the sugar-coated story. It was really important to me that it was as authentic as it could be.”

Q. What about the fallout with your family?

A. “It didn’t surprise me. The way our family unit coped with what happened was to not talk about it, to shut it down, to reduce it. And that’s all the things the letter said, that ‘Oh, it wasn’t that bad. It’s just part of growing up.’ My dad was physically abused, he lived through the Second World War, so based on his experience, it wasn’t that bad. But it doesn’t justify what happened growing up and it doesn’t make it right. It didn’t help me heal to reduce it, to pretend it wasn’t happening. It popped out in my life as rage, popped out as depression.”

Q: You battled anorexia in your early teens when you were into running, but was weight ever really an issue when you got into rowing?

A: For years and years, especially in my early 20s, I had what they call disordered eating, which is a weird relationship with food, not eating consistently, not always eating what I needed to eat to be the best athlete that I could be. I’m really lucky that I got into a sport that celebrates strong, healthy bodies. I could have continued to try to be a runner and probably would have stayed anorexic for a good, long time. Then I think later in my life, in times of extreme stress, I’d fall into those pretty destructive eating patterns again.”

Q: Is all of that part of the reason why you’ve become a spokesperson for the Never Say Dieting Oath?

A: “Yeah, it’s right up my alley. First of all, I’m raising three girls (one of her own two step daughters, one of who is severely autistic) and I see how prevalent negative body images are in girls. It’s time we change that. I mean, why are people always on a diet? Why are women, grown women, starving themselves?

It doesn’t make any sense. When I took the oath ( it was really empowering. It’s about eating well all the time.”

Q: Your son, William, and daughter, Kate, both teenagers, have taken up rowing. Are you comfortable with that?

A: My kids always had a lot of choice in what they wanted to do and in the early years we did focus on play. We didn’t do a lot of sports. I’m glad both the kids love rowing, are having fun and have a great social circle with it. Whether they decide to pursue it at the very high level . . . my son at six-foot-six has a natural rhythm, a very good sense of the stroke and he loves it. My daughter it’s too early to tell.”

Q: A few years, you indicated in an interview that your bucket list included hosting your own radio show, writing another book, travelling to India and going heli-skiing. Done any of them yet?

A: I haven’t gone to India yet, haven’t hosted a radio show. But every year I go through this process where I take the year behind me and write down all the things I’m proud of and then I look to the year ahead and write down things I want to do. And I guess what I’ve noticed, it’s taking a lot less time to manifest some of the things I want to do in my life. I think it’s because when you let go of the crap that’s really holding you back on an emotional level, your creativity, your courage, your ability to tolerate risk, they all increase exponentially.

Q: You turn 50 in November. Anything big planned?

A: I think 50 stands for fun. Maybe it stands for fitness, fun and fabulous. I’m not sure. But I am going to do a cycling race in Spain next year. We (herself and fiancée David Patchell-Evans) are getting married in August, so we’ll take a honeymoon together. And I want to do more outdoor adventures.

By Gary Kingston/Vancouver Sun