preface

preface

More Than Medals harkens back to the first book I created about sports—a spiral notebook filled mostly with articles about athletics ripped from magazines. The waiting room of my dentist’s office was a gold mine for such pieces at a time when I wore headgear and braces. I’d tuck them into my pockets and unfold them later to make my own personal playbook: a collection of quotes and stories from athletes who were where I hoped to go.

Glue and tape held that book together, and I carried it with me from my hometown of Sechelt, B.C., across the country as I made my way onto the National Beach Volleyball Team. I squeezed it into my suitcase as I travelled around the world for over a decade playing my sport for Canada. That raggedy book was my point of reference, a reminder, a link between where I had come from and the aspirations I had for the future.

This new book, More Than Medals, aims to provide a similar kind of inspiration. Through interviews with over thirty athletes from two dozen different sports, it provides an inside look at all aspects of being an athlete, not just the polished parts. It follows the arc of an athlete’s career, from their beginnings in sport, ignorant of expectations, through the messier parts where obstacles, fears and doubts tend to dominate. It concludes by listening as athletes try to sum up what they’ve learned from a world closing to them. They look backwards more than forward while anticipating what they’ll walk away with when they leave the sport that has been their life.

More Than Medals embodies athletics beyond outward perceptions: it’s about people, not personas, and about their ideas, not their win-loss ratio. These athletes don’t have everything figured out. Their perspective has to constantly shift, and those shifts are the gift they offer here, along with their truths as they see them and their vulnerability in telling stories that don’t end as you’d expect. They’re not fancy, these ideas about sport, nor are they new, but because they are presented unfiltered from those who have lived in the world of athletics, their value is unmatched.

I’ve been a fan of sports since before I won money from my uncles in baseball—Blue Jay World Series wins by Dave Winfield’s double and Joe Carter’s home run. I was a fan of sports before my dad convinced the women’s fastball team to give me a shot at first base even though I wasn’t old enough to drive. I haven’t been a fan as long as my grampa or my gramma, who stood in the outfield of the Detroit Tigers games before there were bleachers while keeping her own stats and records. However, I have watched and played sports long before I became a professional athlete.

You hear about “students of the game.” That’s me: I studied my sport and all its parts for as long as I can remember. I tracked stats, weather, temperature, the mental aspects, the physical facets, and I just watched and watched and watched some more. I didn’t just watch my own sport, but any sport that I thought mirrored it in some form or another. When I stopped playing, I wanted to map out some of the things I’d learned, which is how this book began. Speaking to some of the best athletes in the world was also a form of therapy, as I tested my own theories about athletic success against their thoughts and our shared experiences in sport.

Having spoken to and hung out with the athletes featured in this book, I consider quite a few of them to be friends. But I’m also a fan of theirs: of how they’ve played the game, of their careers, and of how they conduct themselves both inside and outside the sporting world. Each athlete you’ll meet in these pages, besides being a champion in their sport (check out the appendix for a list of their accomplishments) also has over a decade of experience in their sport at its highest level.

For several years I travelled around collecting their stories; sometimes they even billeted me when my plans went awry. Their stories are linked together by the common themes that every athlete experiences in their journey through sport. The rookie beginnings, unmarred by the messy middle part where things seem uncertain, and the ending that comes regardless of your sport. Being a professional athlete is a life lucky to be lived, they all know that. It’s a life that transformed them, took them from their playgrounds to packed stadiums. It’s a chance to see the world, experience other cultures, and learn more about yourself as you navigate sport and your place within it.

>> read the ‘persistence’ chapter