“It’s an honour to wear the Maple Leaf on my uniform.”
These words are continuously echoed by athletes every time Canada competes on the international stage. It’s a patriot love and a deep-rooted privilege that makes up the very lifeblood of Canada’s Olympic community, says Canadian Olympic Committee President Marcel Aubut.
“It is because of those who fought and died for this country that we have the freedom to train and compete against the world in peace,” said Aubut. “November 11 is the day we unite and remember why these sacrifices will forever be the foundation of our free and beautiful nation. When we carry our flag, when we sing our anthem, when we win and when we lose, we do it with thanks and remembrance to those who gave us the privilege to do so.”
More than 30 Olympians will represent Canada’s athletes as wreaths will be laid at ceremonies across the country on Nov. 11, including gold medallist Rosie MacLennan who will be at the National Remembrance Day event in Ottawa.
“It is always important to take this time every year to remember the people who gave their lives to protect us,” said MacLennan. “We owe them all such a debt of gratitude and I’m proud to be here to honour their sacrifice.”
This privilege and message of thanks spreads generations and is top of mind for 1948 Olympic high jumper Shirley Olafsson.
Olafsson was born in 1927 at Vancouver General Hospital with what doctors called at the time a deformed foot. By today’s standards, Olafsson would have been considered a Paralympic athlete due to having one foot that requires a size 9 ½ shoe and the other that requires a size 5 ½ shoe.
Seven operations later, Olafsson defied the odds when at 21 she qualified for the Canadian Olympic Team that competed in London that year at the first Olympic Games after World War II – an experience that Olafsson will surely never forget.
“It was kind of sad looking at all the potholes where all the bombs had hit. It must have been devastating and very scary for the English people,” said Olafsson who would finish 11th in competition. “The people were so nice and welcoming of us, though, and it made it such a special experience.”
Remembrance Day is especially important to her, she says, because it’s an opportunity to give thanks to all the veterans who made it possible for her and those who came after her to be given the opportunity to compete at the Olympic Games.
It’s people like Olafsson who not only inspire this nation to do great things in sport, but more importantly, to help us remember the important sacrifices made on behalf of every Maple Leaf on every uniform and in the hearts of every Canadian.
“It’s always exciting to do something for your country. There’s so much pride when you’re there and you know you’re competing for Canada,” she said. “I just think about all the days I did it and the passion I had. It’s something I will never forget and I thank those who made it possible.”
– Image courtesy of the BC Sports Hall of Fame’s archival collection bcsportshalloffame.com.