Daddy has to go away again.
I have to go to Florida. To Ottawa. To Montreal. To Poland. Germany, Hungary, Brazil, Japan. It won’t be for too long, just a few weeks, a month, two. No, I’m sorry you can’t come. Yes, I will bring you back something. I have to go paddling. I have to race. Why?
Because I’m training for the Olympics. I race for Canada and I’m working as hard as I can so that I can represent our country at the 2020 Olympic Games where I will try to win a medal. You aren’t old enough to know what that really means, but someday you will, and I hope this will help you understand.
You do know that I go paddling every day, but not that I paddle until complete exhaustion, until I can barely hold my paddle, until it feels like I’m going to throw up. To you I’m just going for a fun trip in a canoe, and because you see it that way, so do I. You remind me that what I do is fun, that it brings me joy, and that I am lucky to do it.
You know that I race for Canada, but not that I’m racing against the best paddlers from every other country around the world. I do everything I can to represent this country we live in to the best of my ability because Canada has provided me with incredible opportunities that most people in the world don’t have. Be thankful that you live in a country where you are free to follow your dreams.
You cheer for me as loud as you can, but you are too young to really understand what it means when Mommy tells you to yell “Go Daddy Go!” The most exciting thing about a regatta for you isn’t seeing me race, it’s riding your bike or hanging out with the older girls from the canoe club or eating a popsicle. And that is how it should be. Keep being a kid as long as you can
People often ask me how I do it. How do I train full time while being a parent to two young kids? They wonder how I get enough sleep or how I have enough energy after chasing you two around all day. They wonder if my training has suffered or if I’m able to still compete at the same level.
Let me tell you with no hesitation: you have both made me better in every way. You have made me a better athlete, and more importantly a better person.
I want you to know that you are my strength. You are my inspiration, my focus, my everything.
Whenever I am in my boat, you are with me. Whenever it gets hard, I think of you and I push through it. Every practice, every race, every stroke, you keep me going. I am strong because my love for you is stronger than any obstacle in my way. So when people ask me how I am training for the Olympics with two young kids, the answer is simple. I couldn’t do it without you.
So again, why am I still chasing this dream after all these years?
I don’t do it so you will see me win races, or win medals. I do it so you will see me never give up. So you will see me work hard. So you will see me follow my dreams. I do it so you will see me give it everything I have no matter what. Even if I fail, even if I lose, I want you to see me fight.
Never be afraid to try to do something that is hard. Never listen to people who tell you that you can’t do something. Never listen to people who tell you that you are too small, or too big, or too weak, or too young, or too old. They are wrong.
Follow your own heart; listen to your own mind. Dream big dreams and chase them with all of your might. You can do amazing things in this world, in any path of life that you choose. And if you ever doubt yourself, that’s okay. Just remember: You are strong, you are tough, you can keep going even when it’s hard, even when it seems crazy. And no matter what, I believe in you.
With all of my love,
Mark Oldershaw is a three-time Olympian in canoe sprint who won bronze in the C-1 1000m event at London 2012. He lives in Hamilton, Ontario with his wife Annamay, an Olympian herself in swimming, and their daughters Josephine and Margaret. In August 2019 he will compete at the ICF Canoe Sprint World Championships in Szeged, Hungary where the first Olympic qualification spots for Tokyo 2020 will be awarded.