Fitness: Habit Forming
Olympic careers wrapped up, Silken Laumann and Simon Whitfield tell Jayne MacAulay they can’t stop moving. Neither should you.
Simon Whitfield stands upright on the ocean off Victoria almost daily now. As he transitioned from full-time international-level triathlete, he discovered the joy of stand-up paddle boarding (SUP), especially the solitude and the opportunity to listen to audiobooks. “I call it my therapy,” he jokes, adding, “It’s surreal [out there]. I’ve seen sea lions, seals, eagles and whales.”
Winner of the first-ever Olympic gold medal in the triathlon (at Sydney, Australia, in 2000), Whitfield ended his international-level athletic career after his fourth Olympiad, at London in 2012.
“I don’t train anymore. I exercise,” Whitfield points out. “And I feel much better if I stick to a routine.” Part of that involves family fun – runs with his wife, Jennie, in the hills of a local park, often with their four- and six-year-old girls. A giggling four-year-old makes a useful weight on Dad’s back to intensify push-ups or uphill hikes.
About three hours before exercising, he fuels up, noshing on avocado with sea salt or perhaps chia cereal and nuts, soaked overnight in the refrigerator for digestibility.
Over 12 weeks in 2015, the Olympian will train the winner of the Recharge Rewards contest sponsored by the Dairy Farmers of Canada to run in either the Mississauga Marathon or the Blue Nose Marathon in Halifax. The Olympics may not be your ambition, but Whitfield suggests sussing out an activity that’s “manageable, attainable, enjoyable and repeatable.” Commit to a routine and then do the best you can.
Silken Laumann, 49, believes there’s no age limit on dreams or goals. “That’s what keeps us excited about life,” she says.
However, it’s doubtful many of us could emulate the rower’s goal-conquering determination after suffering a catastrophic leg injury just 10 weeks before the 1992 Olympics in Barcelona, where incredibly, she won a bronze medal. (A silver followed at the next Olympics in Atlanta, and she retired from competition in 1999.)
Laumann has gone from action on the water to being in the water, building on swimming skills by learning to swim lengths. “It’s incredibly good for the brain, later in life, to try something you’ve never done before,” she says.
For more than 10 years, Laumann’s been an international board member for Right To Play, a global organization founded by another Olympian, Norwegian speedskating icon Johann Olav Koss, who is now based in Canada. She has witnessed the transformative power of play in improving children’s health, overcoming religious and cultural differences, bettering communities and in changing attitudes toward women.
“The work I’ve done over the last decade has been focused on getting kids active and healthy in countries around the world, sometimes the most disadvantaged in the world,” she says. Closer to home, she’s the GoodLife Kids Foundation’s Champion, encouraging activity and healthful eating in adults, important role models for their children. The foundation funds such initiatives as Boys and Girls Club running and healthy body image programs.