In this “Where are they now?” series, Olympic.ca gives you a glimpse at what’s new in the lives of some great Team Canada Olympians since they said goodbye to their careers as athletes.
A four-time Olympian revered for her courage and determination, Silken Laumann had an unforgettable career on the water and continues to empower Canadians today.
Almost 30 years have passed, but Canadians remain inspired by Laumann’s story of perseverance at Barcelona 1992. Just 10 weeks before the Games began, Laumann was injured in a rowing accident that shattered her right leg. You can read about it here in Laumann’s own words.
Despite being told she may never row again, Laumann made arguably the greatest comeback in Canadian sports history. After multiple surgeries and still needing a cane to walk, Laumann captured a single sculls bronze medal in Barcelona.
Four years later, she won single sculls silver at Atlanta 1996, bringing her career Olympic medal total to three. In her Olympic debut at Los Angeles 1984, she had won double sculls bronze with her sister, Daniele.
Even with all those Olympic accolades, Laumann still calls her 1991 World Championship victory — the one that made her a heavy favourite for Olympic gold before she was injured — the highlight of her career.
“I think what made that win special was how strong my competitors were and how the headwind did not favour a rower of my size. Usually in a head wind the bigger rower has the advantage,” Laumann told Olympic.ca. “It felt so great to be that good and for a brief moment in time, I really recognized I was at the top of my game. My dad was in Vienna to witness my win, which made it extra special.”
In 1999, Laumann won the Thomas Keller Medal for her Outstanding Career in Rowing. She was inducted to the Canadian Olympic Hall of Fame in 1992, Canada’s Sports Hall of Fame in 1989, and the British Columbia and Ontario Sports Halls of Fame in 2004. In 2015 she was named to Canada’s Walk of Fame and over the years has received multiple honourary degrees.
To this day, the retired rower continues to make a tremendous impact through sharing her story, which was told in her memoir titled Unsinkable. In it she talks about the physical and personal challenges she faced, highlighting the trials and tribulations as well as the joys and lessons learned throughout her life and career.
But she wasn’t done with just putting words on paper. Laumann founded the not-for-profit organization Unsinkable with the mission to connect, empower, and educate people.
“I knew that my memoir was part of a bigger picture, but when I wrote the book I didn’t know what the next chapter would look like. I just trusted that it would reveal itself. It certainly has and I am grateful every day that what I’m doing in my work is having such a positive impact on others,” said Laumann.
The goal of the organization is to provide a powerful multimedia platform to amplify diverse voices, showcase management of well-being and to connect people with helpful resources. Offering a community of support and programs, their motto is Together, we are unsinkable.
“We share our stories and lived experience in an effort to give hope and help to others who are struggling. We believe lived experience is powerful and has an important place in helping others through their struggles,” explained Laumann. “Through our sharing groups, our guided programs, our online community, and multi speaker events, we not only break down the stigma of mental health but we give people the opportunity to reach out to one another and to resources that can help them.”
Laumann has been a big advocate of physical and mental health for everyone. Now a life coach, public speaker, mental health and child advocate, her goals are clear. She aims to create a world where people are comfortable sharing their struggles, no matter what they are, and create a more positive society for all.
“I wanted to create a listening organization because I knew that many of the answers and so much of the wisdom in terms of good mental health comes from the real experts, the people that struggle, the people that have lived through trauma, the people who never give up despite having been through almost (an) unthinkable challenge,” said Laumann.
The organization has kept her busy in recent years, especially during the ongoing pandemic as she continuously uses her platform to help others.
“I have found a way of pulling together so many of my life experiences in a way that can help others. I am grateful.”
Laumann remains very physically active, as you can see with a scroll through her Instagram. Listen to her speak and it’s hard not to feel inspired. Throughout the pandemic, she has started drawing which has describes as a fun new activity and has worked on stepping up her cooking game.
To follow along with Silken’s journey and add some positivity to your life: