“Drift” into this shop

I hate that feeling. If you’re a woman who enjoys doing activities that are often viewed as a man’s sport, you know the feeling I am talking about.

Take fly fishing. You walk into a fly shop and the “guys” are standing there, having a Tim’s and talking about their latest fishing adventures. When they see you, they stop talking. They turn.  And stare.

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I suppose I would stare if I saw someone else standing in the water fly fishing, wearing a life jacket!

Then the fellow who actually works there approaches you with a curious smile. Often as not, he asks you if you’re there to get something for your husband/boyfriend/other half (who surely must be the one who fishes).

That used to happen to me. So I’d take a deep breath, stand tall and say something like “Nope, I’m out of leader material, I need some Hendricksons, Adams and maybe some Hare’s ears. And some new hemostats”.

That usually made the guys shake their heads and wonder how this woman knew their language. But it wasn’t comfortable. Or pleasant.

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There are shops where I so feel comfortable, like The Tying Scotsman in the Margaree Valley.

Over the years, I’ve entered plenty of fly shops. I’ve often had that feeling, where I am something of an imposter trying to blend in. Even though I do know the language and can talk about casting for steelies in the winter, or nymphing or what it is like to hook a brookie on a dry, it still happens.

But thankfully, not all the time. It was about 2 years ago when I needed a 6-weight fly rod. I’d done my homework, narrowed it down to 2 different brands, and headed into Toronto to this new fly shop called Drift Outfitters (http://drift-outfitters.shoplightspeed.com/). My friends Alex and Sean both told me I’d like the shop, and a website check showed me they carried both brands. So, I ventured downtown with a bit of trepidation, a thick skin and a credit card.

(Now before this becomes an advertisement for Drift, please return to the original premise of this story – the feeling of entering somewhere and feeling out of place, on display or otherwise uncomfortable. Pause for a moment and think about that feeling. Put yourself there, so right now, so you’re feeling a bit off balance and delicate as you continue reading…)

I strode into the shop, prepared with a selection of retorts to throw at the “guys”.  There were two young men behind the counter and I metaphorically “braced” myself for that look and the question.

But to my complete surprise, Harry looked up, grinned and said, “Hey there, how can I help you today?” And the look on his face was welcoming and interested and ready to help. I was startled and delighted and blurted out “A 6-weight. I need a new 6-weight”. And before I knew it, Harry was out from behind the counter, drilling me with questions, and ready to show me a few different rods.

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There truly are more women in the river in 2018!

Why was this shop different? Or why was Harry (and then Chris, and Alex and Rob, the owner) different?

I think it’s a combination of a few things.

  1. First, more women are fly fishing and so more women come into fly shops, and staff need to be prepared. There was a time when I’d be the only woman on the river, and now, I take great delight in seeing other women out there, casting and bringing in (and releasing) fish.
  2. Second, I think that many of us have done a great job with our children promoting gender equity. Jaime once told her Dad that she wanted to do a girls’ sport…she wanted to fish! These young men are Jaime’s generation, and they love everything about fishing and want to share that love. Couple that with their gender perspectives, and you get a reception that makes everyone feel welcome.
  3. Third, I believe that the owner sets the tone for the welcome. Rob has an unpretentious way of making each client feel like we are the most important person who’s walked into the store. Ever. And that makes all the difference.

In these days of #metoo that seem to colour the newspapers and air waves, it is so refreshing to walk into a shop and know you are both welcome and wanted.

So, yes, now that I think about it, this I actually this is a plug for Drift Outfitters! But  even more so, it is a plug for their families and the people who have influenced these young men to become the way they are. They have created a wonderful, welcoming store, and they give me hope that the generations of young people coming after me are ready to make a difference…starting with one fly fisher after another!

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I do ocassionally catch a salmon!

 

 

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To Sniff or Not to Sniff

My neighbour (and good friend) David Donaldson, and I kind of do similar work. David works for Tidal Shift http://www.tidalshift.ca/staff/david-donaldson/ as Director of Client Solutions (and Grand Poobah). More importantly, he and his wife love the same wine as I do, and we laugh a lot together.

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Fuzzy Facilitators!

A few weeks ago, David asked me if I’d be an expert guest on a webinar he was doing for clients and students about facilitation. The idea was an interview format, where he spends a few minutes setting the stage, introduces me, throws some questions out, and we’d be off to the races as we both explore and answer the questions. All the while, people will be coming and going in and out of the webinar and participating as they see fit.

Of course, I’d love to!

David arranged the webinar so that neither of us had to go anywhere. He walked over to my house, set up the camera and computer, and we were ready to go.

His questions were designed to find out how I addressed challenges while facilitating: How do you deal with
• Disengagement
• Disruption
• Let me steer (those who like to take control)
• ‎Discussions going off track

As facilitators, we all have our own tips and tricks that work for us, but I tend to introduce some common ground rules that set the stage, encourage participation and define how we are going to carry out our discussions. I write them on a flip chart in the front of the room and refer to them throughout any session.

  • Show up – be present (this is a fancy way to encourage people to put down their cell phones!)
  • Listen first
  • This time together is precious
  • Trust and respect
  • Contribute (don’t dominate)
  • Let differences motivate you
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Forestry workshop where the facilitator was listening first.

Now allow me to digress.

The other morning, as most mornings, I was out walking my two wonderful dogs. IMG_5901I knew I had a lot on my plate that day, and I was anxious to get the girls out, get them moving, then get them home so I could get to work. We went one of our normal routes, around the tennis courts, up the hill and then headed towards home. Lucy was preoccupied with sniffing. Apparently, EVERYTHING needed to be thoroughly sniffed and investigated, and this took a great deal of time. Time, according to me, that I did not have.

Grrrr. I could feel my anxiety rising. Every time she’d stop, I’d hear myself say “No, Lucy, come on, no, Lucy, no!” (repeat and repeat and repeat). Roxy, the older dog, just looked at me as if to say “But that’s Lucy, that’s what she does. Lighten up Susan.” (I’m sure she was thinking that anyway).

I finally stopped and listened to myself. Everything I was saying was negative. Don’t stop, don’t sniff, no, don’t walk there, don’t…, no….all uttered in an exasperated tone.

Time to pause.

If I were facilitating a meeting, I would never tell my clients/participants what not to do. I would focus on what to do. I would be positive, give ideas and options, and would not be demanding. So why am I doing this with my dog?

(I find so often that lessons from my personal life can be instrumental in my work life, but I sometimes forget that work lessons can help with the rest of my life, too.)

So, I paused. I became present. I listened to Lucy (for the record, she is quite a loud sniffer). I reminded myself that our morning time together is precious – she is 12 and Roxy is 15. In dog years, they are both seniors, and you know what that means. Lucy trusts me, I need to do the same for her. I won’t dominate, but I will lead her to where I want her to go (in this case, home!). And instead of telling her what NOT to do, I will tell her what I want her to do – heel!

And when she knew what I wanted, she walked next to me quite happily. Imagine that!

And so, going back to facilitation, when you have to deal with disengagement, disruption, people who like to take control of the discussions and discussions going off track, make sure you set your ground rules ahead of time. And consider those I’ve shared. Usually people, like my little Lucy, have their own agendas (for the record, sniffing is critically important, especially after it rains). But most people are also willing to take direction, if it is delivered in a positive fashion.

Follow your ground rules, and you’ll get home in plenty of time!

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Ground rules followed and on our way home!

 

 

 

Notes from Under the Brim

I just got back from my week in Cape Breton, where I spend most waking hours standing in the Margaree River waving a fly rod. Sometimes I catch and release Atlantic Salmon. Most of the time, however, I enjoy the magic of the moment while making deals with the salmon gods to help me hook a fish!

Any self-respecting angler wears a hat. It protects us from the sun and rain, from the wind that grabs our flies and hits us in the head, and gives us something to hide under when our casting goes to hell-in-a-handbasket.  It means that we are usually looking out at the water under its brim. I’ve learned a lot while looking out from under the brim of my fishing hat. Here are some of my recent lessons.

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Hat in place, I’m ready.

I arrived at Tent Pool on morning and there were 4 women there. I have never seen more than 2 other people there, let alone women. They were 4 of the most delightful, new-to-flyfishing women I’d ever met, who had hired a guide for the day. A guide, ostensibly, should “guide” clients – tie on flies, help them cast, position them in the river and help them fish. This guide stood on the shore, watching his clients flail away, stepping in only when they were so tied up that they needed help to escape their own line!

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Two of the ladies in Tent Pool.

I spent time with each of them, talking about casting, about where the fish might be lying and tying flies back on. I wasn’t being paid, but it was worth it – I was fishing, guiding and spending time with wonderful new friends. My morning was outstanding. [1]

Lesson # 1 from Tent Pool: Don’t just do what you have to do. If you can, do more. Your friends/clients will benefit, and so will you.

I spent an afternoon at Swimming Hole Pool, a long pool that’s fun to fish. As I was pausing for a break, two men arrived. One asked if he could get in the pool, and the other, Steve, sat down and we began to chat. That’s one of the wonderful things about fishing – we all share stories. Steve told me all about fishing in Maine where he lived, and how much fun it was being up on the Margaree.

When Steve stood up to get in the river, he lifted a huge net. I mean huge…I could have fit inside it! On the Margaree, we “tail” our fish, meaning we carefully land them with our hands, protecting their gills, and then release them.

Steve shyly looked side to side, then asked me if anyone else uses a net. I said no, I didn’t know anyone who did. He looked a bit sheepish lugging it around, and then I posed the question he was clearly dreading: Why didn’t you ask someone before you came?

His response? “Ask? Well, um, I never thought about it”.

(Note: I couldn’t bring myself to take a picture of the net or I’d put it here!)

Lesson #2 from Swimming Hole Pool: Don’t ever be afraid to ask questions!

The final lesson comes from Redbank Pool. It was windy and cold, but the sun peeked through the clouds now and then and made the water sparkle and shine.  I had my hat in lock position to keep it from blowing off my head, and I became quite contemplative as I began to cast. I knew a fellow had hooked a salmon in this pool near the apple tree a few nights ago, and I thought it would be a good place to finish my trip.

He had told me that he knew the fish was there, and he was just persistent and kept presenting flies to the fish until he hooked (and released) it. So, I did the same. I was persistent, and I presented the flies the way I thought would interest me if I were that salmon, lying near that overhanging apple tree.

And suddenly… boom! A salmon grabbed the fly and with a splash, blasted away from me! Heart pounding, after what seemed like hours, I slowly brought the fish in, carefully removed the fly, while trying NOT to a) break my fly rod, b) hurt the salmon or c) fall down.

As I watched him swim away, I realized that all the time I had spent not catching fish had allowed me to distill what it was that I needed to do to catch fish.

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A shot of the pool where I released my salmon. And you’ll see my wee flask I used to toast the fish!

Lesson #3 from Redbank – Be persistent, whatever you are doing. Stop doing that which doesn’t work, and you’ll eventually land your fish/job/contract (fill in the right word here).

Fishing for Atlantic salmon is a wonderful, frustrating, exciting and humbling experience. It connects me to the Earth, reminding me that I am a part of it, not apart from it. Sometimes I leave the river reeling in the thrill of releasing a fish. And sometimes not. But I always leave it profoundly grateful that there are places like the Margaree River where I can keep learning about wild places, the creatures I share them with, and about myself.IMG_5348

[1] I also know that the most common characteristic found in successful guides is not their fishing skills, but rather their ability to connect with people. (This guide was dis-connecting!). Pretty sure his tip reflected that disconnect!

To cell phone, or not to cell phone…

A hot day means an early dog walk for Roxy, Lucy and myself. I had already gone for my morning run and now the three of us were just entering the Belfountain Conservation Area – aka the park – for a stroll next to the Credit River. Roxy’s 14, so our walks are a bit shorter and more subdued than they have been in the past, but she loves to sniff and bark, and there’s lots to sniffing and barking opportunities in the park.

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The girls, cooling off in the water post-phone call.

As we approached the river, my phone rang, disturbing the lovely sense of quiet tranquility that had descended upon me. I keep it stowed inside my little bag that I use to carry those recyclable “dog poo bags”, so I yanked it out to look at it. I had decided if it wasn’t one of my children or my Dad, I wouldn’t answer it.

It wasn’t.  And I didn’t.

That got me thinking how bizarre it seems to me to have a phone “at the ready” for all times. Remember, if you are old enough, when phones were inside houses and offices, and when you walked out of the door, no one could reach you until you walked back inside? And that meant if you were in the car driving somewhere – up to the cottage, back to university, or anywhere at all – you had to pull over, find a gas station or restaurant with a pay phone to make a call if you wanted to be in touch with someone. Now, you can sit in the driver’s seat, speak into the interior of your car, and send a text, e mail or call whoever you want. (How crazy is that!)

When I was a little kid, we used to drive from Minnesota to Nova Scotia to visit our family, and we wouldn’t use a phone from the day we left until we arrived at my grandparent’s house. Now, I exit my door and there is nothing between me and any instant communication that I desire….whether I desire it or not!

I have found that access to my phone literally stops me from being able to be on my own. Having the phone in my dog poo bag/purse/briefcase/car means I am not always attuned to what is around me because I pay attention to it, or the possibility it brings, and not necessarily to the concrete, real life situation in front of me.

Two summers ago, Remy and I went to the Atlin Arts and Music Festival in Atlin, B.C We had been kayaking on Atlin Lake for a few days, came back into town to shower and get ready for the festival, and we saw the streets filled with festival goers – all walking around and talking to each other, and NO ONE WAS HOLDING A CELL PHONE! In the laundromat where we had showers, people waiting in line were talking to each other, and weren’t slumped over their cell phones. Why? Because there is no cell service in Atlin! None. You have to communicate old school. If you’re there visiting, you have to hope that your buddies remembered to save you a camping site, because you can’t text them and check to make sure. You can’t call ahead while on the road, because your phone won’t work. You just have to figure it out like you did when you were a kid.

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Calling my Dad from Atlin.

It was truly fascinating to see all these people wandering around town, and no one was holding a phone. Pause and think about that, just for a moment. And in fact, Remy’s on his way down to Atlin today, and he might as well leave his cell phone at home because no one will be able to reach him there.

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Who needs a cell phone? Water bottle, fly rod and flask. Pretty sweet! 

 

I think I am conditioned to using my cell phone for many things – the techno-literature calls it “technology mediated communications”. I have become attached to it, and it connects me to my larger social network. But while it connects me virtually, it detaches me to reality. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t want to give it up, but I do want to ensure that I maintain my connection to that which is immediately around me.

So this morning, after my phone rang, I turned it off and focused on what was around me – the sapsucker hammering its head into an ash tree (made me laugh out loud because it look liked Donald Trump!), the fishing bobber I saw stuck in a tree, and most importantly, my dogs. It was a great walk. I highly recommend you do the same. Either take a trip to Atlin (a mere 5,446 kms from my home of Belfountain), or just turn off your phone for a while, and enjoy!

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Atlin Lake Paddle (photo courtesy of R. Rodden, taken using a cell phone!)

 

Belwood Step Dancing …or Brain Training on the Edge!

The Community Hall was packed with people – mothers, fathers, kids everywhere – and the judge sat front and centre, ready to assess the steps of each participant. We were numbers 205 and 206, and I was sooooooo nervous. I hoped that when the music started, my feet would just do what I have trained them to do, but I had no idea if they would.

What am I talking about? My step dancing competition from last week!

There’s lots of research that tells us that as we age, our brains get smaller. Nerves die off, losing their connections, and that leads to a thinned out network feeding our thinking functions. But brain shrinkage isn’t inevitable, and that research also tells us that picking up a challenging new hobby makes a huge difference. I’ve successfully managed to ignore this fact until my friend Marlene sprang into my kitchen after her first step dancing lesson, loudly announcing that I would be joining her from now on. (I actually don’t recall having any part in that decision, by the way.)

Marlene picked me up the following week, and dragged me to Chanda Leahy’s studio. Fast forward about 7 months, and you find the two of us in the Belwood Community Hall, ready to dance a reel at the Spring Rain Feis 2017, while Chanda’s son Xavier accompanied us on his fiddle.

I’m a musician, and I thought that learning the steps to some jigs and reels would be easy. NOPE! Despite having the most remarkable teacher in the world, it was quite a few months before I made the switch from looking like I was stomping cockroaches skittering across the hardwood floor to something vaguely resembling dancing.

Which brings me to last Saturday when Marlene and I got ready to perform. We were in the Pre-Beginner Category (seriously), and our “competition” ranged in age from 5 – 12 years old – we were the only adults!!! The kids took their performing seriously; they had clearly practiced more regularly that the two of us, who had those silly day jobs to keep us occupied.

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Our competition…with Xavier accompanying them, and Chanda looking hopeful!

None of that mattered, of course. All that mattered was the certainty that my heart was about to explode in my chest while I waited to perform. There was anxious banter between the two of us and Xavier while he tuned his fiddle, and I wondered how I was ever going to remember all the steps. With mild panic setting in, I realized that I might crash and burn in front of all those parents and kids.

How may times do we, as adults, really experience that feeling of risk, of fear of failure? When was the last time you felt your heart jack hammering with uncertainty? Do you take risks? Are you prepared to try and fail? And what happens when you do?

I think many of us adults coast through our days doing things that are safe and secure. We don’t step to the edge of our comfort zones, because that’s un-comfortable. It takes extra effort that, in our busy, crazy and chaotic lives, we don’t want to expend. It’s easier (and safer) to just do the same old / same old. So we do.

Who knew step dancing was going to take me to the edge? But when Xavier started to play (at warp speed, I might add), my adrenaline-infused feet began to dance, and I was carried away with delight that I was actually doing this crazy thing!

And the risk was so worth it!IMG_4472 2

I’d love to tell you that we won our Pre-Beginner Category…but that is not the case. I can tell you that we grinned through the entire sequence, and by the time we were done, everyone in the audience was grinning with us. We got a huge round of applause and one little girl told me she thought we were very brave.

Our Saturday morning was a clear reminder to me that I need to make myself less comfortable now and then, and that a little risk – of failure, of embarrassment, of a mis-step – bring a sense of accomplishment and pride when it’s done. Just try it. I’ll be here, grinning and clapping for you!

Roast Beef, Politics and the Forest

Two hours. That’s how long it took me on Saturday night to drive into Toronto. My most wonderful friend Rochelle, her wife Amy and their 13 year old son were hosting me and my son Rory for a birthday dinner. The roads were slick and slippery, and when I reached the Don Valley Parkway, it lived up to its nickname of “Don Valley Parking Lot”. I sat quietly in my car, not moving, trying to be patient.

By the time I reached Rochelle’s, I was weary, but excited about the standing rib roast waiting for me inside. And when the door opened, love from my friends and family poured out the front door, enveloped me and carried me up the stairs. In a heartbeat, I had a glass of wine in my hand, been hugged by everyone in the house, and the insanity of the drive had vanished.

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Me and Rochelle, changing the world at at TFC game.

We enjoyed an amazing meal, with oohs and aahs about the incredible “roast beast”. We stayed at the table post-meal and solved the problems of the world. Where to start? First, we tackled what we were each reading, and what books intrigued us. Next, we moved on to movies and TV shows, including Star Wars and Dr. Who (naturally). But try as we might, we were unable to avoid the elephant in the room. “He who shall not be named” kept surfacing and we finally succumbed to talking about Trump’s first week in office.

I imagine that many thousands of people across the planet were doing the same thing. Trying not to talk about Trump and the US, and what the future holds for us, but eventually ending up voicing concerns, anger, and fears about what direction he is taking that most powerful country.

I said how, on the morning of the election results, Jaime called me in tears, not believing that he could have been elected. Rory talked about involvement in politics, and what that would mean. Rochelle echoed that, noting how friends had suggested that she might be someone who could throw her hat in the ring, so to speak, in Toronto/Ontario/Canada to make a difference. As a woman, who is Jewish, and in a same sex marriage, she has the cards stacked against her if she lived in the US. But here, she is just another incredible, wonderful and compelling individual who can make a difference.

But politics isn’t for her. So how to make that difference? What can any of us do?

Politics reminds me of nursing…for some, thankfully, it is a calling. For me, it is intolerable. Politics falls into the same category. So where does that leave me? What can I do to be a voice, to speak out, to make a difference in this time of political, social and cultural chaos? If I’m not entering politics, and I am simply Susan Gesner from Belfountain, what can I do to help the world be a better place?

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Just Susan Gesner from Belfountain, spreading a bit more love.

I will do what I always do, but even more. I will make a conscious and mindful effort to look at everyone I meet as an individual, to speak to them, to learn about them, to value them. People will know that I see their value, that I am curious about them, and that they make my life better by knowing them. Age, colour, race, religion – nothing like that matters at all. If I can do that, perhaps those people I meet with do the same, and we will become a huge, growing snowball of consideration, attention and value.

I challenge each of you reading this (and usually I have 2 or 3 people who at least click on my words) to do the same. Be sure your friends and family know you are doing this, because they may choose to follow suit. Make the snowball grow, and we can blanket the world, or at least our part of it, in goodness and caring. Margaret Mead, perhaps the most famous anthropologist in the world, helped us learn about anthropology’s holistic vision of the human species. It was she who said “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”

To quote another powerful thought leader of our recent history, Winnie the Pooh said “You can’t stay in your corner of the Forest waiting for others to come to you. You have to go to them sometimes.”

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Janey, Marj and Julie leaving their corner of the forest. Let’s all do it!

I’m not going to stay in my corner of the Forest. I am going to continue to go beyond, to meet and talk and value and share. I know many of my friends will do the same. Let’s try to be the change this world needs right now.

What does it take to be a hero?

What does it take to be a hero? As I look at the news feeds about rescues in Syria and some of the monumental acts of sacrifice that take place daily, my first thought is that a hero is someone who does something super-human. Somebody who gives everything he or she has for a purpose they believe in. Not something that your every day, run of the mill individual is necessarily cut out to do.

And then I watched the Olympic Men’s triathlon.

I was watching Andrew Yorke. Andrew is my son Rory’s friend, a young man that I watched grow up. I have pictures of Andrew bobbing for apples in our basement, snowboarding with our family, and even some from he and Rory’s grade 8 graduation. Memories, too, of loading bikes on my truck and going over to Albion Hills to ride up and down the hills with a crew of kids that always included Andrew. Always moving, always playing, always laughing.

Still, kind of a run of the mill individual from Caledon East.

But Andrew was also the kind of kid who, when Rory was deciding whether or not to go to the regional arts high school and leave all his friends behind, called him up to tell him he had to go there…and they’d still be friends, even if they didn’t go to school together. Pretty heroic for a run of the mill 14 year old.

Andrew was ready for the Olympics, and in the best shape of his life. He stood at the beach, ready to enter the water, obviously prepared to give everything he had. And he did.

Yes, Alistair Brownlee won the event. He out-swam, out-rode and out-ran all the other competitors, Andrew included. But it was Andrew who is my hero. Because he gave everything he had. And more. Who knows what happened to cause the crash, but Andrew and Jason Wilson went down. Then Andrew did what he always does – he got up and kept going. Imagine spending years of your life focused on this single outcome, and then have your goals shatter into smithereens in a heartbeat….and then having the guts and the internal strength to get up, push your bike uphill, and keep going.

Something like that would crush most of us average mortals. We would sink into the ground and be afraid to rise. Not Andrew. He kept going. He finished the race, and he turned and waved to the crowds.

If you must know, I was crying when I saw Andrew cross the finish line. Not because I felt sorry for him, but because I am so fiercely proud of this young man. He is our Olympian, with a spirit and determination that knows no bounds. Andrew, you are a hero to Caledon, to Canada, and to all who know and love you.