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Reflecting on my life’s journey, I’m profoundly struck by the transformative impact that sport has had on every facet of my life. The journey from a young sport enthusiast to an elite performer was marked by various challenges and triumphs, each contributing to the mosaic of experiences that define my character today. In this article, I offer a personal exploration of the invaluable lessons from my time as a Canadian Olympic rower. It’s a journey marked by discipline, teamwork, resilience, and the broader implications of a life devoted to high-performance athletics.

Early foundations: Discipline and dedication

My love of sport began at a young age, where play and fun were the cornerstones of each activity. Growing up in a household of 5 sons, playing and learning were second nature to us. It was here and in the community that sport was woven into my daily life and provided me with role models to look up to as I sought to answer the question of ’who do I want to be?’ This is where I first learned the value of discipline and dedication. Whether it was mastering a new skill, completing rigorous training regimens or striving to outdo each other, sport taught me the importance of a work ethic, perseverance, resilience and the pursuit of improvement.

Setting goals and pursuing excellence

As I grew older, my passion for sport evolved from a pastime to a burning ambition. Sport taught me the art of setting ambitious yet attainable goals. From the humble beginnings of mastering a basic skill to the grandeur of representing my country on the Olympic stage, the journey was marked by a series of meticulously crafted, yet very simple objectives. The discipline I cultivated through sport translated seamlessly into various aspects of my life, whether it was academics, personal relationships, or career pursuits. The ability to commit wholeheartedly to a goal, irrespective of obstacles, is a priceless skill that I attribute to my sporting background.

Maxwell Lattimer, retired two-time Olympic rower and Madison Mailey, retired Olympic rower and gold medalist, talk about life after being high-performance athletes and the values it instilled in their lives.

The process of setting, pursuing, and achieving my goals in sport not only propelled my athletic career but also provided a blueprint for success in any endeavor. Looking back, my ethos during the hardest days of my training in the lead up to the Tokyo 2020 Olympics was that sport will be the greatest tool I could leverage for self-actualization and finding the best version of myself in body, mind and spirit.

Balancing act: Prioritizing health and relationships

Navigating the demands of elite-level sport is no easy feat. The relentless grind of training, competition, and travel can take its toll. Finding balance in life takes time. In the realm of elite sport, time is a precious commodity. The delicate balance between training, competition, and personal life is not a skill that is learned right away. The ability to juggle the demands of sport on top of the demands of education, and personal relationships has been instrumental in shaping who I am. Yet, amidst the chaos and uncertainty, I learned the importance of maintaining balance; of nurturing my mental, physical, and emotional well-being in the face of adversity. It was a lesson learned through trial and error, through moments of triumph and moments of defeat. But through it all, I discovered the power of resilience and the ability to bounce back from setbacks, to persevere in the face of adversity, and to emerge stronger on the other side.

I have always believed that our strongest tool as athletes is our mind, and it was through sport and wanting to be a better athlete, I learned to prioritize self-care, mental resilience, and the symbiotic relationship between body and mind. As I navigate the diverse facets of post-athletic life, the lessons learned about life balance remain a guiding principle, ensuring that my drive is not confined to one arena but rather permeates through every aspect of who I am.

Resilience in the face of adversity

Every road to the Olympics is paved with obstacles. Setbacks, injuries, and unforeseen challenges that will test the limits of any athlete’s resolve. But it’s through these trials that resilience, the ability to bounce back from adversity, is built.

READ MORE: Performing in a pandemic: The resilience and leadership of Canadian athletes

As athletes we seek failure, we crave feedback, we challenge the status quo because in order to get better you have to embrace change. I learned to embrace failure as a catalyst for growth and to confront adversity head-on with the belief of emerging stronger on the other side. For me, resiliency is not just a word, I believe it is a muscle that needs to be thoughtfully trained and nurtured. Throughout my athletic career I came to embrace moments of adversity, the hardest workouts in the gym or on the water, because I knew that if I could find a way to endure both physically and mentally that I would be a better athlete and better person for it. Resiliency has proven to be a guiding force in facing the challenges of life beyond my athletic career.

The power of teamwork and leadership

“If you want to go somewhere fast go alone, if you want to go far, go together” – African Proverb

In the crucible of competition, I discovered the profound significance of teamwork and leadership. I always loved individual fitness, the art and ritual of pushing my body to physical limits, but team sports are where I truly found joy. As a rower, I experienced the delicate balance between individual excellence and collective achievement. Rowing is an interesting team sport that requires both fierce internal competition and complete external synchronicity. One day you’re competing against an athlete who wants a seat in the boat and the next day they may be your teammate. It gave me an example of the true meaning of camaraderie. I learned that we are stronger together than the sum of our parts and the value of collaboration, communication, and mutual respect, which have proven to be invaluable assets in my post-athletic endeavors.

READ MORE: Let them lead: The benefits of shared athlete leadership

Sport has profoundly shaped my understanding of leadership, exposing me to exceptional leaders from a young age through my journey to the Olympics. I am deeply grateful for the invaluable lessons learned from admired figures in the sporting world, each imprinting various leadership styles on my own approach. From charismatic captains to quiet mentors and collaborative coaches, diverse leadership archetypes within team environments have not only impacted my sporting performance but also become guiding principles in life.

Maxwell Lattimer, retired two-time Olympic rower and Madison Mailey, retired Olympic rower and gold medalist, talk about their experience in sport as high-performance athletes and how teamwork and leadership shaped their lives.

Post-Olympic athlete: A new focus

The transition to post-athletic life has reinforced the enduring value of service and community.  Steward leadership philosophy is centered on prioritizing the needs of others and fostering collective success, which has become a cornerstone of my understanding of true leadership. Experiencing firsthand the selflessness, empathy, and commitment to empowering others by great leaders in sport have imprinted on me in my post-athletic life.

Now retired from competitive sports, I am a proud ambassador for the Canadian Olympic Committee Athletes’ Commission, where I strive to give back to the community that shaped me. Through mentorship, advocacy, and outreach, I seek to inspire the next generation of athletes and leaders. It is a journey fueled by gratitude and a recognition of the debt owed to those who paved the way before me. For me, the transformative power of sport extends far beyond the boundaries of competition, I see it as a force for positive change.

More than ‘just sport’

My journey as a Canadian Olympic athlete has been a testament to the transformative power of sport. It was a journey marked by discipline, teamwork, resilience, and unwavering commitment and it has left an enduring mark on me. As I navigate the diverse facets of post-athletic life, I am fueled by the belief that sport has the extraordinary capacity to shape not only individuals but entire communities. The spirit of camaraderie, the pursuit of excellence, and the lessons learned on the field create a legacy that goes beyond personal achievements. It contributes to a vibrant and thriving sports culture in Canada. My hope is that the transformative power of sport continues to inspire, unite, and uplift individuals across the nation, fostering a legacy of resilience, leadership, and collective success for future generations.

Maxwell Lattimer, retired two-time Olympic rower and Madison Mailey, retired Olympic rower and gold medalist, describe the different experiences they had as high performance athletes and how those experiences go beyond sport.

About the Author(s)

Maxwell Lattimer is a two-time Canadian Olympic rower from Delta, British Columbia and also serves as a member of the Canadian Olympic Committee’s Athletes’ Commission.

Madison Mailey is a Canadian Olympic rower from West Vancouver, British Columbia and was a member of the women’s eight rowing team that won gold at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. It was Canada’s first Olympic gold in any women’s rowing event since Atlanta 1996 and the first gold in the women’s eight since Barcelona 1992.

The information presented in SIRC blogs and SIRCuit articles is accurate and reliable as of the date of publication. Developments that occur after the date of publication may impact the current accuracy of the information presented in a previously published blog or article.