FROM POOL TO PRAYER: A JOURNALIST’S JOUR­NEY

Calgary Herald - - YOU - CHRIS NEL­SON

Sud­denly life ap­peared mean­ing­less for the young woman whose hard work be­gan drain­ing away like wa­ter in a pool when the plug is pulled.

It was the an­nounce­ment that Canada would be boy­cotting the up­com­ing 1980 Moscow Olympics (fol­low­ing the So­vi­ets’ in­va­sion of Afghanistan) that de­stroyed the dreams of Li­cia Cor­bella, then a teenage Van­cou­ver swim­mer with na­tional records in both the 200 and 400 in­di­vid­ual medley events.

All that train­ing, sac­ri­fice and hopes for glory dis­ap­peared in that in­stant. In its place was noth­ing.

It left a void that wasn’t filled for sev­eral years, un­til Oct. 21, 1984, when Cor­bella at­tended a Billy Gra­ham cru­sade along with her fu­ture hus­band, Stephen.

This Wednesday the long-time journalist and cur­rent Post­media Cal­gary colum­nist will share the story of this re­mark­able jour­ney as the key­note speaker at the 50th an­nual Cal­gary Lead­er­ship Prayer Break­fast, be­ing held at the down­town Telus Con­ven­tion Cen­tre from 7 a.m. to 9 a.m.

“Striv­ing to­wards at­tend­ing the Olympics as a swim­mer was what re­ally gave my life a lot of com­mit­ment. I loved it, but when the boy­cott hap­pened and I saw some­thing as real as the Olympics evap­o­rate in front of me, it shook my world,” says Cor­bella.

She soon gave up com­pet­i­tive swim­ming al­to­gether.

“I quit swim­ming at 17. Af­ter the boy­cott I just thought, ‘ What is the point?’ ”

Af­ter high school she spent a year trav­el­ling the world, look­ing to fill that void in her life. It would be a jour­ney that even­tu­ally led her back to Van­cou­ver and jour­nal­ism col­lege. Yet the empti­ness re­mained. But when she at­tended that Billy Gra­ham gath­er­ing, her life changed once again — this time onto a path from which she has never wa­vered, even dur­ing the depths of a re­cent strug­gle against a par­tic­u­larly malev­o­lent form of breast can­cer.

“I to­tally re­mem­ber the day in 1984. It was trans­for­ma­tive — prob­a­bly the most im­por­tant day of my life,” she now re­calls.

“The most vi­tal ques­tion any­one can ask is, ‘Is there a God?’ Be­cause if there isn’t, then ev­ery­thing is mean­ing­less. We are here for a speck of time and we be­come dust at the end. It doesn’t amount to a hill of beans,” she says.

Awards in her cho­sen pro­fes­sion fol­lowed, along with moves to Toronto and then Cal­gary al­most 30 years ago; she worked at the Cal­gary Sun and then the Her­ald; and, she and hus­band Stephen be­came the par­ents of twin boys.

But in Fe­bru­ary 2015 a shock­ing di­ag­no­sis of can­cer once again threat­ened tur­moil in Cor­bella’s life.

This time, how­ever, de­spite the threat to her life fol­low­ing a di­ag­no­sis of triple neg­a­tive breast can­cer, there was no feel­ing of anger or empti­ness, even dur­ing the tough­est days of a long bat­tle fight­ing the dis­ease.

“Not for a sec­ond did I ques­tion my faith,” she says. “I was shocked of course, but I never thought ‘why me?’ In fact ‘why not me?’ He was right there for me. That’s the nice thing — that your eter­nity is se­cure and you don’t fear death and that what­ever hap­pens I am safe, I am good, I am OK.”

Her faith, sup­port from her hus­band and sons, and the love show­ered upon her by her church fam­ily at First Al­liance helped keep her strong dur­ing those hard times.

To­day she is back work­ing full time and close to 100 per cent, though she says she tires quicker than be­fore the can­cer. She’s also learned a lot about reach­ing out to oth­ers who are fac­ing dif­fi­cult times.

“I have learned it is OK to do that. I think I’m bet­ter at that be­cause of my sick­ness,” she said.

Un­like al­most four decades ear­lier when, as a young woman, her life sud­denly ap­peared bar­ren be­cause of a twist of fate, this strug­gle was not faced alone.

“Je­sus car­ried my cares and wor­ries away. He tells us to place all of our cares on him and that is what I did. So, I was able to fo­cus on my health and be grate­ful that I didn’t have to carry the wor­ries,” she adds.

Now, look­ing back on the day she re­ceived news that her Olympic dreams were dashed, she sees things much dif­fer­ently.

“I thought it was giv­ing my life mean­ing, but when I re­flect upon it now, I re­al­ize it was a pretty empty way to find mean­ing. I’m not say­ing it isn’t a worth­while pur­suit — hav­ing a dream is a great thing — but on its own, it is not enough,” says Cor­bella.

The 50th an­nual Cal­gary Lead­er­ship Prayer Break­fast oc­curs Oct. 18; tick­ets are avail­able through www.cal­gar­yprayer­break­fast.com.

GAVIN YOUNG

Cal­gary Her­ald colum­nist Li­cia Cor­bella will share her story at the 50th an­nual Cal­gary Lead­er­ship Prayer Break­fast.

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