BOOKS Women driven to share
Silken Laumann HarperCollins key thing,” Chow says.
She says she has never wanted to have children of her own. “I don’t feel a huge desire. Never did.” She has Layton’s children, Sarah and Mike, and now two grandchildren, Solace and Beatrice. They are enough for her.
And when it came to disposing of Layton’s things after his death, she “donated most of his stuff. I wanted the books to be used by other people, including Ryerson students, that was important.”
Life has also made her supremely pragmatic. “What can we take to our grave?’ she noted. “Why do we need so much stuff, and if other people can use it, let them use it. Jack would have wanted it that way.”
Two years after Layton’s death, she is working hard in her job as transport critic for the NDP.
The memoir, written with the help of veteran writer/editor Lawrence Scanlan, was put together in about a year.
And she fends off questions about her political future, especially whether she’ll run for the mayor’s job in Toronto.
“I love Toronto,” she said. “It’s my home and I grew up in Toronto. It welcomed me. It was tough back then, but that’s why I want to do something, so that it is easier for children especially.”
In our mind’s eye, we can still see Silken Laumann in Barcelona, 1992, exhausted on her boat having just won a bronze medal despite a shattering injury caused by a collision with another boat months before. Or we recall seeing her smiling her toothy smile as she carried the Canadian flag into the Olympic Stadium.
That is why the cover of her memoir, Unsinkable, is so arresting.
She is sitting, staring straight into the camera, legs pulled to her chest. She still has the shoulders of a rower, but her hair is now long, to her shoulders. And she is not smiling. And then there is the scar. It is much worse than I ever imagined. A chunk of her leg is gone.
The image suggests there is nothing more to hide. By now the news of the book is out. The constant verbal abuse from her mother, Laumann’s teenage an- Olivia Chow HarperCollins orexia and cutting, her failed first marriage and her depression. It is not how we imagined her life.
“I felt compelled to write this book. It was the next thing in my life that I had to do,” the 49-yearold says. “I think that I’ve led a pretty public life for a long time and I’ve also chosen to disseminate my experiences in my speaking and my writing with the hope that it will help other people with experiences that were similar.
“I felt that this image that people have of who Silken Laumann is — and that’s definitely who I am — a motivated person who overcame an accident in 1992. But there is this other part that is really important and it was part of how I overcame the accident in 1992.”
But to tell this story now, she says she had to reach a place where she was healed. “It’s taken me this long.”
In a sense, this is a book about drive and intensity — words Laumann uses a lot.
“I think that many highly driven people are running from something,” she says. You know there are so many events that make us who we are. It’s impossible for me to pinpoint any one. I can say that growing up in the house that I grew up in made me strong. It developed a resiliency in me that has served me really well.”
But she admits, those lessons took her only so far.
“They weren’t as helpful to me later in life, when raising my children and wanting to open up and become vulnerable and developing a relationship,” including with herself.
Her first marriage to John Wallace, a fellow Olympian, fell apart. Laumann had struggles with her own children.
It would be a few years before she met her second husband, David Patchell-Evans, founder of the GoodLife Fitness chain and the “love of my life.”
Even here, there were confrontations with Patchell-Evans’ autistic daughter, Kilee. Now though, Laumann says, she has started to understand herself.
“I think we have a false idea that joy and pain and being optimistic and courageous and fearful are completely opposite things. In my experience, they often live in the same person.”
Olivia Chow, Toronto MP and widow of the late federal NDP leader Jack Layton, grew up in a poverty-stricken immigrant household.
Unsinkable: My Untold Story