BOOKS Women driven to share

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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.”

Silken’s Story

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.”

J.P. Moczulski/For Post­media News

Olivia Chow, Toronto MP and widow of the late fed­eral NDP leader Jack Lay­ton, grew up in a poverty-stricken im­mi­grant house­hold.

My Jour­ney

Unsink­able: My Un­told Story

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