FROM POOL TO PRAYER: A JOURNALIST’S JOURNEY
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.
Calgary Herald columnist Licia Corbella will share her story at the 50th annual Calgary Leadership Prayer Breakfast.