It seems that all my life I have been hearing other people’s stories. This has not been a hardship – it has been a privilege and a source of inspiration and wonder to me. As an athlete I was at the top of my game, a World Champion and World Cup Champion when I was rammed by another boat in a freak accident. My boat shattered, driving 200 pieces of wood into my lower right leg, shredding muscle, breaking bone and doing tendon and nerve damage. I was told I would not row competitively again. Ten weeks later, I won an Olympic bronze medal and became a household name in Canada. In the years that followed, I heard many people’s comeback stories: surviving cancer, using the power of the mind to run after childhood polio, refusing to quit working after a brain injury. I often thought, I wish more people could hear these stories.
A few years ago, I wrote a raw and revealing memoir titled Unsinkable. In it I spoke about childhood trauma, my mom’s undiagnosed mental illness and my own struggles with anxiety and depression. Unsinkable seemed to open the floodgates for people I met to open up to me, just as they had after my injury. Not only were people sharing their comeback stories, they were also describing deeply personal journeys with me. I had young girls talk to me from their hospital beds where they were being treated for anorexia; a woman in her seventies told me that me sharing my story had inspired her to get help; a man revealed to me that he realized he had hurt his own kids and needed to ask for forgiveness. As scary as it was sharing my own story, the response to Unsinkable was overwhelmingly positive and connected me to others in such meaningful ways.
I now know that finding the strength to share my own story gave others the strength to learn or face their own, to start healing and sometimes to even share their stories with others. So if my story was healing, certainly other people’s stories held the same healing power. I started thinking that maybe we could learn from one another, support and encourage one another, and give hope to those who are still struggling. I believe there is power in telling our stories, in making ourselves vulnerable, in admitting that we struggle at times in this thing called life. I have learned so much from Canadians since my injury and the book, and I wanted to create a platform where this knowledge and inspiration and humanity could touch us all.
Unsinkable was born out of this desire to share good news. Tough stories, yes, but ultimately ones that inspire, encourage and remind us all that we are strong, wise, wholly lovable and not alone. Our experiences have immense value: they are healing and the self-growth and positive impact we make when we share them will never be in vain. We do this hard personal work so we can love ourselves and give that love back to others, and at Unsinkable, part of the way we do this work is in the form of our stories. Whatever you are struggling with today, whatever your inner voices might be telling you, believe us when we say we are here with you and together We Are Unsinkable.