When I give speeches to children at schools or sports teams, I often share the traditional story of “never giving up on your dreams,” and having the bravery to “dream big and believe in yourself.”
Although these words are not unique, people’s stories of overcoming obstacles or making their dreams come true never cease to inspire me.
I love to ignite self confidence in our youth that maybe, just like me, someone quite ordinary, they too can dream big and make their goals a reality.
I was seven years old when I vividly remember blowing out my candles on my birthday cake, wishing to go to the Olympics one day.
I didn’t just want to attend an Olympics; I wanted to compete in the Olympics. Already at the age of seven, I loved to swim competitively and I also played basketball.
Yet at that time, swimming was an Olympic sport for women but basketball was not.
I was eight when I witnessed the 1984 L.A Olympics on television.
On our black and white television, while camping up north, my father managed to bunny ear the signal in so we could watch three Canadians win medals in swimming: Alex Baumann, Victor Davis and Anne Ottenbrite.
It was then, that the belief became solidified that I too, a Canadian, could become the best in the world.
For the next 10 years, I trained my little heart out and at 16 years old, made my first Olympic team.
I was not the strongest or biggest, but I loved to swim and race and my passion paid off.
I represented Canada for the next 13 years and competed in three Olympics.
I raced in five Olympic finals, (missed a medal twice by 0.5 seconds) and became Commonwealth Games, Pan American Games, Pan Pacific Games and World Champion.
Finally, at the age of 28, I retired from swimming. However, my dreams did not stop there.
Often when I ask children what their dreams are, they are too shy to share them. I always tell them, “That’s okay.”
I let them know that at their age I had two dreams. I probably would have shared the first dream (to be in the Olympics) but my second dream I would have kept private for fear of being laughed at.
I tell them how important it is to hang on to their dreams and never let them go, even if they feel shy about sharing them.
When they are ready, I tell them to share their dreams with someone they trust (a parent, a relative, a teacher, a friend).
Speaking about your dreams out loud actually helps to make them more real and come true. Suddenly, people come out of the woodwork to help you with your goal.
My second “secret” dream was to be a television commentator.
When my swimming career ended, I knocked on the door of the television studio in my home town (CH Global, Hamilton Ontario) and after much persistence, they eventually gave me a weekly health and fitness feature that I continued for more than five years.
I loved battling out heated discussions as a guest on TSN’s Off the Record over the years, and on Sun TV’s Grill Room.
Through my swimming career, I was a guest on the former Dini Petty Show, Mike Bullard Show and went on a fishing expedition with the Fins and Skins Show with Henry Waszczuk.
Every time I was interviewed I would let the producers know that I wanted to be a broadcaster one day, and eventually I was asked to work with TSN for the Canada Games and Pan Pacific Games.
Most recently, I auditioned for the position of swimming commentator for CTV’s first Summer Olympic Games in London this summer, and I have had the honour of receiving this position.
From July 28 to Aug. 4, I will be the colour commentator alongside of TSN’s Rod Smith for the eight-day swimming extravaganza at the London 2012 Olympic Games.
It is such a privilege to be sharing the stories of our Canadian athletes in the pursuit of their Olympic dream, the podium. It’s just amazing how a child’s dream can come true.
Joanne Malar is a three-time Olympic Swimmer, 2012 CTV London Olympic Analyst, Summerland Parks and Recreation Programmer and Head Coach for ORCA Swim Team.