Andrew Willows: best wishes from a former teacher

August 18, 2008

Dear Andrew:

About ten years ago we sat down for an interview at Carleton Place
High School to work out a topic for your OAC English independent
study project. I asked you the standard, slightly joking question:
“What do you want to do when you grow up?”

You told me then that you planned to paddle in the Olympic Games, and
were already training for the task. I knew better than to smile at
this lofty ambition, because a few years before you a young man named
Gerry Townend answered the same question by telling me that he planned to become an athletic therapist for a professional sports team. Gerry went on to a distinguished career with the Toronto Argonauts and now with the Ottawa Senators.

As you may recall, your independent study project involved preparing a
written report on the training schedule of an athlete, and delivering
a seminar to the class based upon this material. I’m not very good at
graphs and calendars, so the written portion of the report was too technical for me to understand, but the oral presentation was very well received by everyone. Hey, the purpose of the independent study was to get a chunk of what you needed to know over the next few years. Your presentation and your personality convinced everyone in the room that it’s hard work to be an elite athlete, but that you were maintaining the commitment to succeed at it.

Last winter I found the series of articles you wrote for the Gananoque Reporter, and now I have happened upon your blog, Bound for BEIJING.

Your account of last month’s visit to Delta Fair amused me. Judging a calf show wouldn’t have been that big a stretch for a good Leeds County boy, though I would have enjoyed watching you in that role. Celebrity contestant Catherine Beuthe had quite a gleam in her eye in the photo which appeared on the cover of the Review Mirror on July 31. But you still picked Kevin Grimes as the winner — all because he knew how to lead a calf? Ah, duty.

I’m particularly touched by your grandma’s letter and Kim’s enthusiastic notes. I won’t try to quote them here, but I encourage everyone to read the blog to understand the depth of the Olympic experience. Its roots go back three generations and affect every community, little or big, where the athlete has lived and grown.

My computer still has a directory titled “Andrew” from your winter in Florida where you trained with Graham Barton and attended my English class by email and audio tape. We were glad to get you back after your two months in the sun.

I seem to recall reading a quote from you describing your time at the Athens Olympics as an apprenticeship for the real job, the Beijing Games in 2008.

And now you’re there.

Andrew, I really hope you and Richard win gold. If anybody can be a role model for young Canadians and aspiring paddlers around the world, it’s you.

Mr. C.


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