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Simone Biles 1

Searching For Simone

If there’s one thing I have learned about parenting, it’s that you never truly know just how far you will go to make your kids happy. For instance, let’s say that you were going to be spending a week in the same hotel as your child’s sports hero. While there is definitely the option of ignoring that fact and moving on with your day, one must also consider the look of sheer joy on your child’s face when they see that hero from across the room.

Simone Biles 1

This was the dilemma I found myself in as we spent the past week in Houston, Texas at the Simone Biles International Invitational Gymnastics Meet. For those of you who don’t know who Simone Biles is, I think it’s fair to say that by the time she retires, she will be one of the most decorated gymnasts ever. So, in my daughter’s world, she’s kind of a big deal. In the weeks leading up to the event, I tried to woo Simone into taking a team photo with our girls by promising to embarrass myself in front of large crowds of people (you’ve all seen this orange leotard by now). While I got a like or two from her on Twitter, no dialogue took place.

Simone Biles Leotard

I know you may be thinking “Why do something embarrassing when you could simply approach her at the event?” That’s an excellent question, and I’ll tell you a couple reasons why. There were approximately 1600 gymnasts registered for this event, meaning it was unlikely that Simone would dare walk through the lobby of the hotel. Also, I have seen these girls in action as they try to get photos with their favourite gymnasts and knowing how badly my 8 year old wanted to meet Simone, I knew she’d need a photographer to tag along with her…

It was my son, of all people, who spotted her first, and as I watched the swarm of girls running up the stairwell Simone has just vanished into, I realized that the game had just begun. My father introduced me to Sherlock Holmes when I was young, and I had always believed that he was the smartest detective on the planet. That was until I saw this group of young gymnasts piecing together the clues of where Simone would turn up next. If I’m being completely honest, there were times where I felt uncomfortable about the whole thing, but seeing my daughter’s tears of joy after simply being in the same room as Simone Biles, I pressed on.

Simone Biles

By the 3rd day, the girls figured they had enough information to make their dream of a photo with Simone come true. They had the hotel layout down, they knew who the security guard to watch was, and they knew that Simone was handing out the medals for some of the events. Frankly, if they don’t get jobs in law enforcement, I’d be shocked. And then it finally happened. We were sitting in the lobby late that night, possibly even later than we should have, sorry coaches, when Simone popped up right behind us. I flagged my little one and as the others stared in awe, she bravely approached her hero to ask for a photo.

There was one part of their plan the kids hadn’t taken into account. This was a busy weekend for their gymnastics icon as she worked long hours to hand out as many medals as possible, and by the end of the day she was tired. I completely understood when she answered my daughter with “hi sweetie, I’m not taking any pictures tonight”, but I knew that I would need to act quickly to do some damage control. As my little turned back towards me and the tears began to fill her eyes, my wife and I reminded her that while it wasn’t the result she was hoping for, she had just had a conversation with the reigning Olympic gold medalist! And you know what? It worked! Her tears quickly turned into a smile and we celebrated a small victory.

Simone Biles Smiles

If that was how this story ended, we would have been more than happy. The girls had a great time chasing Simone Biles around the hotel, often shouting “We love you, Simone”, and often getting a wave back from her. They’d giggle and run down to tell the parents what had just happened and we’d laugh to each other about how excited they were. Fate, it would seem, was on our side this weekend and not surprisingly, this story ends with me excusing myself from a room due to overwhelming tears of joy.

I mentioned earlier that Simone was handing out the awards for some of the events, however, due to the fact that there were 3 venues, no one knew which ones she would be attending. As we sat in the awards room, watching the girls collect their medals, I kept peeking at the secret door in the back of the room, willing her to bust through. I’m glad I took a video because most of what happened next was a blur. I remember the moment my daughter saw her. I remember hearing her name get called. And I remember the biggest smile I’ve ever seen as the medal got placed around her neck.

Simone Biles Excitement

As I moved to the back of the room and began talking to another parent about my daughter’s excitement, I started to feel the familiar sting of tears that has become common since becoming a parent. I left the room for a moment to gather myself and made it back in time for the cherry on top of the weekend. A team photo with Simone. It was perfect.

Simone Biles Team Picture

We came home with some new hardware, better friendships and some amazing memories. Not to be outdone, as the final award ceremony concluded, the parents decided that after all our hard work, we wanted a photo with Simone as well… I hope she knows that the younger kids really do look up to her and that all the intrusions were done out of love and admiration.

Simone Biles Parent Picture

Screaming Fans, An Historic Result & What Not To Do In Montreal

We recently took a whirlwind 24 hour trip to Montreal to see the World Gymnastics Championships and I had no idea so much could happen in that short an amount of time. Allow me to explain.

As mentioned, a large portion of the gymnasts at our daughter’s gym decided to make the 2-hour trip to Montreal for the weekend to watch the World Gymnastics Championships. While we were excited to see all the gymnasts perform and to cheer on our Canadian team, the girls were most excited to see Canadian Olympian Ellie Black perform and she did not disappoint!

With the girls decked out in their ‘Team Ellie’ shirts, they watched as Ellie Black became the first Canadian gymnast ever to win a medal in the all-around competition at the World Championships! I’ll save my rant for why this didn’t get more mainstream sports media coverage for another time…

Daddy Daughter Gymnastics

Watching the girls, each decked out with their own waving Canadian flag, cheer for their favourite gymnasts was my favourite part of the event as you could see the love of the sport in their eyes throughout the entire competition. I actually found myself getting a bit jealous as I’m not sure I’ve ever been as passionate for anything, outside of poutine, than these girls are about gymnastics. Side note: having been to see the Montreal Canadiens live in Montreal, I have to say that the crowd noise for Ellie and Brooklyn Moors would have given the Habs a run for their money!

We actually arrived in Montreal extra early on Friday so we could check in to our amazing hotel, the Residence Inn Montreal Downtown, and then head over to the Montreal Biodome! Tickets to the Biodome were kindly provided to us by the incredible people at Montreal Tourism, and while we had visited once before with the kids, they were too young to remember, making this a special visit.

Kids Montreal Biodome

I can’t say enough about how great the Montreal Biodome is and it was so much cooler than I remembered it from our previous visit. I’m sure that has nothing to do with the fact that we were lugging a stroller and a toddler with us at the time… My daughter was fascinated with the penguins and my son, who is close to that age where nothing is cool anymore, actually admitted that it was pretty cool and then spent a ton of my money on minerals in the gift shop. For me, the highlight was definitely getting to see 2 parrots having a very loud disagreement about whose branch belonged to whom.

Now, I did mention in the title of this post something you should NOT do while you are in Montreal and that thing occurred as we left Olympic Stadium after the gymnastics competition. I went to check the time and directions to the nearest metro station when I realized that I no longer had my phone on me. It turns out that I dropped it sometime in the final minutes before we left and it was nowhere to be found. To say I handled this situation well would be grossly incorrect but my entire life is on that device, which is kind of sad, and I was worried about whose hands it could end up in.

Kids Montreal Metro

We rushed back to the hotel, plugged in my wife’s phone to charge it to 1% and then I called my phone to see if it would be answered. “Olympic Stadium Security”, the man answered as my stress disappeared in an instant. The good news, bad news of this situation was that stadium security had my phone, but it was back at the stadium and 11pm at night. Luckily for me, and being from the archaic Ottawa system, I cannot stress this enough, the metro system in Montreal is incredible! A $6 return trip and I was back in the hotel with my phone in less than an hour. I’m serious, it would have been a minimum 40 drive each way with traffic and parking to contend with. The metro system was my one of my favourite things about our trip.

Montreal Canadiens Store

When we woke up the next morning, we hit the “make your own waffles” machine at the Residence Inn restaurant, always a hit with the kids, and then we walked to my favourite place in Montreal, the Bell Centre, to visit the Montreal Canadiens landmarks and store! I promised my son we’d get out to his first Canadiens game this year and I intend on keeping that promise!

Montreal Canadiens Dab

Being Thanksgiving weekend and with a full sports slate, we had to rush out of Montreal before lunch but it was an amazing trip with plenty of ups and one self-inflicted down that we will never forget! Thank you to Montreal Tourism for the hospitality and to the organizing committee of the Gymnastics World Championships for the amazing event!!

Canadian Dad Podcast 12

Canadian Dad Podcast: Ep. 12 – Canadian Olympic Gold Medallists Adam Van Koeverden & Jennifer Botterill

I had the privilege of speaking with Canadian Olympic Gold Medallists Adam Van Koeverden & Jennifer Botterill as they promote the new cancer screening tool, My CancerIQ, which takes just 5 minutes and gives you an in depth assessment about your risk of developing certain cancers. In the interview we discuss the My CancerIQ assessment and talk about why it’s so important to stay on top of your health, especially when you have family history.

Adam and Jennifer were also kind enough to answer all of my Olympic questions and had some amazing answers with tips for parents and also for young athletes about what things are important when trying to reach your Olympic goals.

A huge thanks to Adam & Jennifer for making the time to talk!

Canadian Spotlight: Elizabeth Manley

Another week, another new feature on the blog! This one sort of came out of the blue though. If you’ve talked to me since I began blogging, you’ll know that I have a love for Twitter. After all, it was Twitter that helped me convince Jann Arden to call my wife on her birthday this year.

Imagine my surprise this week, when I ended up in another conversation with Canada’s Sweetheart, the one and only Elizabeth Manley. Her Twitter handle is @Lizmanley88 by the way. You should follow her now and say hi for me. She was incredibly friendly and I decided to abuse that friendliness by asking her if she would let me feature her on the blog. You would have done the same so don’t judge!

It’s not often that you get a chance to talk to an Olympic Hero and I think it’s important that we don’t lose touch with them either. Besides that, Liz (I hope I can call you Liz, we never really discussed it) has been up to some great things in her post-Olympic career and I think it’s worth sharing.

Let’s start with a quick Elizabeth Manley recap for my American friends, because all Canadians should already know this stuff… 😉

Liz is a member of 5 different Hall of Fame’s (Olympic Hall of Fame, Ottawa Sports Hall of Fame, Skate Canada Hall of Fame, Belleville Sports Hall of Fame, and the Ontario Sports Hall of Fame).

She has won 4 World Cup Championships, 2 U.S. Open Championships and has won over 50 national and international medals.

She has also written two autobiographies, “Thumbs Up- The Elizabeth Manley Story” and “Elizabeth Manley- As I Am”

There was something else but it’s slipping my mind….. Oh Yeah!!! She won a freaking Silver Medal at the 1988 Olympics in Calgary!!

Not too shabby, right? I also forgot to mention that she has also had a Park and Arena named after her in her (our) hometown of Ottawa.

With all the great accolades and achievements, something people don’t know is that Liz battled a very severe depression that weighed on her for years. It never really goes away but these quotes from an amazing expose about her shows her strength and courage. Seriously, it’s a great piece and I encourage you to check it out!

“I don’t want people to feel sorry for me. Depression was the best thing that could have happened to me. It taught me who I was. I didn’t get lost in a world of sport. I found myself through the whole experience.”

“I was bald, I was 35 pounds overweight, I was locked in a house because I didn’t want people to see me. I’ve had a nervous breakdown. I was 16 and I thought there was nothing good in life for me. Four and a half years later, I was standing on the podium and having my greatest moment. When you think your life is no good, you can change it.”

Flash Forward to today and Liz is busy helping others cope with mental illness and on top of being a spokesperson to a number of Charities and Foundations, has even started her own charity event, Elizabeth Manley & Friends, which will help raise money for teen mental health, specifically the Royal Ottawa Mental Health Centre. In all honesty, while she was telling me all of the things she was doing to give back, I thought “How am I going to fit all of this into a post?!”. She is truly an amazing person and it shines through in her work.

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On top of all of this, Liz was kind enough to answer a few questions for my post and I am very appreciative for that. In fact, this is my first official interview, so I guess I am a journalist now, haha. Here are the results of our brief Q&A:

1. How does someone hire you as a speaker? They can contact sundance@speakers.ca or me directly (Twitter: @LizManley88).

2. Are you still doing skating events (For fun, charity or other)? I am producing my own benefit show this coming winter Jan 26 at ScotiaBank Place called Elizabeth Manley + Friends to benefit YSB and D.I.F.D. It’s still in the works and will have major stars such as Nancy Kerrigan, Elvis Stojco and more!

3. Where is your favourite place in Ottawa? The canal area!!! Soooo beautiful!

4. You have a lot of living left to do, what is your next goal? To make Elizabeth Manley & Friends a major success and a yearly event to benefit local area charities.

Stay Tuned for more info on the January 26th Elizabeth Manley & Friends benefit show at Scotiabank Place in Ottawa. I’ll be reminding you about it every now and then as well and can’t wait to see the stars shining once again! In the meantime, if you are interested in sponsoring this event, you can contact Liz on Twitter or let me know and I’ll pass along your information.

Before I leave you all, I just wanted to say a HUGE Thank You to Elizabeth Manley for taking the time out of her busy schedule to talk to me. It’s always great to see someone emerge from the darkness that is mental illness and want to give back so others don’t have to suffer so much. She is an amazing person and I’m proud to have been given this opportunity!

Cheers!