Going for the gold

Patrick Chan was just 17 years old when I first met him at the 2008 Canadian Figure Skating Championships.

Patrick Chan was just 17 years old when I first met him at the 2008 Canadian Figure Skating Championships.

Through the good offices of the Yukon News I had gotten press accreditation to the event and joined the pool of sports reporters in a large hall under the stands and just off the ice of the Pacific Coliseum in Vancouver, which is currently hosting the Olympic figure skating events. There I found a vacant seat somewhere towards the back of the rows of wired tables reflecting my position in the pecking order of journalists.

Plugging in my borrowed laptop and tapping away I more or less played the part of a genuine sports reporter. I even saw one of my ‘dispatches’ appear on the common wall that rapidly filled with articles from papers across the country during the week long event.

After the completion of each competition Skate Canada would present the medallists to the press corps. Following the introductions a scrum ensued. Flush with the excitement of just becoming the youngest male athlete ever to become the Canadian men’s champion, Patrick Chan answered questions intelligently with an unaffected modesty. As the dust settled I had the opportunity to personally proffer my congratulations as well as a less than memorable question.

On the Monday after all the hoopla of the Gala and the following banquet on Sunday evening I met Patrick again at the Vancouver airport. Just hours after being the centre of attention in the Canadian figure skating world he and his mother waited for their flight alone and unrecognized. Reaching out to a familiar face he greeted me and then we talked of the pressures that he now would be facing. When I left, I had a strong feeling that this young man’s levelheadedness would hold him in good stead for the many challenges and set backs surely to come.

Chan, it seemed, had his priorities straight. While I didn’t probe him on larger societal questions, the way he dealt with the disconnect from the adulation of Sunday at the Pacific Coliseum to the anonymity of Monday at the airport implied a grounded recognition of the place that figure skating or any sport for that matter holds in the overall schema of life. You have to climb a ways up Maslow’s hierarchy of needs before you reach sports. Since my conversation’s with Chan, he has gone on to two more Canadian men’s titles, a silver medal at last year’s World Figure Skating Championships in Los Angeles and, of course, the Olympics this week.

Some people and governments just don’t seem to have Chan’s clear perspective. They put the emphasis on limited, short-term or partisan goals. This type just wants to ‘go for the gold’ no matter what the cost or long range impact on others or the larger environment.

This week I received a note from a group of individuals who work in peace, human rights and international development networks in Canada. They work on a whole range of basic problems which just don’t seem to be resolvable by accepting the world as it is, proceeding in a “business as usual fashion’ kind of way. These folk have hopes though, ascribing to the World Social Forums declaration that another world is possible.

This ad hoc group believes that it is time to confront the Harper government’s assault on social movement’s head on. They see the need to develop a collective strategy to counter the intimidation and fear provoked by the federal government’s very partisan attacks on groups such as Rights and Democracy and the ecumenical social justice organization KAIROS. Have a look at reclaimnow.wikispaces.com for their full letter.

As they say, “We wish to ensure that the direction of Canada’s policies, regardless of the government in charge, comes from a place of justice and integrity – rather than political ideology and greed.” All of us, along with them, should be going for the real gold, what is truly important in life.

Michael Dougherty is co-chair of the social justice committee of Sacred Heart Cathedral of Whitehorse. Contact pazypan@yukon.net.