My Life Changed After the Summit


(photo: Stephanie Matthews)

I’ve been wondering what to write and say about my Summit experience. I had something written in diary format until I realized writing fourteen days worth of my memories was absolutely no use to you. Then summer rolled around and I got back into the coaching routine where my outlook on life was basically a walking tumblr page and my enthusiasm for living was sickeningly tacky. This morning though and the past day have really motivated me to write. I have always been one of those people who assumed that my way was the best way, and although I still follow it rigorously I have inspiration in the smallest of places to change. My life changed after the summit, I learned how to be a better coach to my athletes and a better people builder. Before I could do that I had to learn how to step down and reflect. I cannot even believe I am saying that because for those 2-weeks, morning reflections bored the life out of me. But I find myself more than ever reflecting on things I do and say. It is a terrible habit because then I know what I have to change. I do not like change. So why did my life change and what did I learn? 3 things. 3 very important things.

1. The way you ask teaches you what you need to know.
I am naturally a nosey person, not because I am interested in this stored information but because I like to know who I am dealing with. So naturally I go right for the big questions, I want to know what you’ve done, whether you have a good family and whether you have big goals in life. One of the exercises we did was asking each other questions and vey quickly did I realize that it is terrible to answer these questions for people of whom I hardly know. My take away from this was I need to learn how to ask the right questions which will then guide me to what I must know that is important. I introduce to you, the Question Ball Icebreaker.


It is within this ball that I can find out if a child is treated well at home, cares about home, has aspirations and is serious, silly or alone.
1. What did you have for breakfast this morning?
2. Who is the first person you would call if you were stuck on an island?
3. What do you think you were born to do?
4. If you had to eat a worm, how would you cook it?
5. How did you meet your best friend?
They’re less threatening, slightly weird but loaded full of everything you need to know.
2. You could be it for one of them.
This one stuck with me. I learned it from Serena William’s former coach, Nick Bolliteiri. More specifically he said, “A coach is the jack of all trades. You’re a mother, father, transporter, sister, teacher, doctor, friend. A coach can change the personality of a young person forever.” I have always loved coaching more than I think anyone knows, I love it enough that I am willing to make a living off of it. Yet, before the Summit there were days I was happy to let it go. The kids I coached I adored but I knew they had everything, or at least I thought they did. Sitting listening to Mr. Bolliteiri I thought of all the signs I missed, all the things kids looked for through their behaviour, the things I condemned. I cannot be that someone for everyone but I can try harder than I ever did before.
3. I can choose to be the coach that I am or I can choose to be the coach that my athletes need me to be.
This one took some guts to spit out. I learned to put up a very hard wall that could not be broken down. This wall went up before I became a coach and stayed up. I am a naturally strict person, I do not like nonsense and if things are going to be done right, they will be done right the first time. I was always really hard on myself as a child both in school and sports. Breakdowns were a common occurrence and I think I transferred this over into believing that a child should always want to try to do their best. I came up with learning outcome #3 this morning when I realized how much I truly value change. For the first time in my coaching career I decided to take time. By this I mean there was no schedule, requirement or even objective, just a set of skills that would be learned when they were learned. Above this, I would let the athlete lead the way. I had to be silly and laugh, giggle and snort. I didn’t yell from my coach boat, I sat in my boat and worked as “training wheels”, holding on for dear life, hoping to God this morning would let me remain relatively dry. The efforts of this obscurity were not apparent until an hour later when I watched the product of silliness defy all odds and become a canoer within the span of a week. The proof was right there, yes, it will take several more hours of commitment, a lot more people reading and question asking, but if I can change the hat that I wear for each person imagine the difference it will make.


Perhaps what was even better than the things I learned were the people I met. I met people who coached for free, people who fought for kids to play sports, people who were the first in their families to go big, try heroes in their own fashion. I am so HUMBLED to have even been part of this group of amazing world-changers. When I look at my athletes I don’t just see potential or an extra paddler, I see a person. I see a person who, if paddling doesn’t work out, has potential to be the difference like the 36 other people I met in that tiny conference room on June 7, 2015. Our job as coaches, high performance or recreational is to create the goal and reach it, build the athlete and cultivate the person, give them something to go to and push off of. More importantly, remember to be silly, remember that sports are fought harder for by some people, it is our privilege. That is our role.


(photo: Stephanie Matthews)

If You Do What You’ve Always Done…

“If you do what you’ve always done, then you’ll get what you’ve always got.”

This was said to us today and it hit so many chords in my body. The first day here has been absolutely amazing, to be surrounded by so many people who believe in change the way you do, but will implement it in a different way than you will, goes to show that change is not a unique story but is not for the lazy or the close-minded. I never really comprehended the enormity of this camp until now. This is not a day camp or a feel-good opportunity. We are dealing with real issues here and they are so similar yet different for each of us. It is easy to say “Yes, make a change and change the world!” Yet it is hardly ever said that most people will stand by the statement but then watch you perish and stumble around trying to make it happen. Not everyone wants change the way you do and not everybody sees it. I am listening to stories of leaders who are getting kids to play street soccer just so they might have a chance at being spotted for the big leagues, or stories of leaders pushing their own siblings to be successful in the sports instead of them. We all share these stories of selflessness and it humbles me to know that there are people out there just as crazy as I am wanting to break down the financial barriers and the demographic barriers. Not everyone who enters sport will go to the Olympics but everyone will be changed by it.

The quote above speaks so loudly to me. The moment it left the facilitators mouth I recalled every moment someone was afraid to take a chance on me. I recalled the moment someone decided to take a chance on me. It landed me the position I have now and it has given me a new lease on life and what it means to be a coach, it quite literally breathed the life back into my passion. It has made me even more wanting of a job done right and has pushed me to always give my best every day that I can.

On to Day 2.

The Adventure of A Lifetime Awaits

4AM and I really have no idea how this will turn out. Apologies for the many, many spelling errors you might encounter.

I woke up this morning with a stomach that felt like it was going to turn inside out, for some reason I feel more nervous about this than I thought I would. I guess the major difference is that this trip is A) a big deal and B) completely out of my comfort zone and unrelated to paddling in all ways. Normally boarding a plane to Florida entails laying my feet up on a training partner or doing multiple Tim Horton’s runs with the coach. This time I am definitely alone, sitting here, blogging. What a weird feeling. The UN Summit for Sport Development and Social Impact is all words to me, I am pretty sure I have called it a thousand different things but one thing is certain: I have no idea what is going to happen. There are only so many times I can look through photos of previous events or scour the internet for videos on the activities, but they don’t do it justice for the two weeks of what is going to happen.

When I first found out about this opportunity the unbelievable excitement flowed through my veins. That same excitement still does, rest assured, but it is now equally bursting with anxiety and a bit of bittersweet. I would be stupid to not take this opportunity up, but am so grateful that I have something that is so hard saying goodbye to. A month in Florida with my team mates still did not feel long enough but now two weeks seems like an eternity. My perception of time is maturing and oh how I have realized how awesome we have to make each day we live. I will keep writing what I experience and soak it all up. This opportunity doesn’t just happen.

Will update again soon, Tim Horton’s opened up.

You Can Have It All, You Can Lose It Too

If I had to sum up the last year in a few words I would struggle for hours. I feel like I wrote a similar post like this a year ago too, and maybe even a year ago before that. It is true that your life is constantly revolving and changing and sometimes it will feel like you are constantly plummeting for what seems like forever. I had a lot of years like that. This post is just another one of those, “Thank god I survived” posts. Another milestone, another life event in the books.

If you had asked me when I was 12 what I would be doing at 20 I would say I would be attending the University of Guelph, studying Kinesiology to become a physiotherapist. I would be happy, I would be coaching. It was not a bad life plan. If not Guelph, my back up plan was Dalhousie and if not physiotherapy it would have been pedagogy. I would have never experienced depression, would have never had such highs and lows and would have been comfortable most of the time. Sitting here I realize that I would have loved that life too, and so would a lot of people. The cards I was dealt had me meeting a lot of people who would have liked this life and the courage to move away from the shore would have been long gone.

I will be the Canadian Ambassador at the United Nations and Right to Play Sport for Development and Peace Summit, Leadership Camp in Florida in a month. I just got the news yesterday, an all-inclusive, opportunity to meet with 30 other youth leaders from around the world. For 2-weeks we will be learning and working alongside leaders of sport and bringing our knowledge back home where we will attempt to make sport the universal language of youth, the most powerful form of opportunity and the best way to bring hope to the discouraged. Ask me at 12 if I would be doing this and I would not even know what that was.

So I am sitting at one of my jobs (a tiny little restaurant that I literally walked in and they had a job for me), it is a 4-hour shift which, during the day can feel like an eternity. It doesn’t. I am daydreaming and sitting on the sink thinking about how much I love the life I live. Three weeks ago I would have never said that. It is amazing how many bad things can happen to a person all at once but how quickly that can be overcome by good things with just a positive outlook and some hope. I read a quote that just fuelled so much more happiness into my day because I felt I was succeeding: “The real measure of your wealth is how much you’d be worth if you lost all your money.” I have been there, I have lost all my money. Not a very unique story for a University student but I have always wondered how it is I feel the need to give despite having very little. I have been in trouble for it and it has made me angry but it’s just something I do. It all came full-circle the last few days. Anybody who has ever told me that I fixate and focus on the wrong things has been silenced. Those who have snickered at my efforts or told me “why bother” has been defeated. I am making my dreams come true at 20 and I want to bring young, ambitious youth with me and inspire them to do the same. The road to getting to your dreams is ugly and full of people who think you’re too much, too little, too bitchy, too soft. It is full of your greatest supporters letting you down, the most silent of warriors raising your spirit and those who are afraid to recognize greatness when they see it because they are too consumed with their own. If the world was perfect, Nelson Mandela would have been just an ordinary man, Aung San Suu Kyi would be a free woman, because greatness would not have been an exception but a routine. I have no interest in working alone, the dumbest thing a person could do is think they can do it all, and even worse, do it all by themselves. I see no future for the selfish or the conceited, but the saying that you cannot change a person is not true. You can change people, at the cost of your dignity, but it was never really about you in the first place. When you change people, you change the world, and I came into this world wanting to do that. I have partially succeeded. Learn from me, in two weeks I will probably have another meltdown, my life will probably be ugly again, but then hope will come from somewhere and maybe then you will realize that you can have it all but you can lose it too. So when I am old and wrinkly, what is the part I choose to remember?

I get to coach the sport I love, fight for something I am passionate for, go to school for something I want to be, be around people who raise me up and go to bed happy. If that is not a life then I do not know what is.


It’s Not Just a Job

Have you ever wondered why people choose the things that they choose? Why people decide to become dentists or lawyers, teachers and coaches? The grand majority of people choose what they do because they felt they had a place for it and a small majority of people made bad life choices and have to pick a job out of a catalog. Most people think that’s what coaches do…or at least our kind of coaches. Who wouldn’t think that we just picked canoe kayak coaching because we get spend everyday in the sun? I picked coaching because I knew I had something to see. That is what coaching is, it is seeing what others can’t. It is looking at someone and knowing something is not quite right even if they are certain everything is. My sensitivity to that just spreads everywhere.

I will never understand why people hide things, like their feelings or thoughts. Maybe it is the vulnerability that makes them scared to feel. I am starting to sound like Elsa from Frozen. If I have learned anything though, I would rather the world know who I am even if it is not the most pleasant of ideas, than have them believe that I am wall or a rock. Sports taught me that. My really good coaches could see what I couldn’t or what I wanted to hide. Once it was out there I could not deny it, well I could, but I would just be playing this big game of charades. Where they went right, and where I continuously go wrong is that they kept it to themselves until I was ready to talk. For some god forsaken reason once I know it is there it eats at me just as it would to them. The mature way of looking at it is perhaps the people themselves don’t know how to cope with it so why would they share it with someone else. My way of looking at it is, you have another pair shoulders who wants to share your burden, let it happen. But that is the other thing; people are afraid to ask for help. I was like that, I hated it. Then I realized that the true act of maturity is realizing you cannot live by yourself. Somewhere someone has helped you. That is why the world is separated by pessimists, optimists and realists. We like to think that we each act to our own but we all fit in one of those categories completely.

All I can say is, it’s not just a job. I live it, the way I coach is the way I act. Tears, anger, doubt and superstition. To the people whose lives I touch, I’ll share your burden any way and I will keep telling you that you can do it, over and over, until you finally realize it for yourself. Because I can see through you, but I’m working on being Elsa for a little bit.


“The Dark Matter of Love”

It is almost the weekend and perhaps you’re looking for something to watch with your family or maybe you just want to hunker down and watch something alone. If you are a Netflix guru than you need not worry about paying a penny to watch this great documentary.

The reason I started writing this blog was that I had a ton of angst and I also felt largely unrepresented. Everybody hears the story about the adopted kid who, as an adult hates the world but has won the lottery. Or you hear the story from the adoptive parents about how brave and courageous their journey is. Both are cheesy and almost a stereotype. To me I felt like adoption was over-glorified but at the same time felt some things that were common in both the perspectives. So I started to tell my story. “The Dark Matter of Love” got me because it didn’t represent a bias attitude, but pure psychology. I think it is a movie all prospective-adoptive parents should watch.

Adoption at an older age is quite different from adopting at a younger age. Both face different journeys. I think the groups that are largely represented are the ones who were adopted young. In the movie we are introduced to the Diaz family, a three-person family. You will get the storyline rather easily but essentially they adopt 3 additional children, an 11-year old daughter, Masha, and two sons, Vadim and Marcel, 5-years old.  The story talks about the usual choices families decide to make (name changes, much to the dislike of the children and I tend to agree with them on that one), their 14-year old daughter Cami’s transition into no longer being the main attraction in the home, and the changes to the family’s lifestyle. More importantly it focuses on the psychological aspect. Children raised into institutions and are adopted later in life experience either one of two coping mechanisms, extreme lashing out to represent any type of difficult emotion, or a complete shutdown (Masha). It is interesting to watch how the family deals with this and how they are coached by adoption therapists. I think what the family did was incredibly brave, they weren’t out to convince the world that it is for everyone. Instead, they showed that it is what it is and you do your best.

Ten Things I Want My Future Daughter to Know

I do not have kids and nor do I intend on having kids for a while but as a coach I feel like I have this responsibility to treat every kid I coach like they’re my own. Coaching is a very sad life at times because of this. You pour all your energy and attention into this person and at any moment they could just walk away. As someone who predominantly coaches girls I feel the connectedness of the coach-athlete relationship is so strong. Girls are all about the connection, but, like any coach-athlete relationship it can change in a heartbeat. Whether it’s that they find a new coach, better club, changing family situation, or they have had enough of you all the energy you put into them can be gone and you must start again. With that being said, I think I have gathered enough points that I would want my future daughter to know about. I have been the caring temporary guardian despite knowing the harsh reality of my job that it is so bittersweet.

She Will Know This

1) Being female is just a label. It is no different than saying you are tall or short. Looking at the bigger picture, how you treat people and the impact you leave on their life will define you more than being female ever will.

2) If you end up being gifted like me, it means you have potential. You have more potential but it is not guaranteed. I failed math, a lot. I had the potential but no desire to work it more than it had to in that subject and I faced the same reality as any other kid who doesn’t try. But you will achieve greatness if your mind and heart is set on it.

3) School matters-and it doesn’t. I cannot give you an honest answer as to why it is confusing this way. All I can say is that what is written on paper is a marker as to how you are performing but it is not to say how you will end up. The first step is to show up, and the second step is to work your butt off.

4) You are never too old or too young. I was scolded once in elementary because I wanted to read books that were above my grade level. The real truth is that the book has no age limit (just a recommendation) and age didn’t matter then, it doesn’t matter now. Except legal stuff of course. So if you are the youngest in a class or the oldest on a team it doesn’t matter. If you’ve read older books or done young things it doesn’t matter.

5) Friends are important. I do not want you to be like me. You probably will have some characteristics of me but I hope you’re better than me. In order for that to happen you need to surround yourself with people who believe in you, fill you with only the best energy and make you feel like you are important and worthy. You will give them this same grace in return.

6) Be generous. Always be generous. Even if you do not feel like it and you want to rip everyone’s heads off. Everybody is going through something and generosity will pay off. You will live a fuller life and feel better about the world too.

7) Being intelligent is really cool. Small people will try to make you feel like it’s not. Knowing your stuff and being proud of it will take you really far. Being intelligent doesn’t always mean knowing everything either though, but it means knowing how to solve problems and having the courage to figure it out on your own.

8) Confidence is cool. It will shine brighter on your face than any other trait and combine it with intelligence? Awesome. Add kindness and generosity? An unbeatable combination.

9) You’re not alone with your problems. Whatever happens to you has probably happened to someone else. It is like they say though, the best way to make someone feel completely powerless is when they’ve been made to feel completely alone. They’re less likely to fight back (I might have paraphrased Luna Lovegood’s speech to Harry Potter a little) You will never be alone. Don’t keep it inside. Burdens are manageable when shared and the people who care about you won’t mind sharing.

10) Advocate for yourself. You want something bad enough? Then the world is going to have to see it, hear it, feel it. I will not be your personal billboard stating all your goals and dreams. I’ll be an obnoxious advertisement but not a billboard. You will need to learn to find your voice and I realize I might be setting myself up for failure because your voice may in fact be stronger than mine. I’ll get it though…one day we will both get it.

I would be lying if I said I wouldn’t mind if you went to University or dropped out of school. I really want you to go to University. But I can make this really ambitious request because I don’t know any better. The truth is, as much as it scares me, I think I will be okay with whatever happens. So long as you followed those 10 things if that all leads to you dropping out…well…we will cross that bridge when we get there.

These ten things I preach to “my kids”, the ones who might eventually move on and find different waters. However their embodiment of these ten things are what made me proud of them so I cannot imagine it being any different for the girl who will never leave me when the time comes.


Life is a Sport

Life is interesting. The people we meet in life ultimately can change our fate. All of those talks about being able to do whatever you set your mind to are not accurate. Much of what we do is because of other people, whether intended or not. You might be wondering why such an elusive post. I am wondering the same things too, I might not even post this actually. As of yesterday my life story became more interesting, not as interesting as those directly involved but I am a witness nonetheless. All I will say is that my 20s have been roaring. It makes me wonder if history will find its way in my life and repeat the dirty 30s. Everywhere I go I have been touched by lives that I could so quickly choose to forget about but I don’t. Every adventure, every person I meet gets permanent estate in my mind and heart. Perhaps it is because I fear letting go, even though Pinterest so avidly suggests it’s necessary. Maybe it is because I am afraid people will forget me and, I will be just other face to a name.

I saw the flip side of what it means to live today. I liked to imagine that whatever life you’re given you have a duty and responsibility to fulfill it and make it even grander than how it was presented to you. I “liked” to imagine this. Reality has set and I realize that not everyone takes that duty as their own. Some people do give up. It is what sets champions from the average, the elite from the normal. Without the comparison, a lot of us would have nothing to live for. Some people do give up. Some people come back. I can agree with Pinterest when it says that it is not the number of times you fall but how many times you get back up after your fall. This seemed so simple to me, especially as an athlete. Life is not a game, it’s a sport. It is not always about you versus the world. But life, life is a sport that knocks you down and there are no rules, instructions, equal fights, timed penalties or coaches. You could go majority of your life training wrong, you could go your whole life training right and still end up with a red flag. How many of us actually think about the penalties we set up for ourselves? How many of us spend our life trying to play on a one man team? How many of us keep getting penalties without thinking that there might be a time limit that will end our sport forever? How many of us have yelled at the referees in our lives just trying to keep us out of trouble? Life is a sport, it is meant to be continuous. Life is not a timed game with match-ups and heckling from the sidelines.

If we lived life like a sport we would realize its sacredness, it is an opportunity denied to many. If we lived life like a sport we would all be athletes of a community doing good for each other. We would be training for individual goals but collectively working for society’s outcome. We would spend less time self-loathing and more time keeping up with what is really important. In a game, somebody always loses. In a sport, everybody is winning for the right reasons. This world I am describing sounds like a fantasy, but the world I live in has played one too many games.

As I Jump in With Both Feet

I have always had dreams about what it would be like reconnecting with my past. Some of these thoughts have been dark, while others have been happy. Mostly happy. I daydream a lot too, even at 20. I am betting I look very ridiculous as I drift off into my own little world imagining scenarios that might not ever happen. What goes through my head?

I think I would have made an awful sister when I was younger. I had a lot of needs and a lot of goals. My parents had their work cut out for them. I did not like younger children or children my age very much. Was it because intellectually I felt superior? Or was it because growing up all I ever knew was adult interactions since I had no siblings? Regardless, the few times I did have to share my life with another kid I did a pretty bad job of it. That’s not to say I did not have friends; I had friends, a good number of them, but I did not have to live with them. Looking back I think I would have been one of those cool siblings at 12 or 13. I would have been a colossal jerk any younger though. It was around 12 that I got involved in volunteering at day camps and stuff so my interactions with young people were sort of mandatory.

I think about all of the things I should do if ever there is a day I meet my biological family. What if they’re poor? Should I start a fund now for the rare occasion that they may need it? If I never find them at least I will have extra cash for a splurge of some sort. What if this do not want to meet me? Is that even fair?

The reason for this spur of thoughts; I have been connecting with someone Thai…in Thailand, who may or may not be related to me. Part of me is happy that I am getting answers in some form, but another part of me has never done this before. You get gut feelings about things, I have one of those gut feelings that thinks this connection is closer than it appears to be. Almost like there is something that needs to be said but is being held back for whatever reason. This gut feeling could be completely or it could be the very thing that changes my life.

That Time I Pretended I Knew Thai

It’s no surprise that lately I have been trying to track down my biological family, digitally. The whole purpose of this blog was to follow the journey from the idea to the finished result-if there even is one. There were several bumps along the way, including my own resistance to the very purpose of my posts. Yes, at one point I did not want to find my biological family. I did not want to film a soppy reunion that would be posted on YouTube for the world to marvel over. I wanted a few years of my life to be everything but adoption because it seemed much of my young life was spent basking in it. This has since changed. I have gone into overdrive, creeping Facebook profiles and desperately using Google Advanced Search to connect pieces of my old life together. Crazy perhaps? Absolutely. Could I end up finding nothing? Absolutely. Is it even worth it? I don’t know.

During one of my Facebook creeps I came along what was almost a perfect match to my birth mother. The city she lived in, her birth date and her name were all on par. So what do you do when you come across this, which, in closed adoptions, can be very rare? I summoned the help of those who spoke the language I resented as a young child. Thai people. What do you write to someone who is going to receive this message and think either, “What the hell?” or, “Oh my god…”? 1) Apparently you add a lot of exclamation points, because when you add those in any sentence it immediately stops being so serious! 2) You try and keep it simple, who knows what this will sound like as it’s translated. 3) You try to be persuasive but not forceful, there was a reason why you were adopted in the first place after all. 4) “Friended” is not a word. I just realized this. I’m majoring in English…that is concerning. 5) Keep it short. This may be her first impression of you. Don’t traumatize the poor thing.

“Hello there, My name is Ornmadee Baxter-Lovo and I live in Canada but I was born in Thailand in 1994. I friended you on Facebook because right now I am trying to find my birth parents and your name is similar to my birth mother’s. I am hoping that I can locate with one or both of them or at least connect with family that might know their whereabouts. I do not know Thai but have many Thai friends who understand the language and are helping me translate messages. I would be so happy if you were a possible relative of my birth family but I also appreciate your friendship on Facebook even if you are not!”

The message sends and I am thinking a few things right now. I have heard of stories of families reconnecting, this is the best case scenario. I have also heard stories of local people charging people in search of their families a monetary fee for their services. That’s not happening, I can hardly afford gas money let alone a family reconnection service.

For parents of adopted children the take away message is this: I am twenty years old and I am just now getting completely interested in this whole seeking out the parents situation. Your kid might want to do it when they’re five, or forty, whatever. The important thing is that it is their perspective that the message is being sent from. This post will be the first time anybody other than myself has read the message I sent, my parents included. I’m not keeping a secret, but I am not explaining it a thousand times either.

I receive two messages back. One is in poor English, but she’s tried to explain that she is not my mother but there are three people who share the last name and she knows them. The second message I send through Google translate:

“Hello, my name is Jason’re happy and beautiful.”

Maybe I should have taken my Thai lessons a bit more seriously when I was a kid.

To be continued…