By Stuart Nulman
Unsinkable by Silken Laumann (HarperCollins, $29.99)
When you take a look at the photographic portrait of four-time Olympian rower Silken Laumann on the cover of her recently-published memoir Unsinkable, you can plainly see the rather grotesque scar of the injury she sustained on her left leg during a accident in Essen, Germany just weeks before she was to compete in the 1992 Summer Olympics in Barcelona, Spain.
However, when you see the look on her face in that photograph, you can plainly see that her leg wasn’t the only place where she had some painful scars to bear. For man years, Laumann hid the painful psychological scars that were created through a rather difficult upbringing, and resulted in a painful bout of depression and a shattered sense of self-esteeem.
When you read Unsinkable, and see how she managed to bring herself up and rise to the occasion to conquer this depression, you will realize that it was just as a heroic battle as her 27-day uphill battle to recover from that leg injury that could have ended her rowing career, and end up racing valiantly towards a bronze medal in Barcelona.
The first quarter of the book is dedicated to that accident in Essen during a rowing world championship tournament, and Laumann’s painful, yet successful, struggle towards conquering such a horrific injury and ending up on the medal podium, which instantly made her a hero across Canada. She recounts that battle through a great deal of detail, especially the enormous physical and psychological rehabilitation she underwent in order to make her way back to her single scull boat in such an incredible short period that no mortal human being could ever endeavour, let alone accomplish. This is truly the definition of someone who played through pain … and succeeded beyond their wildest dreams.
After winning her bronze medal, Laumann married her longtime boyfriend John Wallace (who was part of the eight-man Canadian rowing team that won gold in Barcelona), and then enjoyed the life of being a Canadian hero, doing a series of endorsements and making a series of personal appearances and motivational speeches across the country. However, within a decade of her awesome triumph, Laumann slowly underwent a psychological meltdown that bottomed out when John suddenly and surprisingly announced to her that he wanted to end their marriage, and then during a speaking engagement in Phoenix in 2006, she locked her two kids, William and Kate, in a hotel room because, reasoned Laumann, “to prevent myself from screaming abuse at them, or worse, hitting them.”
That was the time she realized that she desperately needed help and began to seek therapy to help her cope with her bouts of depression and prevent a complete psychological breakdown. And it was through that therapy that Laumann began to zero in on why she was carrying so many emotional scars. She admits in the book that it was attributed to the volatile manner of her mother Seigrid, who would be caring and nurturing one minute, and then angry and verbally abusive the next minute.
“By the time I started grade one, I had internalized so much guilt and shame from my mom’s raw judgements of me, and from the ugly way my answering hatred made me feel, that I believed something was terribly wrong with me,” she candidly admits in the book.
This book is quite the powerful confessional, as Laumann takes you on an incredible personal journey of overcoming the impossible, as well as battling so many personal demons. It’s also a strong statement of how to cope with challenges that are unexpectedly thrown at you, which is exemplified with how she managed to cope with the fact that her daughter Kate was diagnosed with ADD, and how she admirably deals with the severe autism of her step daughter Kilee.
Unsinkable is a book that truly defines what being a champion is all about, in more ways than one, and that you don’t always have to win an Olympic medal to be a role model to others. Silken Laumann has had a lot of pain in her life, but has shown that she would rather swim through it with a great deal of courage and confidence, than let her demons sink her to the bottom.
As she nicely sums up at the end of her book: “Fame is an outfit that we wear for a while and usually outgrow. We are not defined by any one event, however spectacular or difficult. I no longer row in circles, looking for the perfect stroke. But instead I look ahead to a bright future – one that is as layered and exciting and intense as the past I’ve finally claimed as my own.”
Stuart Nulman’s “Book Banter” segment is a twice-a-month feature on “The Stuph File Program” with Peter Anthony Holder, which now has almost 150,000 listeners per week. You can either listen or download it at www.peteranthonyholder.com, Stitcher.com or subscribe to it on iTunes. Plus you can find it at www.CyberStationUSA.com, www.KDXradio.com, True Talk Radio, streaming on www.PCJMedia.com, and over the air at World FM 88.2fm in New Zealand, Media Corp in Singapore and WSTJ, St. Johnsbury, Vermont. Stuart can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.