September 10, 2008
TORONTO – Two years before the Athens Olympics, Adam van Koeverden was flat broke, training in Australia on money he’d bummed from family and friends, and sleeping on a concrete floor on a three-inch mattress.
The paddler from Oakville, Ont., went on to be Canada’s most successful Olympian in Greece in 2004, and said he won’t soon forget how Jane Roos, a champion of athlete fundraising in Canada for a decade, helped dig him out of his financial hole.
“What it did was provide me with a little more financial security going into the Games knowing that I’m not going to come back broke,” Van Koeverden said at a fundraiser at Roos’ new art gallery in Toronto.
Roos, a former heptathlete, artist and entrepreneur, founded the Canadian Athletes Now (CAN) Fund some 10 years ago, and has since helped countless Canadian Olympians stay on their feet financially en route to the podium. Roos doles out grants of $6,000 twice a year to deserving athletes, and one of those was Van Koeverden in the months leading up to Athens.
“From an entirely pragmatic perspective, I went to Norway, I went to Australia, I went to Florida, I didn’t worry about what I ate,” said Van Koeverden, who captured gold and bronze in 2004 in kayaking. “I decided halfway through 2003 that I wasn’t going to look at the prices on menus anymore, I was going to eat whatever I wanted when I was out for dinner because my body needs that nutrition, and if I feel that I need a steak then I’m going to order the steak regardless of the cost.
“Compare and contrast (being broke in Australia) to this year when I got to Florida and I didn’t like my mattress and knew I was going to be living there for the first three months of the six months leading up to the Olympics, I bought a Tempur-Pedic (mattress) because my back’s important.
“If my back’s not straight when I wake up in the morning I’m not going to be able to move my boat very fast.”
Mingling with supporters at the gallery fundraiser, showing off his silver medal and posing for pictures, van Koeverden complained about his sore back – but added it was more from inactivity than anything. The past few weeks since he’s returned from Beijing have been a whirlwind of public appearances for van Koeverden, and not much else.
“I’ve taken more time off in the last two weeks than I have in the last two years,” he said. “I feel good though, I feel like I’m resting properly.”
The kayaker captured silver in the 500 metres in China, rebounding from his heartbreaking eighth-place finish in the 1,000 metres the previous day. Van Koeverden said the response he’s received from his Olympic performance has been abundantly positive.
“Everybody’s been really nice. They said they appreciate the way I dealt with adversity and that interview must have been so difficult and thank you for being so polite and so candid on camera in time of despair,” said van Koeverden, who plans to stick around to compete in the 2012 London Games. “One of my good friends and sponsors said, ‘Our times in the valleys help us appreciate our views from the mountaintops.’
“If the Olympics have done anything, two things: it’s helped me realize I could bounce back, I’m made from a bouncy substance and I can come back after a bad result and have a decent one, and it’s also helped me really, really appreciate the times that I’ve been on those mountaintops. . . there’s been a few so I can be happy about those.”
Roos’ fundraiser for Beijing, meanwhile, was “$8 for 08-08-08,” encouraging Canadians to contribute $8 or $80 or $800. She also invited Olympic athletes to contribute their own artwork to her Jane Roos Gallery for an exhibit called “Art of Believing.” The exhibit features the work of 13 Olympians including paintings from Canadian hockey goalie Sami-Jo Small and photos from rower Kevin Light among others.
One individual bought the entire collection for about $23,000.
Roos also held nightly events at the gallery through the Beijing Games, raising an additional $35,000.
CAN Fund donors are given a tax receipt and the name of the Canadian athlete they’re helping.
Malcolm Howard, who was part of the men’s eight rowing crew that won gold in Beijing, was having a brutal season back in 2006, suffering eight consecutive stress fractures in his ribs. The Victoria rower used the money he received from the CAN Fund to get additional treatment for his injuries.
“It just meant that whenever I needed it I would go and get it, it just made my life that little bit less stressful,” Howard said. “It’s a terrible feeling as an athlete when you’re persistently injured but worried about spending the money on taking care of yourself, it was just something like that that made the difference for me. I didn’t hesitate when I had to spend money on something like that.”
Van Koeverden doesn’t struggle to make ends meet like he once did, and the 26-year-old even wrote a cheque of his own to the CAN Fund this year. But the kayaker, who was Canada’s flag-bearer at the Beijing Olympics, says that Roos can helps athletes in a way the COC never could.
“She’s in a really interesting position because she can tap into all the corporations or organizations or individuals that don’t have an Olympic license,” van Koeverden says. “There’s a sort of backseat possibility for people to get behind the Olympic movement.
“Let’s face it, becoming an Olympic sponsor is going to cost millions and millions of dollars, whereas an individual can become part of the Olympic dream for $8 or $80 or $800, and feel the same kind of degree of contribution as anybody.
“People sitting at home complaining about Olympic performances, saying we’re not doing a good enough job, then I’d test their convictions and ask them to contribute some of their hard-earned money. That individual’s response might be, ‘well I pay my taxes.’ But I think there’s a real misconception of how many Canadian tax dollars actually contribute to our development as athletes.
“I think people think a great deal of their tax dollars goes to support us, and that’s really not the case at all.”