Silken Suzette Laumann was born on November 14, 1964 in Mississauga, Ontario. The daughter of German immigrants -- Laumann’s mother walked across railroad tracks from East Berlin to West Berlin in 1959, married and immigrated to Canada in 1960. The Laumann’s settled in Mississauga and started their family, where Silken was the second of three children.
Silken’s early sports passion was as a middle-distance runner, but as her legs sprouted she started experiencing back issues and stress fractures in her legs. At the age of 17 she followed her sister into the much lower impact sport of rowing. Inspired by her sister and the 1976 Olympic performance of Romanian gymnast Nadia Comaneci, Laumann was driven to compete at the highest level. She earned a spot at her first World Championships within a year, and within two years of taking up the sport of rowing, together with her sister Daniele she was representing Canada at the 1984 L.A. Olympics – together they captured a Bronze Medal in double sculls.
In 1985, Laumann finished fourth at the World Rowing Championships in single sculls, then won silver at the 1987 Pan American Games. After she finished seventh at the 1989 World Championships, Laumann made the move from Ontario to British Columbia to train year-round in Victoria. The next year Laumann won single sculls silver at the 1990 World Championships before capturing the World title in 1991.
It is the story surrounding her incredible and inspirational Bronze medal victory at the 1992 Barcelona Olympics that has solidified Silken’s legend status. In May 1992, just 10 weeks before the Olympic Games, Laumann was injured in a brutal rowing accident that left her right leg shattered and useless. The reigning world champion was told by doctors that she might never row again. Twenty-seven days, five operations, and countless hours of gruelling rehabilitation later, Silken arrived in Barcelona walking with a cane. When the starter's pistol rang out on August 2, 1992, Silken delivered one of the most inspirational performances in Canadian sports history, winning the bronze medal for Canada, and capturing the hearts of a nation.
Laumann took a year off after Barcelona, returning to compete at the 1994 World Championships, where she was disqualified for two false starts, but rebounded to capture a silver at the 1995 World Championships. Sadly 1995 also brought controversy when a miscommunication lead to a positive drug test at the 1995 Pan American Games. She’d taken the banned substance pseudoephedrine found in an over-the-counter decongestant. It cost Laumann and her teammates a gold medal in the quadruple sculls, but she was not suspended by rowing’s international governing body. Laumann persevered and qualified for the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta, where during her last competitive race she captured a Silver Medal for Canada … a truly inspirational performance to finish off her Championship Career!
Laumann’s career highlights and achievements include:
- Olympic Bronze Medal – 1984 Los Angeles Olympics.
- Olympic Bronze Medal – 1992 Barcelona Olympics
- Olympic Silver Medal – 1996 Atlanta Olympics
- World Champion – Single Sculls Rowing - 1991
- Gold Medal – 1987 Pan American Games
- Canadian Press Female Athlete of the Year - 1991 & 1992
- Lou Marsh Award - Canada's Outstanding Athlete - 1991
- Awarded Thomas Kellar Medal for her outstanding international rowing career.
- Inducted into Canada’s Sports Hall of Fame 1998
- Inducted into to the Ontario Sports Hall of Fame - 2004
- Inducted into Canada's Walk of Fame - 2015
What’s Silken doing now?
Silken and her family now reside in Victoria B.C. where she is a dedicated mother and active community member. As a speaker, author and mental health advocate, Silken focuses her work to inspire others to overcome obstacles and achieve their goals. She is also passionate about children’s health and the importance of play. She is an international board member with Right To Play, a Kid’s Champion for GoodLife Kids Foundation. In 2019 Silken launched a new project - Unsinkable - a storytelling platform which aims to empower and inspire by sharing stories of courage and resiliency, from everyday Canadians, well-known Canadians, Canadian youth and Canadian health experts.
Headline Photo Credit: www.mississauga.com