Simon Whitfield of Victoria says he’s excited to be part of a plan to get more people involved in active, healthy living now that his Olympic medal-chasing days are over.
Photograph by: GLENN BAGLO, PNG files
Olympic triathlon gold medallist Simon Whitfield has retired from competitive sport, but he hasn’t been able to retire his competitive spirit.
On Thursday, as part of Canadian Men’s Health Week and to recognize the new Canadian Men’s Health Foundation, Whitfield and 10 others will begin paddleboarding from Vancouver to Victoria, a journey that will take three days.
Whitfield, 39, and Vancouver Canucks new president of hockey operations Trevor Linden are the chief ambassadors for the Canadian Men’s Health initiative.
We spoke to Whitfield, the father of girls — age seven and four — about the paddleboarding challenge and a few other things happening in his life:
Q The 2012 Summer Olympics were your last truly competitive endeavour, but you did talk about doing an Ironman Triathlon one day. Did that day ever come?
A No, I never did get around to doing an Ironman. When you retire from sport, that competitive nature keeps you tied in for a long time, so you try to find excuses to do more, but I’m very glad I didn’t. I don’t think I would have enjoyed the process and I would have lost a lot of time with family. I’m very, very glad I moved on when I did.
Q So you’re a recreational athlete now? What do you do for exercise and fitness?
A I play soccer Wednesdays and Sundays at home in Victoria as much as I can and I’m out on a stand-up paddleboard every day. At first I did the paddleboarding as just kind of a routine but then when I stopped last summer for a little bit, it was incredible to see the difference in my mental well-being. So every morning I get out and do something with a little bit of intensity. It seems to set up a really good day and, on the days I don’t, I really notice I’m much more inconsistent with my energy and my focus.
Q How did you get involved with the Canadian Men’s Health Foundation, which launched last week in Ottawa?
A I’m really proud and excited to be part of this. When they approached me last year, it spoke to everything that is important to me. I want to get more people involved in this idea of active, healthy living and the day-to-day commitment to fitness and health and all the benefits to everybody that come from it. So when the Canadian Men’s Healthy initiative — and it wasn’t even named that at the time — came to me, I jumped right on board.
Q So was it their idea, or yours, to do the paddleboard ride from Vancouver to Victoria?
A I pitched it to them. For me, I needed something to help mark the transition from Olympic athlete to a lifetime of fitness and healthy goals because it has been a very difficult transition away from the daily routine of high-performance sport.
Q Is there an escort boat, or flotilla to accompany you? What’s the experience level of the paddlers who will be alongside you?
A Yes, there is a safety boat involved. I was quite keen on the idea of just paddling but once you start getting involved with organizations, it’s inevitable you’ll hear the words “safety” and “support.” The ambitious adventurer in me kind of wanted to just do it without support. There will be a very diverse group of 11 paddlers, with two women involved. I’ve never paddled over 20 kilometres so this is a bit of a stretch for me but the rest of the crew has all done major expeditions and they’re very experienced. So I think I’ll be dragging my butt around.
Q How do you plan to break up the trip in terms of the distance and where will you sleep?
A We plan to do 60K the first day, which should take us around 10 hours and then we’ll camp overnight on Galiano. Then we’ll do six to eight hours the next two days as we travel down through the Gulf Islands. We’ll spend the second night on Island View and then paddle the last 40K into Victoria Harbour. We’ll land about five blocks from my house and then I can walk home.
© Copyright (c) The Vancouver Sun