Skip to content

Olympian Simon Whitfield shares simple yet sage advice with U of G grads

Whitfield tells grads at winter convocation ceremony to embrace challenge, not fear failure
20160217 WHITFIELD ts
Olympic gold medalist Simon Whitfield addresses convocation at the University of Guelph Wednesday, Feb. 17, 2016. Tony Saxon/GuelphToday

Don't try and get rid of those butterflies, just make them fly in formation.

That was the simple yet poignant message delivered by Olympian Simon Whitfield Wednesday as he addressed business and economics graduates at the University of Guelph during their convocation ceremony at War Memorial Hall.

Prior to the ceremony he was given an honorary doctorate by the school.

The butterfly story was one told to Whitfield by his father as a child.

"I love this. It's a simple thing. A playful thing. A thing that a kid can really grasp on to," Whitfield said.

"Dad was giving me permission to use that nervousness as energy. To use that energy to drive me forward. Dad was giving me permission to not be afraid, to not expect failure, but to expect success."

He told the students to embrace challenge, not fear failure.

Whitfield represented Canada in four Olympics, winning gold at the 2000 games in Sydney, silver in Beijing and carrying Canada's flag in London.

These days the father of two young girls is a partner Relentless Pursuit Partners, a business consulting firm.

Support from his family was an overwhelming theme of Whitfield's on Wednesday: From the day he told them he was taking a year off university to focus on athletics to the various life lessons they handed him over the years.

"Unconditional, unwavering support for every dream that me and my sister ever had," he said of his parents, who were sitting in the front row Wednesday. "Unconditional support: it frees you to express yourself in so many different ways."

Whitfield also took time to recognize Dave Scott-Thomas, the University of Guelph and Speed River Track and Field running guru.

Whitfield was 15 when he joined a running group Scott-Thomas ran at Queen's University and he always remembered some of the lessons he learned from him.

"Dave Scott-Thomas taught me very quickly the difference between thinking and wanting to do something and that internal need to do something," the former Olympian said.

Pay attention to your inner narrative, he told the students and their families, which was a lesson he learned from his mom.

"My mom would give me a choice between being an intrepid, inquisitive, benevolent wise man or a critical, ruthless pessimist. Which one do you think gives better advice?"

He stressed the importance of living in the moment and taking value out of the moment.

After winning silver in Beijing, Whitfield was struggling with having finished second when he went to hug his father in the stands.

"Bloody brilliant! You just learned the poetry of sport!" Whitfield's father said to him. "Eight years ago you ran down a German (to win gold) and went on to inspire another German who eight years later got you back."

That wonderful moment, Whitfield said, released him from any burden of what could have been and showed him the value of what is.

"There's a crack in everything, that's where the light gets in," he said, quoting the Leonard Cohen song "Anthem".

Reader Feedback

Tony Saxon

About the Author: Tony Saxon

Tony Saxon has had a rich and varied 30 year career as a journalist, an award winning correspondent, columnist, reporter, feature writer and photographer.
Read more