TORONTO — Cross-country skier Chandra Crawford was on top of the sporting world in 2006 when she won a surprise gold at the Turin Olympics. The result she's most proud of came eight years later and didn't include a podium appearance.
Crawford finished a distant 43rd at the 2014 Sochi Games and couldn't have been happier.
"I was so proud of crossing that finish line from all the personal growth that I had experienced," she said. "It's my special gold medal for me. That's something that no one can take away from me, that inner peace that I discovered. It's a very strong memory for me."
Her impressive career was celebrated Thursday as Crawford was inducted into Canada's Sports Hall of Fame at the Metro Toronto Convention Centre. Joining her in the athlete category were Alexandre Despatie (diving), Damon Allen (football), Dave Keon (hockey), Jeff Adams (wheelchair racing), and the late Mary (Bonnie) Baker (baseball).
Dr. Sandra Kirby, a sport administrator, activist and coach, entered in the builder category with indigenous sport organizer and advocate Wilton (Willie) Littlechild.
A year out from Sochi, Crawford took a break and questioned whether she should continue racing. Almost 30 at the time, she felt burned out and was skiing slower than teenagers on the team.
Crawford was also coming off a breakup of a nine-year relationship with a teammate, had developed an eating disorder and was taking anti-depressants.
"I felt like I'd lost a lot of the pillars of my identity," Crawford said. "It was a really tough time."
You wouldn't have known it by looking at her social media feeds. Crawford seemed just fine on the outside but internally she had battles on the go.
"The best my social media ever looked was when I was my most depressed," she said. "I looked great. I was smiling. I was trying to will my life — I wish I could climb into the screen and live in my social media profile at that time — and it's all not real."
Crawford eventually became determined to work on her personal growth and didn't want to have regrets. She was ready to do some soul-searching and make the push to return to the Olympics.
"I decided that I didn't want to watch the Games on TV and know that I hadn't even tried," she said. "The Games would be a tool for me to gain health and wellness and inner peace and they were. Which is why today I care so much more about the life skills, the growth and the development that we get way more than the accolades and prizes.
"Those are fine, but true happiness comes from within."
Known for her infectious smile and vivacious spirit, Crawford was beaming after being presented with her Hall of Fame jacket at a morning ceremony. She was also wearing a T-shirt emblazoned with the "Fast and Female" logo, an organization she founded in 2005 dedicated to keeping girls healthy, happy and active in sport.
Crawford, who recently completed a master's degree in business administration, is married now and the mother of two young children.
"It all worked out so well," she said.
The native of Canmore, Alta., won Olympic gold in the 1.1-kilometre sprint event and also reached the podium at seven World Cup events over her career. Her 13-year run of international competition came to an end that day in Russia.
"I rode the gondola down from the Sochi venue through all these cloud banks," she recalled. "I had a gondola all to myself and I just said, 'I did it, I did it.' I retired on the spot. That was my last race. I was kind of running on fumes.
"But to look the demons in the eye, to do the inner work, to learn to meditate, read all the books, see all the psychologists, my true prize of inner peace is so much more valuable to me than my gold medal. It's incredible how adversity has made me so grateful for the adversity. It's wild."
A formal dinner to honour the Hall's 2018 inductees was scheduled for Thursday night.
Despatie, a two-time Olympic silver medallist, became the first athlete to be crowned world champion in all three individual diving categories. He took the 10-metre title in 2003 and earned gold in the one-metre and three-metre events in 2005 in his hometown of Montreal.
Allen, a resident of Mississauga, Ont., played for six different CFL teams and won the league's outstanding player award in 2005 with the Toronto Argonauts. He won the Grey Cup four times and retired in 2008 as pro football's all-time passing leader with 72,381 yards.
Adams, a native of Brampton, Ont., captured 13 Paralympic medals over his career. Baker, from Regina, made her All-American Girls Professional Baseball League debut in 1943 and helped the Regina Legion Club reach the women's world softball championship in 1953.
Kirby, a Calgary native, competed as a rower at the 1976 Montreal Olympics. A founding board member of Safe Sport International, she is an accomplished educator, sport administrator, coach and activist.
Littlechild, from the Ermineskin Cree reservation at Maskwacis, Alta., founded and coached the first all-indigenous junior hockey team in Alberta. The longtime advocate for indigenous sport in Canada helped create the North American Indigenous Games in 1990 and the World Indigenous Nations Games in 2015.
Keon, from Rouyn-Noranda, Que., led the Toronto Maple Leafs to three straight Stanley Cup victories in 1962-64 before adding another title in 1967. He's third on the franchise's all-time list with 858 career points.
"We have all had success and disappointments and learned from them," Keon said. "The most important being not to give up."
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Gregory Strong, The Canadian Press