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April 3, 2021

A great lesson in determination

Over 60 years ago, I was a fine, young woman in her first year of college. I was studious and diligent, I loved learning about different ancient civilizations, literature and languages. Shy and bookish, I spent my free time reading as much as possible, looking up words in Larousse and scribbling pretty poems here and there. Each line had to end in the same sound, in the style of Verlaine or Rimbaud, who were in vogue at the time.

The study program also included a mandatory physical education class, which I didn’t enjoy at all. It required us to change shoes and replace our nice marine blue uniform, our immaculate blouse and long beige socks with a roomy jacket and knee-length shorts. The gym teacher was quite young. He began each class by having us run five times around the gymnasium in winter and even longer when the temperature allowed us to head outside. Ugh! I hated the subject. I was bad at physical activity, at least that is what I thought until the year-end Olympics approached. Until the handsome teacher nicknamed me the long-legged svelte one. He wanted me to take part in the inter-college competitions and he chose me to compete in pole vaulting. 

The compliment was touching, but I balked at the idea of competing. I was pathetic at dodgeball, tennis, badminton and even recreational swimming. Stretching my limbs in every direction, climbing, jumping, dancing, swimming and even running – I disliked it all! It was unimaginable to think I could thrust my body high enough into the air to cleanly clear a high bar. Just thinking about it left me dizzy. The teacher insisted, however. And god only knows what angel spoke through him when he brought me the long pole to practise with.

I have to say that I have always believed in the existence of a world of divine beings above. And occasionally, one of them appears in my life to make a miracle happen, changing a no to yes, an IMPOSSIBLE to POSSIBLE. Telling myself that I probably had something to learn, I took the pole in my good hand (left) and began to practice doing a 50-metre run-up. The goal was to accelerate rapidly and transfer the speed into the pole when I planted it in the sand at the exact moment as I shot my body into the sky over the horizontal bar placed at a good distance from the ground. 

Each time, I tripped and fell, my nose in the sand, my body bruised, the pole landing on my neck. Each time, I tried pleading with the teacher that I was too heavy, with arms that were too large and legs that were too long. Each time, he just laughed, repeating that I had the perfect shape for the lightness of the pole.

How did he convince me so easily to accept this challenge? And where did this tenacity come from to keep on trying? Did I really want to clear that bar so badly, a minor feat which meant nothing to me? I was confused and baffled. That day, after picking myself up for the umpteenth time, I had the feeling that a long row of sympathetic angels were extending their magic wands toward me. They whispered in my head that I needed to keep going.

After five weeks of practising each school day, I was able to easily clear the bar, but it still came loose and joined me on the sandy ground below. The teacher explained that I had to master the right body posture in order to get higher than the bar. I had to arch my spine in a half-circle, lead with my head, lift my torso and then allow my legs to follow with my feet higher than my head. I needed six more weeks before I could imitate a huge California condor as I passed over the high bar without touching it. The Olympics eventually arrived. I did not beat the record, but I did win the competition. By default, since my competitor who had jumped a centimeter higher than me had brushed the bar with her heel.  

I had spent more than 10 weeks falling, stepping back to gather speed and falling again, with the bar more often than not hitting my head. Where in the devil did I get this determination to succeed in jumping into the air? Was it the teacher’s belief in me? Did I need a medal that badly in order to impress others?

I was a young girl barely out of childhood when the college Olympics taught me DETERMINATION; a valuable quality that would serve me well in business, to advance through life and find the courage to write. And god knows how many times I’ve had occasion in my life to think back on those weeks of pole vaulting.

I, the young woman who begged her parents again and again to enrol her in a classics college because she dreamed of being a writer one day. Who had to abandon her studies in her final year to take care of her first child, followed by two others, in a marriage that was so dreadful, she almost lost her mind. And eventually, who had to flee the situation, her children in tow, to work herself ragged in order to survive.

After leaving college, the bar fell on my head many times but, thank god, the DETERMINATION that had entered my veins at young age directed me to pick myself up and start again.

And when I started out in business at the age 40, the bar in my mind was already set very high. My pole jumping experience has remained vital within me all these long years. 

Through practice, trial and error, hard work and constant improvement, a wonderful trademark rose over Canada. A SUN that brightens millions of breakfasts served to loyal clientele at our restaurants. I am so thankful to the angels who taught me courage, tenacity, patience and determination quite early on. I know that I still have many things to master, millions of lines to write and as many “advance-reverse-restart” steps to perform. But I am not afraid; the angels are with me.

ABRAHAM LINCOLN failed to get elected 23 times before he became President of the United States at the age of 60.

WALT DISNEY knocked on the door of 100 banks before finding one willing to take a chance on his first projects.

After 700 unsuccessful attempts, THOMAS EDISON finally realized his dream of inventing an electric bulb.

The British writer J. K. ROWLING was a single mother on social assistance when she began to write the first Harry Potter book.



Pssst: My life has been one long pole vaulting practice. Can I dare to hope that on my final jump I will fly upward to the great above, where the angels and archangels await?