Olympian and silver medalist shares her story

PEMBROKE – Nurturing our children: heart, mind, body and soul.

This was the theme for the Renfrew County’s Parent Involvement Committees (PIC) Symposium this year, which was presented by a partnership between the Renfrew County District School Board (RCDSB) and Renfrew County Catholic District School Board (RCCDSB) PIC’s.
The annual event is offered free to parents of children and teens, and provides information sessions, a light breakfast and lunch as well as on-site childcare. The symposium, which was funded by a Parents Reaching Out (PRO) Regional Grant, was held on November 3, at Fellowes High School in Pembroke.
RCDSB Director of Education Roger Clarke and Michele Arbour,  were present to welcome and applaud those gathered.
Clarke said that both he and Arbour valued the importance of not only providing education for students but also for parents, and thanked those involved for making the day possible.
In addition, Clarke said that while both he and Arbour put a lot of focus and energy into supporting kids’ and teens’ education in terms of literacy, numeracy and humanities, they also recognize the importance of social and emotional growth.
“It’s our goal and our hope that our students will grow emotionally and socially as well as in education, so they can
be successful in school and in life,” Clarke said.
Arbour added that she hoped everyone would enjoy the day and commended those involved in the PIC’s.
“How lucky we are to have such an invested and enthusiastic parent involvement committee. Our schools in Renfrew County have certainly benefitted from their commitment,” Arbour said.
Next, Canadian Olympian and silver medalist Elizabeth Manley was introduced as the keynote speaker. Also mentioned were the books she had written since, and her ongoing contributions to a number of charitable organizations, including the Canadian Mental Health Association (C.M.H.A.).
For those who remember watching the 1988 Winter Olympics in Calgary, they will likely recall watching Manley’s phenomenal silver medal performance and the sheer joy on her face when she finished her long program. However, what was not known by her fans was that she had battled a very personal struggle with depression, one which nearly prevented her from even entering the competition.
She joked with the audience that it was exciting to come into a room to talk about mental health and no one was running away.
Manley said she was there to share her personal story, to help others and help remove the fear about talking about depression. Also, she wished she had someone to look up to when she was a teen so she wouldn’t have felt so alone and afraid.
“I feel if I can touch one person in an entire room full of people, and help that one person, then for me I’ve given back and I’ve helped,” Manley said.
Manley went on to say that depression affects all ages from children to teens and adults, and that one in five Canadians go through some manner of mental health issue at some point in their life, often without realizing it.
Such was her story. Manley relayed a number of stressful years particularly after her parents’ divorce, and her father being posted overseas. Her mother struggled financially to keep food on the table and pay the bills, but was also determined to keep her daughter in skating.
She said she was teased during her half days at school, (due to an intense training schedule), for being different and not fitting in. She attributed this to wearing the same clothes over and over, not affording make-up and the fact she lived a life most people did not understand.
Another major life change happened when Manley moved to a boarding home in Lake Placid, miles away from her Ottawa home and her most important support system and comfort, her mom. There she lived mostly on her own in what she described in today’s terms as a hoarder’s house. Her coach, who spoke very little English, continually told her she was fat.
Story continues in the November 7, 2012 issue of The Valley Gazette.