Thursday, February 11, 2010

Down, but not out: Van Doormaal leads by example

In previous editions of this column, I have attempted to draw attention to courageous performances, as I believe that these are the events worth writing about, regardless of the outcome.

You may remember that I previously compared the Yates Cup performance of hobbled Western Mustangs quarterback, Michael Faulds, to the display of strength by former Toronto Maple Leaf, Bobby Baun in the 1964 Stanley Cup playoffs.

I suppose that Gryphon swimmer Scott Van Doormaal’s performance at the OUA Championships last Thursday should be mentioned in a similar light. Here was an athlete, so determined, and so competitive that he would risk further injury at the pinnacle of his sport.

Back in December, Van Doormaal, the senior-most member of the Gryphons team and one of the elected captains, broke his foot. I can only imagine how a swimmer could contend with such an injury, but I suppose, as a former baseball player, I could liken it to breaking a pitching arm, just weeks before the playoffs began.

Nevertheless, Van Doormaal remained committed to competing, committed to providing his team with the kind of leadership that captains are expected to demonstrate to their teammates.

It’s worth noting that Van Doormaal is much more than merely your average swimmer with this Gryphons team. Aside from being a team captain, the fifth-year student-athlete was, and still is, a nationally-renowned competitor, who would have been a major threat to stand on the podium in the upcoming CIS championship races.

In each of his previous four seasons with the Gryphons, Van Doormaal had won multiple medals at the OUA championship level, excelling in both the medium and long distance races. 2010 would have likely been no different and along with Andrew Ford and a host of other supremely talented Gryphon men, this team was poised to be a profound national threat.

Nevertheless, at least from an individual perspective, Van Doormaal’s season was derailed by the now-infamous broken foot.

But despite the obvious physical limitations, there was no breaking of his competitive spirit. Broken foot notwithstanding, Van Doormaal was there to compete.

Now keep in mind that I did not personally observe this event. This column is, instead, a recollection of stories that have been communicated to me by others who did happen to bear witness to the men’s 1500m freestyle race at Brock University this past weekend. Gryphons team head coach, Don Burton, had his fair share of superlatives when describing what happened in St. Catharines

“Swimming with one foot is virtually impossible,” said Burton. “Scott did a phenomenal job of leading by example, above and beyond the call of anything that anyone would’ve ever expected of him.”

“We all know what it’s like to have injuries,” said fellow captain Chantique Payne. “Just to see how Scott tried to step up and [compete] for our team, it was really inspirational.”
The stories all have the same message: Van Doormaal’s performance was nothing short of phenomenal.

Requiring the aid of crutches to approach the blocks at the start of the race, Van Doormaal hit the water for 30 laps of one-footed competition against the province’s most accomplished (two-footed) distance swimmers. Competing against the province’s best, Van Doormaal finished 14th overall in the 1500m race, taking three points for his team.

The result, though incredible, is not the story here. It’s the effort that makes this story so compelling, so newsworthy.

Time and time again, university athletes have proven themselves to be the ultimate competitors. And so long as these stories exist, I will continue to publish them. Too often, stories in the media highlight the negatives associated with athletics; these stories are stale and often, unworthy. If you have a story about a local athlete that defies expectations for the purpose of competing, I want to hear these narratives. This is the space for those refreshing tales.

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