In Tijuana, Mexico, I stood in a circle with 19 other athletes from nine different sports and five different countries - a circle with 22 Olympic medals and countless world and national medals. But the most important thing in that circle last month were the keys that we held in our hands that would unlock the door to the Diaz Gomez family’s new home. None of our other accomplishments mattered as we stood together in tears, realizing the impact we just had on a family, each other, and ourselves. They were tears of happiness, realization, gratitude, humility, appreciation, and love.
The emotions stemmed from the culmination of our work on the Homes for Hope build.
After a group debrief back at our accommodations, we realized that although we had all come here for different reasons, at the heart of it was our individual desire to give back. I have been fortunate to achieve many successes in my sport of curling, but I know they never could have happened alone. I owe my medals and accomplishments to all those who have helped me throughout my journey in all facets of my life: family, coaching, teachers, and friends. They have all played major roles in shaping who I am and what I have achieved. For this reason, I feel it is my duty to help others and give back wherever and whenever I can.
I knew going down to Mexico that I would be giving a gift and making a difference in a family’s life, but I did not realize that this would have just as much of an impact on me as it would on them. It was very inspirational to see the happiness and love in the Diaz Gomez family, despite their adversities and challenges. It took only two days out of our lives to build a home that would have taken this family their whole lives to build - that is an experience and feeling you will never forget.
It is difficult to truly understand what some people live through until you witness it firsthand. When you learn that their father goes to work but doesn’t always get paid. You learn that there isn’t enough money for food; that most have asthma, among other health problems, because there is no foundation but just dirt; that the house doesn’t have a shower or bathroom. I have always been grateful for everything I have received, but this experience gave me a much-needed reality check. It made me remember what is truly important and what I value – what you need vs. want. We often get caught up and upset with trivial things because we have so much to take for granted. Long line-ups and traffic problems pale in comparison to the problems these families face and the difficulty they have in obtaining the bare necessities of life.
This was not the first time that I have volunteered in a developing country –or helped in communities and programs here in Canada – but it is the first time I have voiced the importance of not just donating your money, but also donating your time and effort. This was also not the first time I have personally gained something from helping others, but every time I do, I remember why it is so important to me. When you give back to others, you gain just as much.
These experiences always give me a new perspective on life and sport. We all have busy lives. Something is always going on to give us an excuse not to go, not to physically donate our time but these experiences are invaluable and something everyone needs to experience. Turn it into a family adventure and make it a learning experience for your children. You will find it creates a learning experience for everyone involved. If that’s not enough, we also shared a lot of laughs and had fun together as a group.
And if you do decide to go and help out, Olympic gold medalist bobsledder Heather Moyse and I have one point of advice: measure three times, cut once!