An Afternoon with a Legend

Holding the office of the Mayor involves a lot of things which I hope to explore at length in this space over the next several months, but today I want to shine the light on that part of the job that brings me a bounty of opportunity. The ceremonial role.

I was recently invited to an afternoon of storytelling by Mike Delich to hear Rhoda Wurtele in conversation. Rhoda and her identical twin sister represented the entire Canadian Women’s Alpine Ski team in the 1948 Olympics, is a recent recipient of the Order of Canada, and a tenacious lover of sport.

I knew I was in for a treat the second I laid eyes on Rhoda and overheard her playful banter with Mike before the event took place. With her son John Eaves, a ski legend himself by her side, we drifted into that delightful space of listening to a legend.

Rhoda and her sister travelled by the RMS Queen Mary to the 1948 St. Moritz Olympic Games, where Rhoda had the misfortune of breaking her ankle during a training run when one of her teammates cut across the back of her skis. Without dwelling on the misfortune, Rhoda with a mere shrug said it was certainly disappointing but despite her injury, she raced in Chamonix a month later tying for third place.

Rhoda delighted us with stories about her impossibly long 7-foot 3-inch skis for all three events, but mostly just told us what a pure joy it was to compete and the privilege she felt she was given. Nearly every answer to our questions resulted with a grin, her messaging was that none of the difficulties mattered much because she just had so much fun with it all.

It wasn’t Rhoda’s race career that got into my heart though that afternoon, not that it wasn’t truly extraordinary, it was her story of being a working mom with ambition and goals to chase. Rhoda and her sister Rhona wanted to make it easier than they had it for women to get proper ski instruction, so they started a ski school that eventually grew to 1000 students. As the school grew, they identified a need to provide programming for the moms while their children were skiing.

John teased his mom by interjecting to us that his childhood was crazy, with several dogs and cats always underfoot and the phone constantly ringing in his house from queries about snow reports, you were likely to walk into his house and have at a minimum of twenty skis crash down on you. Rhoda just grinned and waved her hand at him dismissing his story with a wink.

John continued to tease his mom gently and recounted that the first time he won a major competition on behalf of Canada, Ken Read won the exact same day. The press in Montreal went crazy with articles and news releases about Ken Read. Having none of it, Rhoda called radio stations and kept saying, hey what about this John kid, he just won a world championship! To resounding laughter in the room—John closed with the punch line—the press called her on it, ‘Wait a second, are you his mother?!

Rhoda just smiled and shrugged, we all knew we would have done the exact same thing on behalf of one of our kids.

I might have met a ski legend last week, but what I actually heard was that being a working mom is messy. The chaos that ensues in your household when your passion allows you to step over piles of skis at the front door. I heard about a proud mom trying to get her son the attention he deserved. Mostly though, I heard that the kid turned out just fine while his mom was chasing her dreams, John Eaves became one of Canada’s most accomplished Freestyle skiers.

Rhoda won the Order of Canada for her contribution to the sport, but that afternoon as a working mom myself I was lifted by her courage to chase her dreams. I was also very happy to hear that chasing your dreams is an imperfect and messy business and that the kids will probably be alright. Here’s hoping.