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Mentoring paves journey for Olympian Hugh Fisher

Gold medal winner shares experience, advice with leadership cohort

It was Aug. 10, 1984 when Dr. Hugh Fisher and his paddling partner Alwyn Morris won bronze at the Los Angeles Olympic Games.

"We were devastated," Fisher candidly told the new cohort of the Leadership Sea to Sky.

"In our minds we hadn't won a bronze, we had lost the gold."

The pair returned to their hotel that day and it was back to basics - analyze, share, plan, focus on changing one or two things. They laughed and they believed in themselves again.

The next day they won gold.

Several people helped Fisher on that journey to gold, just as he has helped Pemberton kids on their personal journeys to gold.

But Fisher has never really thought of himself as a mentor.

He's a father and a husband. He's a doctor. He's the coach of the best junior dragon boat team in the country. And, he's an Olympic gold medal paddler. But a mentor?

His vision of a mentor - a grey-haired man with an aura of wisdom mixed with pipe smoke surrounding him - didn't quite match his vision of himself.

Upon reflection, however, and at the request of William Roberts, president of the Whistler Forum for Leadership and Dialogue, Fisher found he had much to say on the subject, both of his mentors past and his mentoring of today.

He spoke of what he has learned at Friday's kick off breakfast of the new cohort of the Leadership Sea to Sky, a group that for the next year will focus on a mentoring initiative involving high school students, seniors, and former Leadership participants.

"I have been mentored and rarely by grey-haired men, and I suppose as a consequence of good mentoring, I value this opportunity of passing on that which I have learned and applied successfully in my life," he said.

Fisher's mentors were not all sportsmen, though his life has been so defined by his sport.

One of his first mentors, Dr. Don McDonald, passed along a love of the outdoors through the Boy Scout movement, teaching Fisher to plan, climb higher and dig deeper than others.

When he turned 18 Fisher was introduced to a different kind of mentor, one of the fastest kayakers in Canada at the time, Lou Tollas.

"I was miles behind him and he was one of my heroes. He took me under his wing and for the next few years pulled me into the full time athlete lifestyle."

Fisher credits Tollas with teaching him how to compete. Within two years the pair qualified for the four-man kayak in the 1976 Olympic Games.

Two years later Fisher was paddling with Denis Barre whose meticulous attention to every aspect of their sport helped them train, from the equipment to their technique, their physique and mental attitude.

"He was inclusive, prepared to accept, test and validate my ideas. He listened... And in a big way, he coached me to coach."

The pair was ready for the Moscow Games in 1980 but in the end Canada boycotted: "Russians in Afghanistan," said a wry Fisher. "Go figure."

Then he met Alwyn Morris, a young Mohawk man from Quebec. It was then Fisher first became a mentor, while at the same time learning about respect, competitiveness and believing in himself from Morris.

The rest, as they say, is Olympic history.

Fisher now finds himself coach of the Laoyam Eagles Dragon Boat team, made up of high school boys and girls from Grade 8 to 12.

Three years ago the Eagles won seven out of nine gold medals at the World Club Crew Championships.

The team is one of the best in the world, training on a lake just 350 metres long and 250 metres wide.

"I'm often asked how we do it," said Fisher. "I look to my mentors, to the lessons I learned over the years."

He had ready advice for the cohort that will be focusing on intergenerational leadership and mentorship. Plan ahead, be committed, discuss expected outcomes, be organized and enthusiastic, ready to give and receive positive feedback and be friendly and helpful. And, of course, have fun.