Guest Commentary

Linda Thom

You Gotta Have Heart

Even as a pre-schooler I was always petitioning the authorities for a pair of toy six-shooters. The authority was Santa Claus of course. Before moving to Ottawa In the 1950s I lived in rural Scarborough; my father was a banker. From the earliest age I recall being fascinated with typical girlish things: throwing knives, axes, climbing trees.  I liked the cowboy stories on the radio: the Lone Ranger, Gene Autry, Roy Rogers. But target shooting became my first love.

Dad gave my brother Colin a BB gun for his birthday. I would stand there politely and watch him, and ask, “Can I try?” “You’ll get your chance,” Dad would say, but I knew if I went back in the house I could never stake my claim. So I would stand and watch, stand and watch, till I had my chance. Dad explained there were 26 BB shots in a tube; Colin could have 20, I’d get six. I had to economize; I guess that’s why I’m a good shot.

Standard paper targets were expensive so we made our own at home. Colin and I once removed all the labels from the tin cans in the kitchen since they made great targets. Mom put a stop to it when she discovered a cupboard full of tin cans with unidentifiable contents.

Even as an 8-year old I had a sense that I wanted to go to the Olympics and I promised myself if I was ever good enough to compete in any event I would work my heart out to get on the Canadian Olympic Team.

My mother knew of my interest, and I recall her advice at our kitchen table: do this! Will yourself to do this. You can do it! Her earnestness, her emphatic assertion, stuck with me my whole life. Not everyone can be an Olympian or succeed in national competition, but it’s a message I’ve passed to my own children: if you really want to do something, don’t hold back; give it your whole heart.

The 1984 Summer Games were the first time women had their own shooting events in the Olympics. I had retired from the sport in 1975 to raise a family and start my own cooking school which expanded into catering business. I hadn’t shot in years when suddenly my Olympic dream danced before my eyes! Our children were young then, aged 2 and 4. I told Don, my husband, “I don’t think I can go.” The work, the children – especially the children. What effect would my absence for training and competition have on them? He said to me, “There’s a reason you never sold your guns. If you don’t do this, you’ll never forgive myself for not trying”.  It still took me two years of saving money before I set foot in the range again. I was worried after seven years not shooting at all, but hadn’t lost my touch!

Later in Los Angeles my event was on the opening day of the Summer Games. I was the first Canadian woman to win Olympic gold in the Summer Games since 1928. I remember standing on the podium so joyful I could have floated away. I felt happiness and humility, and recall the sound of the photographers’ cameras, cht, cht, cht, like katydids in a field.

I had a memory flashback to those days of standing in the backyard as a schoolgirl, patiently waiting for my turn with the BB gun, and secretly hoping I might get really good at it someday.

(Editor’s note: the author is a Sports Hall Of Famer and Olympic gold medalist sharpshooter).

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