By John Moore, Columnist
I recently had the privilege of attending three time Olympic paddler and Maskwa athlete Mark DeJong’s retirement send off. It was held at the Mercantile Social on Hollis Street. It was a fun filled evening full of stories and many walks down memory lane. Attending was some of De Jong’s paddling friends he grew up with, former coaches, commodores, and supporters. It was great to celebrate such a momentous occasion. Long time paddling champion and close friend, Alex Scott, functioned as Master of Ceremonies. He did a superb job delighting everyone with his lighthearted joviality and ease in ensuring DeJong’s sendoff would be one for the record books.
De Jong’s paddling career will be one not soon forgotten A number of speakers told of the time Mark crushed his finger in an accident just before the Olympic trials in 2012. His upcoming race was changed from May to late June as a result. It was amazing he was able to recover in such a short time .He not only recovered but he unofficially broke the world record in this trial race, the K1 200 m, in Montreal. That event was his signature event and it had only recently been approved to become an official Olympic event. Prior to this he may have never been in the Olympics had it not been for this, but the paddling angels were with him. He went on to win a bronze medal in London later in August. That was to be the start of a remarkable run that saw him officially break the world record in the K1 200 m race in 2014 not only once but twice in one weekend. That in itself has to be a record.
Mark was asked to write some words of encouragement a number of years ago to be announced at several regattas, one at Maskwa, and the other at Lake Banook. Here is some of what he said:
“Competing at the Olympics is exceedingly rare, rarer, I ‘ve learned than getting struck by lightning. But I’ve found that it is not a game of odds. Becoming an Olympic athlete is not about being lucky, it is about being dedicated, working hard, and never giving up on your dream. It has taken me 15 years to make my Olympic dream come true and it has all been worth it. The early mornings, the sacrifices with friends, the hard work, and miserable weather has all been worth it. While the Olympics may be several years away for you everything you do now will bring you one step closer to achieving your Olympic dream. I wish you all good luck today in your races, but always remember that it is not luck that makes a great athlete, it is a winning attitude. Race hard and dream big!”
These words are not just confined to paddling but are true of life itself. This is a message we can all live our lives by. Mark was able to do the great things he did by living by the adage: Do what is possible , do what is necessary, and soon you will be doing the impossible. Thank you Mark for all you have done for the sport of paddling, for encouraging so many others and for making us all the better for it. Thank you to your lovely wife Lee Anne for being by your side to do all this. We are looking forward to whatever the next chapter may bring.
April is volunteer month; I should like to take this opportunity to honor all those unsung heroes in our community who give unselfishly of their time and talent to help better the way of life for others. Thank you for all you do. Happy Easter and may God bring peace to our world.
Photo credits to https://olympic.ca/