Sunday, December 25, 2011

Inspiration and my Opa during the battle of Ortona on Christmas day, 1943

I sit here in the comfort of my home next to my amazing sister and parents and am extra thankful. I am thankful for many things but after taking an interest in my Opa’s war stories, I am grateful for his bravery, character and selflessness. 

My grandfather fought in World War II as a Seaforth in the 4th infantry division of signals and later as a Battle Adjudant in the Royal Infactra Corps, Canadian Infantry Corps. He was involved in the Hitler line battle, Savio River battle, Issel River battle and the San Leonardo battle but it was in the battle of Ortona that he left his mark.

It was on Christmas day in 1943 that the quarter master, Captain Cameron, decided to serve the Canadian men Christmas dinner in the church, which was one of the first and most important objectives in Ortona.

Here is my Opa, Wilfred Gildersleeve sharing his day as he played the Organ for the troops – “We had a couple of fellows able to pump the organ on a couple of planks. They stood on the plank, you know, and one, two, three, alternately. And I still had my little book with some music in it, of carols and hymns and what not. And I used to get stuck for church parades playing for them all, in England. And so we were able to sing some carols, led by Roy Durnford, padre. That was very heavy, very heavy, to see those men come in, have their dinner, which consisted of roast pork, potatoes, carrots, all scrounged from the countryside and Christmas pudding a couple of chocolate bars, a bottle of beer and an orange. And for many of those men, it was the last meal they ever had on this earth because it was company after company.”

I imagine my grandfather, 68 years ago singing hymns and playing the organ filling men with what may have been their last peaceful and joyous moments. Sitting here writing from the comfort of my home, I do my best to fathom their appreciation for life and thank them from the bottom of my heart for the sacrifices they made for you and me; for our nation.

I send my love and gratitude to my Opa Wilfred as well as his lovely bride Marguerite who met in Amsterdam on May 8th !945 in celebration of World War II ending. You have both created a wonderful legacy and your spirits are shining in your children, grandchildren and great grandchildren. Your family is strong and we will lift you up tomorrow as we all gather to celebrate Dutch Christmas in your honor.

To my Opa, your spirit, fearlessness, integrity and height live on. You were a standout man and your grandchildren may not have had much time with you but we fondly remember your chivalry, high moral standard and sense of humor. In fact I am frequently reminded of you when Matt, myself and Jordan grow our moustaches in Movember and I am confident we all have your funny bone.

I leave you with my Opa’s final message to future generations in the family interview conducted by my uncle Steve.

“Hold in your heart a love of Canada, your home land, maybe your adopted home land, and serve Canada as best you can in whatever way the country needs you. Be it business or in the services or in the government, bearing in mind the fact Canada’s forces now are a peace-keeping force and we will never be an offensive nation and we should certainly honor our service men in today’s forces because they act as aid to the civil power. And try to lead our lives in ways that will never again lead to war. Maybe the simplest message is that we need to learn to love and respect our fellow man and to work together for the common good.”

Thursday, December 22, 2011


A few weeks ago I was walking to brunch with Jordan (roommate/cuz/ape/stallion) and we high fived over life. Not our first high five, however, this one spurred a train of thoughts and emotions that rushed through me like an avalanche in the Alaskan backcountry.

Gratitude, appreciation, love, joy, humility. Gratitude.

My life is amazing. That isn't a "my life is better than yours" statement, it is a pure, friendly epiphany driven affirmation. It is entirely a "holy shit, I love my life and get to live my passion everyday" thought and I haven't been able to genuinely stop to be thankful for my life path since it went into overdrive late 2011.

I had been in Toronto since I herniated 2 disks in my back mid summer, and was spinning my pedals and reaching for something I couldn't see clearly. But on October 1st the gears of my life began to catch; I moved downtown Toronto with my cousin Jordan. Without getting into the details, it wasn't until I got my own place that everything started coming together. My health, energy, excitement and pure "joie de vivre" exponentially increased and my essential flame has been burning bright like the Olympic torch since!

I haven't had my own space for a long time and it was neve a big deal, I just called it the “21st Century Nomad style” and dealt with it. I made the most of every situation, couch, hotel room, single bed, floor or spare bedroom and stayed in a positive mental space because I had to. As a matter of adaptation I made each unique setup an opportunity for growth but without knowing it I was never truly able to completely relax. Now with the independence of an apartment and a year contract keeping me committed, I have flourished in my own space (and king size bed) where I can now rest, recover, create and explore my creative side. It has been a launching pad for my social life, a sanctuary for my physical recovery and a zen garden for my mental health.

Back to brunch. Jordan and I (as always) rolled in aggressive style and arrived to find a medley of amazing people, one of whom was a University friend I hadn't seen for years! We all had rich conversations about life and it was through this inspiring gathering that I was drawn to a place of reflection. I came to a deeper place of appreciation for my path I and the social, physical and mental dividends being created through my diligent pursuit.

Toronto has been a social and life experiment. I had never sunk my emotional roots in the city (a side from one relationship) and was therefore recluse and hesitant to commit to anything that lasted more than an hour. I have since embraced Toronto with my entire being and celebrated it as my home. This change in tune immediately opened amazing opportunities, influenced incredible connections and has shot me into a deeper understanding of myself.

I have adapted to the fast paced lifestyle of Toronto and am thoroughly enjoying it. Leading my life via my passion has naturally attracted people that dare to be great and challenge their own reasons for existence. From artists to business men to DJ's to fellow athletes I am continuously reminded that I am here to be the best I can be and share that empowering energy with those who cross my path.

I believe I am exactly where I am supposed to be in life and I thank everyone who has supported and cheered for me. You are all an inspiration in your own way and have all been integral in me arriving where I am today.

Happy holiday,


Thursday, December 1, 2011

My partner for 2012

I am very pleased to announce to that I will be competing on the 2012 FIVB tour as well as qualify for the Olympic games with Sir Josh Binstock. This is a move that may surprise some of you, especially after winning the 2011 Continental Cup with Chaim Schalk. To those skeptics, Chaim and I definitely had a good run but over the span of 2 seasons we weren't able to put together our best performances at more than a few events. Granted we both dealt with injuries (the most recent and severe being my back) but there were plenty of opportunities to step up and we never found a strong enough rhythm to consistently improve our results. I thank Chaim for a very memorable 2 years but this isn't a blog about the past, it is about the exciting future for a team that has been destined to happen for a long time!

After a frustrating end to my season in July 2011 with a back injury, I began looking at my options for a partner to pursue the 2012 Olympics with. There were a few top ranked teams playing really well and it just so happened Josh Binstock was splitting with Rich Vanhuizen. Josh and I have been solid friends for quite a long time and no stranger to each other on the court. We have always gotten along famously and from the first time I watched him play I admired his intensity and desire for the ball. He was a devastating blocker for most and with his recent transition to defender he has brought those attributes to the back court and built on them. In my opinion he became the best shot defender in Canada over the 2011 season and then went down to some late season USA events and earned more respect against some of the top athletes in the world.

It being my decision to play with Josh gives a sense of confidence I haven't had for a while. One of the main factors for my excitement is that Josh hand sets over bump setting and that is something I haven't had the luxury of since master hand setter Ray Sewell. I love hitting off a hand set and Josh's hands are fast enough for him to consistently set internationally; I look forward to crushing his butter!

So what is the next step you ask? We are currently residing full time in Toronto and training daily. We are working out like pre season College football players and starting our beach reps in a new indoor 3 court facility our national team built. We plan on going hard until christmas and then we are looking at a training camp in LA come the new year.

Our Olympic qualification is not a guarantee as the ranking going into the Canadian trials will be the two teams with the best results in the first tournaments of 2012. Those two top FIVB teams go to the NORCECA continental cup and will fight to win our nation a direct birth. Then another canadian trials will be held to narrow our best teams down to one final Olympic bound team! Lots of tournaments and high pressure situations to come but I have never felt more up for the challenge.

The road will be intense as all our tournaments run April through late June. They are closing in on us quickly making every day an important opportunity to improve and strive for our best as soon as possible.

Keep in touch for big things, I can feel it!