Former Olympian hosts mental health event for first-year students

Silken Laumann is a former rowing champion who currently serves as motivational speaker. (Courtesy of Unsinkable Facebook page / Provided by Sakeina Syed)

York’s first-year students were invited to a virtual event on September 29, hosted by Olympian Silken Laumann. The event, called the Unsinkable Student Event, was meant to inspire freshmen and support youth mental health during the COVID-19 crisis.

Over 100 students from various universities across North America attended the virtual program.

The event was hosted by Unsinkable, Laumann’s nonprofit organization, and co-sponsored by York’s Faculty of Health. 

The Faculty of Health sponsored the event as we share similar values on the importance of open communications about mental health,” says Paul McDonald, dean of the Faculty of Health. “It was a way to acknowledge the challenge and stress of starting university, especially in a virtual environment.”

Laumann is a three-time Olympic medalist, author, and speaker, especially known for winning an Olympic rowing medal less than a month after shattering her leg during a rowing accident. She founded the nonprofit organization Unsinkable with a mission to “connect and empower Canadians to achieve better mental, physical and spiritual health.”

     The night featured a wide variety of speakers and performers, including a keynote by High School Musical actress and United Nations Youth Champion Monique Coleman. 

“The reason we put this event together was we wanted to give you guys something to celebrate about yourselves, and to acknowledge some of the things that you’re going through,” Laumann told students during the event. 

The night featured a wide variety of speakers and performers, including a keynote by High School Musical actress and United Nations Youth Champion Monique Coleman. 

“I’ve found that in moments where I really need strength, I am given really tall mountains to climb,” Coleman stated during her speech. “Any time in my life that I’ve needed to develop compassion, or forgiveness, or discipline, or trust, or self-love, I’m always presented with challenges in that specific area.”

“I know that many of you were longing for a campus experience, for new connections and friendships and parties,” Coleman continued. “It’s true — that could have been so amazing. However, we don’t actually know that.”

“All we know is what we’re working within this present moment, and as limited as that may feel sometimes, there’s so many more possibilities and opportunities than we realize.”

    “While their first year at university is not what they expected or had hoped for, the current challenges will  provide an unexpected opportunity for self growth and the development of resiliency, which will benefit them for a lifetime.”

The event also featured a panel of other speakers, including psychologist Dr. Khush Amaria, as well as general manager and former running back of the Toronto Argonauts Michael “Pinball” Clemons.

Following the panel, Toronto-based spoken word artist Wali Shah delivered a poem, and Canadian singer-songwriter JP Saxe performed two songs, including his recent hit “If The World Was Ending.” 

The Faculty of Health hopes York freshmen left the event feeling supported and encouraged, despite the inopportune circumstances of their first year.

“It was our hope that the event would demonstrate our support to students and the feelings of loss they may have when they think about missing out on the social experience of being on campus, making new friendships and learning together,” says McDonald. 

“While their first year at university is not what they expected or had hoped for, the current challenges will not last forever and may provide an unexpected opportunity for self growth and the development of resiliency, which will benefit them for a lifetime.”

A complete recording of the event is available for viewing on Unsinkable’s Facebook page.

About the Author

By Sakeina Syed

Former Editor

Sakeina is in her third year at York University studying public administration and creative writing. She is committed to learning and writing about critical issues and uplifting marginalized stories. Outside of Excalibur, you'll most likely find her reading a book or collecting funny cat videos.

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