Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Reflections on Being 18

It’s been 18 years since I started university. I was 18 at the time. The significance doesn’t lie in the number 18 but rather in the equal number of years that have passed from when I started as had passed when I first set foot on the University of Alberta campus. For some reason this hit me really hard this fall.

Your first 18 years are pretty structured. You’re going to school whether you like it or not. Your learning is incessant – walking, reading, driving a car. You’re following your family on vacations, to events, family gatherings. As you move into your teen years you can exert a bit more independence but the general path is essentially laid out for you. It seems to take forever to get to 18.

The next 18 years are far more random. Decisions are yours. Direction is far less certain. You’re told endless possibilities exist for your path. Those years seems to pass incredibly quickly. The learning is there but is harder to track. This brings me to today and the persistent question of whether I’ve accomplished as much since 1993 as I did up to it.

I’m proud of what I’ve done since I graduated from high school. The aforementioned randomness has been there but it’s been a road with many high points. I know I’ve learned a lot. That said it seems like the endless dreams, potential accomplishments and vivid possibilities fade if only slightly. There’s a strong hint of reality, and perhaps fear, which challenges you to reconsider dreams or even abandon them. At 36 you look at the upcoming 18 years far differently. There’s a clock lingering overhead that arbitrarily sets timelines for accomplishing these dreams. It wasn’t there at the age of 18. Unfortunately it takes more control than it earns over your exuberance for the coming couple decades – if you let it.

The key then is to not let it. The key is to let those wild dreams remain colourful, new and as vivid as they were. I don’t know how good I am at that but maybe that’s something to learn in the next 18.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Design Like the Chinese

I recently returned from working at the World University Games in Shenzhen, China. Many things blew me away during my visit but foremost were the incredible venues built for the 24 sports. With Edmonton's raging debate on the design possibilities of new downtown arena, I questioned whether we could ever produce here what they did in Shenzhen. My conclusion was a decisive no.

This is an image of the Universiade Centre which comprised the Athletics stadium (not seen here but same essential design), main basketball venue and swimming venue. Not only are they striking by their geometric design, at night they light up in an array of incredible colours. Walking through here day or night impressed upon me that you would never see this in North America. China's streamlined decision making, large budgets and desire to be globally admired and lauded makes this possible. Even with matching budgets, frankly this wouldn't happen here because we all have to have a say.

Our design by committee attitude has left North America essentially devoid of any venue remotely similar to what was seen in Shenzhen (yet another example is the "Cocoon"). We've created functional, sometimes cost-efficient buildings that are like our living rooms inside and often like stark office structures on the outside. Nothing that makes you want to look again and again like I did at Universiade. It's no wonder then that Edmontonians are nervous of what our new arena will look like.

We are our own worst enemy when it comes to design. It's not as though we don't have architects able to design incredibly diverse buildings but we don't let them. Most of us are not architects or urban planners with an eye and expertise for large scale design yet we tell them how to do their jobs. I'm not advocating for one party rule but we need to back off and let the experts do their work. Some of us will hate it, as some likely do of Shenzhen's venues, and many more of us will love it. That is the price paid for uniqueness. It's time for us in Edmonton to start shelling out. Much like the Chinese have.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Sporting Favourites

It’s the season for lists so I got thinking about my favourite live sports memories. I’ve been fortunate to see some pretty unique things so here are a few in no particular order. Please share yours as I’d love to hear them!

1997 Western Conference Quarter-Final, Game 3 - Oilers vs Stars

In their first playoff series since 1992, the Oilers trailed 3-0 with four minutes to go against the Stars, a team no one comes back on. Doug Weight got it going followed by Andrei Kovalenko then Mike Grier with the tying goal all in under 2 minutes. I jumped so high I nearly landed on the seat in front of me and from clapping my hands were the colour of Flames jerseys (who weren’t in the playoffs I should note!). Of course Kelly Buchberger’s OT winner didn’t hurt either. The most amazing comeback I’ve ever seen.

1986 CFL Western Final – Eskimos vs Lions

This was my first ever CFL playoff game. The Esks were hosting a playoff game for the first time since 1982, the last year of the five in a row dynasty. They had vaulted back to finish first in the west and were hosting the defending champion Lions. A large crowd, Marco Cyncar’s diving TD, snowball fights and fans carrying John Mandarich off the field were all highlights of my introduction to the CFL playoffs..

2001 World Championships in Athletics Opening Ceremony - August 3, 2001

Being on the organizing committee for the World’s was a lifelong dream come true so this whole day I was essentially on a cloud. In the men’s marathon, included for the first time in an opening ceremony, Gezahegne Abera from Ethiopia and Simon Biwott of Kenya were going so quickly they actually adjusted the ceremony to time their entrance into Commonwealth. After over 41 km, both runners literally sprinted into the stadium bringing 60,000 people jump to their feet in unison. It was an incredible athletic achievement coupled with great fan support that made this so special.

2010 Winter Olympics

As a self-described Olympics junky it was very exciting to be in Vancouver for a week last February. Having been to Vancouver many, many times, I’ve never seen the city so alive. No matter where you walked the energy of being games host was palpable everywhere. Yes, these events cost money but it’s hard to recreate the energy and emotion people feel and carry from them.

Wayne Gretzky’s 50th goal in 39 games – December 30, 1981

I was six years old when I was taken to this game with my mom, dad and grandpa. The five goals he scored that night were incredible but what I think was more amazing was the common belief leading up to the game that he legitimately could score five against the Flyers. This speaks not only to Gretzky’s ability but how dominant he was in that era. People also often forget that he scored four goals three nights earlier against the Kings to set up the possibility for 50 in 39. An amazing experience I can still envision today and a record that will never be broken.

2006 Stanley Cup Final, Game 6 – Oilers vs Hurricanes

This was perhaps the most complete game the Oilers played throughout their crazy playoff run. A decisive 4-0 win that night really gave the 16,839 people in the building the sense the Oilers were going to win the Cup. The thing I remember that night was that no one (me included) wanted to go home. The two month experience had been so enthralling that having the home portion over was sad despite the exhilaration. We just won’t talk about game 7.

2010 Men’s Olympic Hockey Gold Medal Game – Canada vs United States

I was fortunate enough to have had the opportunity to be one of the few in Canada Hockey Place that afternoon. The three street hockey games randomly occurring in the streets of Vancouver only added to the atmosphere. The energy in the building was unlike anything I’ve experienced as the sea of red surrounded the few, outnumbered Americans. With a script that must’ve been written by the Grimm brothers Sidney Crosby’s winning goal was the ultimate finish. It happened so fast many of us at the other end of the arena didn’t know what had taken place. What followed was jubilation everywhere that eventually made it the proudest, craziest celebration I have never seen. There were so many people with such vigour in one place at one time that it was truly remarkable.