Many great Canadian-team rowers have come out of Elk Lake, including numerous Olympic medallists. Two-time Olympian Douglas Vandor was never the starriest among national teamers during his 13 years training in Victoria. But when you ask at the lake about the most relentlessly driven athletes who have trained there, Vandor’s name is always mentioned. He admits he wasn’t the most talented athlete on the lake. But he made sure nobody outworked him.
The retired 46-year-old, who won eight World Cup and three world championship medals, has turned that determination and desire to a totally different calling with his children’s book Salmon on Toast (Tellwell Talent).
“I don’t have to use any muscles except the brain,” said the former lightweight sculler, who represented Canada in the 2008 Beijing and 2012 London Olympics.
Vandor’s interest in writing for children began when he was training on Elk Lake from 2001 to 2013, having moved out from his hometown of Ormstown, Que., to be centralized with the national team on the Island. Going from the physical to the cerebral was a tonic-like change of pace.
“It helped me escape from the hard work on Elk Lake. They were just silly little stories that rhymed but I got lost in the words,” said Vandor.
A hobby turned into a passion and now a vocation.
“Writing children’s books is not as easy as it seems,” said Vandor.
“It has a logic to it that is all its own.”
Vandor toyed with the idea of novel writing.
“I started a couple of novels but never had the time to finish them,” he said.
“I found it was easier to wrap my head around 32 pages than 500 pages.”
His two children, six-year-old Sophie and four-year-old Sammy, were further inspiration to delve into the world of children’s books.
“I read extensively in the field and found there are good books for children and some not so good,” said Vandor.
Vandor fell back on the oldest, and still best, advice for writers: Write about what you know. What Vandor knows about is the commitment it takes to be an Olympic athlete. A former speed skater, he didn’t start rowing until age 22, late by international standards. Vandor took up the sport on the Montreal Olympic rowing basin while earning a bachelor of science degree with honours in physiology in 1998 and a masters degree in science in experimental surgery in 2001. That was all before he uprooted his life to move to Victoria to pursue his Olympic dreams on the water.
“The storyline in the book is about perseverance and never giving up in your quest of the gold medal,” said Vandor.
“Pug the Slug’s medal is food and his favourite snack is salmon on toast. But he loses his opener, and can’t open the can of salmon, and so begins his quest.”
It also ties in with another of Vandor’s interests – he went to culinary school following his rowing career. He also stayed involved in sports as a chef of a different kind as the chef de mission, the term for leader, of the Canadian team to the 2019 Pan American Games in Lima, Peru. Vandor was also athletic services officer with the Canadian team at the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics.
“You can prepare for life after sports, but in some ways you can’t because you’ve never done it before,” said Vandor, who now resides on the Lower Mainland with his young family.
“It’s a death of a part of you but it transforms into something else.”
Like a slug named Pug looking for his favourite snack.
Salmon on Toast is available online at Amazon, Indigo and Barnes and Noble.