Don’t be hesitant in life, and instead, place yourself in difficult environments to see how you perform. You might just be surprised, said Olympic gold medalist and Canadian sport advocate Roger Jackson.
“(During my training for the Olympics), every day, rain or shine, rough water, cold water, we had to be on the water and perform,” Jackson said. “We were asked to do more than we thought we could ever do – but we could do it. I learned many lessons from that experience.”
Jackson spoke to graduates from Huron University College, the Faculty of Health Sciences and School of Graduate & Postdoctoral Studies at the Tuesday, June 16, afternoon session of Western’s 305th Convocation.
Western conferred an honorary Doctor of Laws, honoris causa (LLD), upon Jackson in recognition of his distinguished career in sport and academics.
Jackson spoke lovingly of his time at Western during his lecture, crediting the institution with opening his “eyes to all the exciting opportunities and experiences you can have in this world.”
In 1960, it was on Western’s campus where he found his passion for science, and, specifically, exercise physiology, as well as the place where he first saw a sign advertising rowing team try-outs. Come out, the sign beckoned, desire is the only prerequisite. That desire has continued to serve him well to this day, he said.
Jackson, represented Canada in rowing at three Olympic Games, beginning with Tokyo (1964) where he won a gold medal in the pair-oar event with George Hungerford.
The gold medal is only a small sampling of Jackson’s distinguished career. After graduating Western, his studies took him to the University of British Columbia for graduate work, and to Denmark for postdoctorate training. He returned to Canada and in the 1970s, started his career by directing Canada’s federal sports programming.
In 1978, Jackson took on the role of dean at the University of Calgary’s fledgling Faculty of Physical Education, an entity he bolstered, raising nearly $100 million in support and bringing in hundreds of graduate students and researchers during his decade on campus. He is the founding director of the university’s Sports Medicine Centre. Upon his retirement, the university named the research complex the Roger Jackson Centre for Health and Wellness Research.
Between 2005-10, Jackson chaired Own The Podium, the national initiative to prepare Canadian athletes for the 2010 Olympic and Paralympic Games in Vancouver. Canadian athletes won a record number of gold medals at those Games.
“At first, this new concept of uncompromisingly striving for excellence turned out to be controversial – they said it was arrogant, unCanadian, too American, inhospitable to our visiting athletes. But it worked,” he said. “Canadians were also terribly proud of how the athletes achieved their goals – with fair play, humility, courage, focus and commitment.”
He continued, “The negative comments turned completely around. As the Games closed, many media outlets cried out that Canada needed more programs like Own The Podium, more programs striving for excellence in all areas of our society.”
Jackson has served as president of the Canadian Olympic Association, chairman of the Canadian Centre for Ethics in Sport, a leader of the Calgary Olympic Winter Games, and chairman of the National Music Centre. He is an Officer of the Order of Canada, a member of the Alberta Order of Excellence, a recipient of both the Canadian and International Olympic Committee (IOC) Olympic Orders, a co-recipient of the Lou Marsh trophy as Canada’s Outstanding Athlete, and twice a member of Canada’s Sports Hall of Fame, as an athlete and as a builder.
In her citation, Kinesiology professor Angela Schneider said Jackson has always looked for ways to give back to sport, to the academy and to fellow athletes.
“Roger has lived and worked his values and ideals. He has earned a number of awards and distinctions – he truly believes in sport, in good sports – and the way it can transform young people’s lives. He has worked tirelessly to promote and support good sport,” she said.
“He has made an impact on artistic experiences for audiences regionally, provincially, nationally and internationally, and has done so from the passion he has for the arts. His career has been one of commitment with a sense of generosity and honesty, which compels us to honor him today,” Schneider added.
Jackson concluded with a parting wish for graduates, most the same age as he was when he headed out to pursue his Olympic dreams.
“With your degrees now finished, and mostly unencumbered by life’s responsibilities, this is a rare opportunity for you to stretch yourself. Search out new ideas and opportunities, and work extremely hard to capitalize on those,” he said. “You may not achieve your goal, and I have often found that out, but the attempt itself has enormous value for you and your development. Canada needs you to be your best.”
Also during the ceremony, Huron University College Philosophy professor Steve Bland received the Huron Faculty of Arts and Social Science Teaching Award. Mustang student-athlete Steven Takahashi received the G. Howard Ferguson Award. The title of professor emeritus was conferred upon Kinesiology professor Robert LaRose.