The Cindy Klassen Recreation Complex on Sargent Avenue here in Winnipeg is named after a record-breaking Olympian. Cindy Klassen was a Winnipeg speed skater who won six Olympic medals, one gold, two silver and three bronze. When I was working as a columnist for the Winnipeg Free Press I had the opportunity to interview Cindy just after her first Olympic victory and found out there was much more to her life than speed skating.
I asked her what her favorite book was, and she replied without hesitation Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte. But she told me she had just begun reading the plays of Tennessee Williams and was thoroughly enjoying them. A true Canadian she named Blue Rodeo and Steve Bell as her favorite musicians.
Asked about highlights of her many travels as a speed skater she didn’t talk about achievements and competitions in those countries as one might have expected. Instead she enthusiastically described a visit to a Picasso exhibit in Italy, a cycling adventure through the streets of Berlin and the wonders of the architecture of Budapest, which next to Winnipeg, rated in Cindy’s books as the most beautiful city in the world. She also talked to me about how she liked to hang out at her family’s cottage. She loved fishing, water skiing and just enjoying nature.
Cindy was definitely a woman of faith. She told me she prayed before every race. She didn’t ask God to win but to do her best and she prayed for the safety of each competitor. Cindy told me that through the ups and downs of her skating career God had sustained her.
She was also really connected to her family. She talked to me excitedly about her brother and her two sisters and proudly listed their gifts and talents and achievements. I asked her where her competitive spirit came from and she told me perhaps she had inherited it from her Dad who used to race dragsters for the National Hot Rod Association. Cindy told me her Mom was her hero and role model. She says she aspired to someday become as kind, warm and loving a parent as her mother.
“I don’t like being the centre of attention”, Cindy told me during our interview. “I’m really very shy.” Of course, with all her Olympic success she was forced to learn to talk to the public and make public appearances, but it didn’t come naturally to her, although watching her do interviews after the Turin Games in 2006 where she won five medals you would never have known that she wasn’t full of confidence.
One couldn’t help but be impressed by her constant effort to turn attention away from herself. She was quick to acknowledge her teammates, her coaches and her family. She readily gave credit and praise for the encouragement, support and help she received from others.
It has been fifteen years since Cindy’s huge Olympic win and I wondered what Cindy was doing now. I found out from an article in the Calgary Herald that last year she was working as a police officer for the city of Calgary but was on maternity leave, because she had just given birth to a little girl named Phoebe.
After interviewing Cindy Klassen I was very impressed. She truly was a classy person. Even though she no longer lives in Winnipeg we have a lasting reminder of her in the city with the Cindy Klassen Recreation Complex.