BIFB side project: January, Angie Abdou, The Bone Cage

 The Bare it for Books Calendar, sold in support of PEN Canada, is chock full of naked Canadian authors who stare at me from my wall and keep track of all my social engagements. It only made sense to read a book by each author in the month they grace. Click here for more info.

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“She stayed because like a train on a track, it was easier to stay than to derail, easier to keep piling sticks on this structure than start building a new one. She swam because swimming was what she knew.”

The Bone Cage isn’t Angie Abdou’s most recent work, but given that Canadian athletes are on their way to Sochi RIGHT NOW it seemed extra appropriate to peruse a book on Canadian Olympians. The book flips between Sadie the swimmer and Digger the wrestler as they prep for the Sydney Games. The story for both starts as they qualify, aware they face about eight months of intensive training before the big competition.

Growing up, I played team sports; although they often involved intensive practice and yelly coaches, ultimately it was more about playing a game than individual training. I had no real aspirations for Olympic glory – I’ve always been content to watch the athletes who profess time and again the clichés about doing what they love and striving to be the best, and cheer for Canadian gold.

So this book gave me a new a perspective. Of course elite athletes face struggles, but the deep-seated uncertainty these characters display – particularly Sadie – about whether it’s all worth it is something I’d only superficially considered. I mean, of course it’s stressful and physically demanding and it seems kind of unfair that the rest of the country only pays attention to you and your sport once every four years unless you’re also employed on a professional hockey team. And sure there’s lot of sacrifice involved, so for someone like Digger’s teammate Ben, who misses out on qualifying, I can understand the heartache.

But the impression I think many people (myself included) have is that all elite athletes aspire to Olympic opportunity and once achieved they will revel in it. And apparently, it’s not so simple, which makes sense because sport is one thing and life is another and if one consumes the other then what do you do when one of them ends?

That’s something both Sadie and Digger are struggling with, as they approach what they know will be their final appearance on the world stage. “What’s next?” looms large, and this book addresses the question more so than the answer, at first abstractly and then in a more jarring fashion.

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