My Team Canada Jersey

b y Priscila Uppal

A couple of weeks before boarding the Vancouver-bound plane for my gig as Canadian Athletes Now’s poet-in-residence during the 2010 Olympic and Paralympic games, I had the idea to head over to the Hockey Hall of Fame and buy myself a Team Canada jersey. At first I thought of the jersey as regular fan attire, but when customization was an option, I thought it would be a great opportunity to identify myself to the athletes and their families in the CanFund Athlete House, so I asked for the moniker POET to be stitched on the back. — Collapse

Over the next 17 days of essentially living, writing, drinking, eating, dancing, conducting business, and celebrating in the Athlete House, I started to ask the athletes who took the poetry postcards or asked for hard copies of favourite poems if they wouldn’t mind signing my jersey. What started off as a handful of signatures ballooned into over 120 signatures by Olympians—winter, summer, past, present—by the end of the games. Athletes in the house started seeking me out by my jersey, and when I attended live sporting events, spectators stopped me to praise my outfit, decipher names, and even to ask if I was “that poet” they’d heard on CBC reciting sport haiku. Many people have hinted that my jersey must be worth quite a pretty penny too.

I couldn’t bear to part with my jersey. I’ve worn it a couple of times since to read poetry to raise money for athletes, and also as an “Own the Podium” good-luck charm when I participated in the Now Poetry Open Stage competition to win a spot in this year’s International Festival of Authors in Toronto (I was indeed offered an invitation). In fact, I still feel inspired to write poetry and hug an athlete every time I look at the ink calligraphy my shirt has become. Some of my favourite signatures include: about half the women’s hockey team, including Hayley Wickenheiser, Jennifer Botterill, and Gillian Apps; speed skaters Jeremy Wotherspoon, the Gregg siblings, François Hamelin, Lukas Maykowski, and Susan Auch; nearly all the members of the Men’s 8 Rowing who won gold in Beijing; our amazing bobsledders, including gold medallists Kaillie Humphries and Heather Moyse; our perfect ice dancers, Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir; curling rock star Jon Morris; my dear friend Ann Peel, who I believe still holds the world record for racewalking a mile (5:56); Mr. Helmut (the oldest Olympian to sign my jersey—he participated in 1936 in figure skating); and my one non-Canadian exception, Jeremy Roenick, who read several of my hockey poems, turned to me and said, “You’re deep, aren’t you?”

As a writer, I have enjoyed the privilege at launches and readings of being asked for my own signature on books and magazines and anthologies. But I must admit, it was a special thrill at a recent Olympian fundraising event, where I read the women’s hockey poem I composed in their honour, to be asked by fans and athletes alike to sign their own shirts and jerseys. Looks like I made the team!

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