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The Journey From Personal Trauma to Olympic Star

01/31/2014 01:00 EST | Updated 04/02/2014 05:59 EDT

Sport is the great equalizer until you get to a certain point and then it costs a lot of money to get really good. And a lot of people drop out.

It is true that at the Olympic level, we are more than likely seeing athletes from well to do backgrounds competing, especially in the more cost intensive sports like skiing. Extreme skiier Kaya Turski wrote some really cool posts here at the HuffPost about her preparations for Sochi --

about mental preparation, overcoming injury, getting a synthetic knee.

Through it all she emphasized the support she had, and how without it she couldn't even consider going to the Olympics.

Now imagine if you had the talent and the drive but your home environment was toxic. That's why sport is so important. You can escape from horrible things by throwing yourself at your passion.

And it was with this in mind that I contacted a quite remarkable Olympian, Leah Pells. At one time she was ranked number one in the world in the 1500 metres. She went to three Olympics, missing out on a bronze medal in Atlanta by mere hundreths of a second. But perhaps her greatest acheivement was writing her book Not about the Medal.

The book details growing up with an alcoholic mother in Langley BC. And how she escaped her pain by running. An anecdote in her book really resonated with me. Leah came home one day to find a pile of household stuff on the front lawn. She knew what was up but didn't want her friends to know it was her alcoholic mother who was on a rampage. She told her friends to go home, that they had been robbed.

Even though it was a lie.

She covered up.

"My friends left, and I went inside," she writes in her book, "My mum was there quiet and distraught. She looked up at me, then somberly walked to her bedroom and shut the door. I was left there alone in the middle of disaster."

I knew that pain. My mother abused prescription drugs. One day I cam home and saw her rolling around on the living room floor, convulsing, her eyes rolled back in her head. This wouldn't be the last time I witnessed a scene like that. My escape was sports.

I was good at track and field, got to the Ontario Finals in three events. But my true love was soccer. And I kicked the ball around for as long and as often as I could. Leah Pells took the extraordinary step of writing about her struggles and her triumphs.

"My running was my escape from the trauma at home." she wrote me in an e-mail. "It was my freedom, so when I ran I was fully immersed in the act of running, nothing else was on my mind. It was the most amazing escape for me. It carried me through all those early years and to this day is my healing time."

Even though she competed in the summer Olympics, all athletes understand each other because of the common bond of having to immerse oneself completely into training and sacrifice.

"I can vividly remember how it feels to be in the last stages of Olympic preparation." Pells told me "You are hyper focused and all you think about is that peak performance."

Sounds almost exactly like Kaya Turski.

"Most athletes are after their own personal excellence, and that is measured in their performance" Pells continued. " Running is an individual sport, and that is always who I was running for, my own personal ceiling of excellence."

There was nothing more I wanted in the world than to be a professional soccer player. Got as far as the semi-pro National Soccer League that had some pretty good teams and some outstanding players. Even went to training camp in Orlando, Florida with the Toronto Blizzard. But the level between where I was and where the other players were was a big leap.

But I tried. It wasn't my calling. Television was. What I learned from Leah Pells is that she was able to transform her natural talents far beyond the track into a conciousness of self fulfillment.

And felt it important to share her story so that others could find some peace as well.

"Many athletes have personal traumas in their lives, it is what drives a large amount of athletes." continued her e-mail "When I startied talking about alcoholism and my book, I had so many old running friends get in touch to tell me their childhood was similar to mine."

The Olympic games have become something vastly different than mere competition. We all know that. But what we sometimes watch for are stories of personal triumph that inspire.

There will be lots of flag waving and national pride and talk of future endorsement possibilities.

But athletes are doing it for themselves, and sometimes just for their own peace of mind.

The sound of bark mulch and gravel crunching under my feet, the cold breeze on my cheeks and rippling through my hair, my breath settles into a comfortable rhythm. I start to shed the heavy layer of life with each passing stride, I become lighter and feel the pure joy of the beautiful life I have, compassion, empathy and love, my tank is full by the time I open the basement door. Happiness is who I am, what I feel and how my life is, yet those precious steps in the trees always remind me of the gift of this life and that happiness is the meaning of it all.

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