Leland Guillemin transitioned from competitive hockey to fencing in his mid teens. He fell in love with the sport and the individual aspect of fencing, where he was in control of the outcome of his match and he did not have to rely on the team performance. In order to continue fencing after high school, he went to SIAST and graduated in 2009 with a diploma and then started pursuing fencing more intensely. After competing in Berlin and finishing in the top 16 at a tournament, he began to believe he could be someone in the sport. He received funding, started doing strength and conditioning training and started seeing a dietitian. By 2013, he was consistently in the top 8 in Canada on the Senior Circuit. He met his wife in 2010 and they were married in 2014 and she supported him and contributed to his success along with many others in his village of supporters including his coach and parents.
Leland shares on this podcast that he had an underlying belief that he could be the best in the world and that is what pushed him to continue in the sport and strive to make the Olympic team. With this goal in mind, he trained 6 days a week at least 8 hours per day and then rested on his off day. He became a national champion in 2015. Then in 2016, he competed in a qualifying tournament in Moscow for the individual fencing event at the Rio Olympics. Unfortunately, on the first day of competition, he met a three time Olympic champion and even though he felt throughout the match that he would win, it was not his day and he failed to qualify. Despite being supported by his wife, parents and coach, Leland talks about the toll the loss of this dream took on his mental health. He felt he had failed himself and all those who had supported him. For a year he struggled with depression before he sought professional help.
With the encouragement of his wife, Leland indicates he started counselling and sharing the story of what he had been through. Through this process, it became clear to him he had not failed anyone and rather than receiving negative reactions, he received an outpouring of love. Other athletes contacted him and indicated they had gone through similar journeys. Leland states often in the pursuit of excellence in your sport you can lose sight of everything else going on in the world and other parts of your identity. He wished he had taken time to celebrate the small victories along the way.
Leland closes this episode, by offering two pieces of advice. Whatever you are going through, know that you are not alone and reach out to people who have travelled through the same journey or are professionals that can help. Second, find love in what you are doing and if you don’t love it, make a change.
Leland has now retired from the sport of fencing and is pursuing a degree in Nutrition at the U of S. He chose this as a career because he found the help he received from a Registered Dietitian as he pursued his goal, was vital to his improvement in the sport. He and his wife have one son and he is finding being a father incredibly rewarding. Making the decision to retire was not an easy one, but in order to pursue other life goals it was the right one for him and his wife.
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