Claire Carver Dias is many things: novelist, business coach and mother of four beautiful kids. Oh, and an Olympic bronze medalist. Yes, you heard right. The former synchronized swimmer took home a bronze medal at the 2000 Olympic Games for Canada, which obviously makes us feel a little insecure about the “Most Improved Player” trophies we’ve been holding onto since high school. Her award-winning novel, The Games, is a delicious read about the often dark behind-the-scenes “games” that athletes and coaches get tangled up in as the Olympics approach. We caught up with Dias to find out about her best advice for young Olympians at Sochi 2014, her novel, and skincare and haircare advice for swimmers…
Give us a snippet about you. What should people know?
I am a mother of four, business coach, writer and former synchronized swimmer. The last part is not an attempt at a joke either. I won a bronze medal at the 2000 Olympic Games, in a sport that combined my love of music, dance and sport. Since retiring from competition in 2002, I’ve found my artistic outlet in writing and my competitive outlet in the world of business. I’m still looking for a suitable fitness outlet, but for now, trudging through the snow with my children will have to suffice.
You have an Olympic bronze medal. What was the experience of winning it like?
As I’ve done hundreds of motivational talks over the years, I think I’ve built up a great deal of mythology around the experience of winning and receiving my Olympic medal. Yes, those were nice moments, but I think that the real tears and joy came at the very end of the performance, before we received our marks and knew we had medalled. As the music ended, Canadian flags waved and the crowd applauded, I felt an intense sense of satisfaction and pride that my teammates and I had done our job in the pool and had done it well. That minute could not be beaten by the ensuing moments of winning the medal and standing on the podium.
Where do you keep it? And do you ever wear it from time to time? (Please say yes!)
I used to keep my medals in a box in my basement, but a few years ago in a moment of existential angst (okay, so I’m exaggerating), I hung it up in a frame on my office wall to motivate me. Truth is, I rarely look at it, unless I’m taking it out for a speaking event. I wear it at those speaking gigs. It is a lovely accessory, nonetheless, if not a little over-the-top.
You wrote a novel. Can you tell us more about it and how writing it came about?
Every Olympic season, we rally around our country’s athletes and gather around the TV to watch “The Big Show.” While we cheer on those who have made it, we forget the hundreds (if not thousands) who spent thousands of dollars and hours to make it to the Games, but failed to make the cut. I wrote the novel to explore my interest in the extreme and potentially destructive behind-the-scenes “games” that athletes and coaches play in the lead up to the Olympics, than the actual quadrennial event itself. The narratives of the magnificently (and rather blindly) dedicated Olympians and their coaches are juxtaposed with the story of an aspiring terrorist. Of course.
With Sochi coming up, what is your best advice to young Olympians?
If you plan to create a scrapbook of memorabilia and newspaper clippings, do it immediately upon your return. I put off creating one for myself after the 2000 Olympics, and, well, it’s now 2014, and still there is no scrapbook. But now for the serious advice: The best Olympic moments will be the least expected ones. Remember those. You will be telling your Olympic stories for the rest of your life, so try to capture the unexpected gems (and take full advantage of the free spa services available in the athletes’ village!).
What’s your best advice to aspiring novel writers?
Avoid telling anyone that your book “is almost finished.” Chances are, when you think you’re nearing the publishing finish line, you still have a long way to go. Uphill.
What’s next for you? Any projects on the horizon?
Right now, I’m focusing on my family and my coaching work. I’ve written a chunk of a sequel to The Games, and I plan to resurrect those efforts at some point, just not now. I would also like to write a business book about coaching… eventually.
What are three things you can’t live without?
Air, water, and relationships…. Or, my passport, my MacBook, and my Nespresso machine.
What is your favourite restaurant and why?
It’s hard to select just one. I guess it depends with whom I am dining. If I’m eating with my four lovely (but very noisy) kids in the suburbs, I stick to the ever-reliable and affordable Swiss Chalet (which my children have nicknamed “Swishy-donkles” for some unknown reason). For a night on the town with my husband or friends, I like to try places I’ve never previously been. My recent faves are dinner at The Chase on Temperance for both the food and the décor (I finished every last morsel of my pan roasted Artic Char and baby kale, while admiring the light fixtures and stroking the inconceivably soft leather banquette); and lunch at Swish by Han on Wellington (for the sizzling hot clay pot of Bi Bim Bap).
As a person who dedicated countless hours to the pool, what’s your best skincare and haircare advice to other swimmers?
Always, always, always shampoo your hair when you finish your swim. The chlorinated water can really dry out and damage hair, so I often applied a little extra conditioner, and carefully combed out my hair afterwards. The chemicals in the pools where I trained did a number on my sensitive skin, so I had to find a cream that would help moisturize without causing me to break out. My go-to skin cream became Neutrogena Moisture, an oil-free hypoallergenic facial cream. It is light and refreshing, and I still use it daily.
One little known fact about synchro swimmers is that we brush concentrated amounts of unflavoured gelatin on to our hair when we compete, in order to keep it slicked securely back and out of our faces. Although, this practice of “gelling” hair back is the most detested part of participating in synchro, once the gelatine is washed out (with very hot water) after the competition, you notice that your hair is much softer and healthy-looking.