Jack Layton The Athlete Remembered
Jack Layton's in this picture somewhere.
Olympic swim coach Tom Johnson, a childhood buddy, says Layton's the guy with the glasses and the noseplugs. Perhaps, you can spot him (Personally, I didn't have any luck).
But Johnson has no trouble remembering Layton the athlete. Johnson and his twin brother Dave, who would also become an Olympic swim coach, grew up swimming and playing water polo with Layton starting in their hometown of Hudson, Que., and all the way up to the university level at McGill.
"He was tough," said Tom Johnson. "He was a guy who when he got the bit between his teeth and he wanted to do something, he could be pretty determined. I think that whole characteristic and personality trait that showed up in his political career was developed in his swimming career to a certain extent.
"The playing fields of Eton kind of thing. You learn those behaviours and you learn to persevere and you learn the tenacity and relentlessness you need to succeed. When you do a sport like swimming, you're looking at a freakin' black line most of the time but you're workin' inside your own head to try to work things out to make yourself better."
It was Layton who sent the picture to Johnson back in March, a memento of a great time in their lives. Asked if he had any favourite stories, Johnson laughed.
"Not that can I tell you," he said. "Just some really, really good times and hanging out together and doing some stupid things when we were young."
Layton was a freestyle and butterfly swimmer, a gritty guy who Johnson feels might have been a better athlete had he not got involved in high school politics.
"We had our head down thinking about sports," Johnson said. "And he probably had his head down thinking about school politics and girls, just like we did. He was a pretty charismatic guy. His Dad was a big influence on him and his grandfather and all of those guys. They had not an agenda, but certainly a legacy to live up to and he was attracted by that."
Johnson was worried for his friend when he saw a picture of him on the cover of Maclean's when he stepped down as leader of the NDP and the swim coach planned to get in touch with his old friend.
"It's pretty sad. I mean at the pinnacle of his political career and having achieved such great results in the recent past and to have life catch up to you is pretty devastating."