8:40: After a wrong turn and rush hour traffic I made it to Alex’s office. Unassuming, it looked like they had just moved in. Alex was hired to run the Summer Own the Podium program. The mandate is to assist Canadian Sporting bodies to ensure more Canadian athletes get on the podium at the Olympics.
We head to a well lit room with comfortable leather couches with our coffees. I get set up with my voice recorder while Alex asks a few questions about the details for the launch on June 16th… “Just let me know what you want me to do.” From our first conversation, Alex made it clear that he will support this project however he can. He seems to go out of his way to remind me of this. With the voice recorder running we settle into a conversation about; Roman, his family, swimming, preparing for the Olympics, Roman’s suicide, immigrating to Canada (Sudbury), Ashton (Alex’s son, 16), Tabatha (Alex’s daughter, 13), Tracey (Alex’s wife), his coach and surrogate father Jeno Tihanyi. The conversation reminds me of that with Chris Verajez many years ago in Banff, Alberta.
Alex’s body language talked about his challenge with growing up with such a structured (Czechozlovakia) family and the expectations that were put on him by his father, who was an intellectually brilliant, well read academic. He was a professor of Sociology at Laurentian University. At times, Alex’s movements made me feel more comfortable with my difficulties that I sometimes have when talking about my dad.
“He jumped off Niagara Falls.” Alex talked about how he believes that Roman was drawn to the falls in an intellectual way. Some of Roman’s friends at McMaster talked to Alex about visiting the Falls with Roman and that he took an unusual interest. Prior to his death, Roman was doing his Masters in Sociology, like that of his father. This was a time that Roman and his father were establishing a strong adult relationship that was based in shared intellectual interests.
Although there were eight years between Alex and Roman, they were close. The family bond was made close with; immigrating to New Zealand for two years and then on to Canada, as well as the language barrier. When Alex began to talk swimming, I could feel how strong his relationship was with Roman and the mentor that Roman was. Roman was 16 years old (quite old in the swimming world) when he began competitive swimming. With a new swimming pool at Laurentian U, a new swim club, and “Dad teaching at the university,” we both jumped in. At eight years old, Alex remembers the joy of splashing around in the pool.
I like this part…Alex says, “I quickly progressed to the senior group so we got to be together a lot more,” training twice a day for two hour sessions and travelling to swim meets. Despite starting at 16, Roman became nationally ranked and was named Athlete of the Year for three consecutive years. Roman continued swimming at McMaster.
This was a special time when Alex talked about his relationship with Roman. He would smile like he just put on a warm comfortable sweater. In contrast, when he talked about his father there was order, structure and expectations…he would even sit up straighter when he spoke of his father. When he spoke of Roman his feet were up on the table and clearly comfortable.
“My mom, when I looked up in the stands I saw her, and I remembered the birthday card that Roman sent me, April 21, 19890 (also the day he died), it read ‘Good luck in your swimming career.’” Alex’s answer to “What were you thinking when you hit the wall with a gold medal and world record?” “It was actually about five metres away from the wall that I knew I did it and that all of the pressure was over with.”
I have to say that it was so cool to be sitting there with Alex Baumann while he talked enthusiastically about the details and how he felt before, during and after each of his races in Los Angeles.
I asked him to tell me about his Mom. “She never really recovered. She became somewhat of a recluse.” When lived in Australia, Alex met Tracey during a meet in Australia in, I believe, 1982. After living in Canada together while Alex finished University they returned to Australia. Alex’s mom moved with them and lived two doors down. “We would see each other almost every day. It was really nice.” Alex’s heart would seem to fall when he spoke about the difficulty that his mother had in dealing with Roman’s suicide.
After about an hour I not only felt I had a good understanding of how Roman’s suicide changed Alex’s life…I felt honoured to get to know who Alex Baumann really is and what is important to him. As I looked at the recorder, I saw the word “Error.”
The recorder didn’t get ANY of our conversation.
How angry I was, I can’t describe. I then set up for a few head shots of Alex. There weren’t really any good spots outside so I used the boardroom. I’m not too impressed with the shots but they will work for the website. I left with such a good feeling of the morning, but incredibly angry with no recording.