Maclean’s preview: Silken Laumann’s shocking secret

In this issue of Maclean’s, the Olympian opens up about her dark childhood, anorexia, cutting and her abusive mother


Silken Laumann is one of Canada’s most decorated rowers, a multiple medallist whose leg was ripped apart in a devastating boat collision in 1992. She famously came back just 10 weeks and multiple operations later to win a bronze medal for Canada at the Barcelona Olympics. After retiring from the sport, she’s built a successful career as a writer and motivational speaker.

But her uplifting message of overcoming obstacles with positive thinking, mental strength and courage hid a darker truth. Her middle-class childhood in Mississauga, Ont., was ravaged by a poisonous and abusive relationship with a beautiful, mercurial mother. Seigrid Seideman Laumann’s unpredictable rages, her daughter believes, were rooted in the trauma of her childhood in wartime Germany. Silken’s life was filled with fear, anger and self-loathing, manifested in depression, anorexia and other forms of self-harm—damage that carried into adulthood.

The Olympian chronicles the hard road to a happy, healthier life for herself and her family in Unsinkable, her frank new memoir.

“We all have our bumps and bruises, the things that we’re hiding,” Laumann tells Maclean’s. “I’m here to tell you that asking for help, being more open with your experiences, seeking support, is worth it.”

Read the full interview with Laumann, and an exclusive excerpt from Unsinkable in the latest issue of Maclean’s. Look for it on newsstands starting Thursday, or in our digital edition.

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Maclean’s preview: Silken Laumann’s shocking secret

  1. I can sympathise with Silken – used to date a woman, whose step-mother was from Germany – a totally abusive nut.

    • I was also raised by parents who were personally affected by the war in Germany. As a little kid, it was so difficult to understand why they were so abusive. They are both gone now and as an adult I can better understand where they were coming from. War is hell. They both suffered and took it out on us.

      • With regard to german parents and child abuse, it goes much deeper than “the war.” If you have not seen the film, “The White Ribbon,” please do. It explains a lot.

  2. Nice story.
    It takes tremndous courage, anf fortitude to still growup “normal”, when raised by abusive parent(s).
    She really is an Olympian just for accomplishing that. Good for you Silken, and all the best.

  3. I’ll look forward to reading the book.

  4. Try having an abusive, alcoholic stepfather who ran away from home at 16 and spent 10 years in the military becoming the meanest prick he could be. Unfortunately he never got to fight in a war. He fought his war against me, a defenseless child…

    • This comment was deleted.

      • I agree we have to move beyond our past – develop some acceptance and compassion for the twisted, damaged abusers to become more mature and learn to live in the now. That takes the kind of determination of a Silken Laumen, but the only way to live without multiplying the damage

      • ED+ES: LD did not say that his failings in life were b/c of the abuse he suffered. He just said he suffered abuse. … unless you consider getting beaten up by your dad to be an example of “whe life didn’t turn out like they wanted”.

    • The war he fought was probably the same one you had. That was why he left at 16. We as parents make our kids. They are a reflection of you. If you don’t like what you see in your kids -best look in a mirror.

  5. Kudos to Silken for speaking out her truth.

  6. I used to date a woman from Germany who said she was certain her mother had killed her sister, and felt sure she was next, until she was able to live separately from her mother.

  7. I just read this full article. Thank you. It was like re-visiting my own childhood and subsequent eating disorders, fueled by an endless quest to be “perfect.” Silken Laumann is correct: Ask for help and be open. Support IS available. The bullies don’t have to win.

  8. I can empathize with Silken, I had a mother who very cruel. When I was 5 years old she stood me on a chair, look all my cloths off and beat me with a belt and didn’t stop till

    she hit me in the privates and I fell off the chair. Stress precedes illness. I ended up in

    Riverdale hospital for 2 week with scarlet fever. I ended up in psychotherapy for 5 years. I came to realize she had a bigger problem then I did. Family.

  9. Of course she is speaking out…it’s Olympic time and she craves the attention.

    Get in line girl, most of us had tough parents to deal with growing up and they have become even tougher as they get older.

    No storey, just publicity.

    • There’s a vast difference between “tough” parents & abusive parents.

      • You rock ;)

    • You sir, are part of the problem with an un-supportive attitude to others who have suffered from serious trauma in society. You are harsh and even cruel to a person making up negative stories about them that are totally unsubstantiated who is coming through a dark tunnel of healing by bearing up and exposing her very soul in it’s suffering. I’m sure she didn’t need your cutting remarks and the world doesn’t agree with you at all. it takes a lot of work and hard facing up to do to write a book that will eventually help to heal others What have you suffered that makes you so hard? Take a good look at your own pain and where it comes from. It’s all about forgiveness. This book may even help you someday.

      • Oprah?…is that you?

        It would seem that you are more upset than I am…although, there is one thing that troubles me…why does anyone with a taste of fame always need to validate themselves in the public eye?

        • Validation is an integral step for ANYONE healing from abuse.

        • Validation in an integral step for any person who is healing from abuse. Realize, many of us were called “liars” and “crazy” by our abusers. As far as fame goes? It’s simply a platform that some use for good. Some not so much. I congratulate Silken.

          • Healing with the help of a publishing company, an agent, and a marketing campaign?!?…I disagree.

            You folks who see this as healing not ego should get together and hold hands when CBC makes a movie about this.

          • Validation comes in many forms. Judge less. Love more. Be well.

      • guest, I agree with what you have written to mirnamirna. What a cynical and awful outlook you have. You should be ashamed of yourself “mirnamirna” pfffft of course someone. With your cynicism would have “007” behind your ID!

        Self centered & no 007? You need to become in touch with life – maybe volunteer at a shelter or soup kitchen. You are awful in plain English..

  10. We realy need to stop buying into this cult of celebrity, these athletes arent any better or worse than us, theyre just put on a pedestal so we dont pay attention to real issues,

    • Child abuse is a real issue.

  11. Silken’s Mother was not a nut like some of you might find it so easy to think nor is Silken after notoriety. she has already established that long ago in her amazing accomplishments. Her mother was simply a person broken to the core by a brutal regime of psychopathic violence and murder. She was a victim of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. It now actually has a name and no one knew what it was back then, or how it jumps with evil down the generations and destroys the lives of their beloved but traumatized children. Many living still today in Canada are sufferers of broken parents Who suffered P.T.S.D. from the war and still have not yet received counselling for it. I’m not condoning the behaviour either but we are all victims of war for even if one of us is broken in a theatre of war- so too, are we all. The Canadian Army still is faltering in it’s task to support it’s troops even now for this but things are changing slowly and steadily as these realizations come to the forefront..
    Congratulations! to you Silken for prevailing and living a life full of Healing, Bravery and Courage. You, wonderful girl, are a shining star! We all in Canada are proud of you, very very proud of you! Be strong and know that we love you from all our hearts command. And, Let us all pray for healing for her Mother as well, and all the other suffering people terribly traumatized still by war even now. May they too get the help that they so badly need before they visit their unbearable pain on their children too and the pain goes on and on from what was done to them. Let us all realize it and support them, understand them, and stop the terrible cycle now world wide as there are more wars and genocide than ever,and May Peace Reign.Supreme over war everywhere. Imagine there’s no countries…and pray all of us together.

    • I agree that “nut” is an unacceptable term and you may well be correct about PTSD. But unless you know Silken Laumann’s mother personally, you, nor anyone, has the right to “diagnose” her. Perhaps she suffers from a personality disorder(s)? We don’t know.

  12. Silken who? This woman’s fifteen minutes of fame was over twenty years ago.
    What has she done lately besides hanging out dirty laundry.

  13. I grew up during the war I remember my hometown being bombed on mar 17 1945 all of downtown was destroyed no factories or military bases got hit.the fighters for freedom only killed woman and kids I am lucky to survive with my grandmother and grandfather,but I never had a problem like this either with my parents or grandparents.

    • You are fortunate.

  14. I agree the timing is definitely opportunistic with the Olympics beginning in a couple of weeks. Suspect the publisher had more to do with it than the author.

  15. No doubt, even many Gentiles who grew up in Nazi Germany, like Ms. Laumann’s mother, did suffer PTSD. But many simply chose to be evil. And remain so.

    Case in point: my own mother.

    She grew up in a rather privileged household, because my Grandfather owned his own small factory. She admits she was spoiled by him. She’s also a blue-eyed blonde, and there is considerable documentation that young “aryan” women like that were showered with adulation by many German institutions during the 1930s and 1940s. According to my Uncle, my mother was no stranger to such adulation.

    She was part of the “Jungmädelbund”, and to this day (she’s almost 90), she acts like she’s still in it. She carries this almost genetic built-in air of superiority about her. She’s been in Canada more decades than she lived in Germany, yet she still ridicules and mocks many aspects of Canadian life. And she treats with scorn what she sees as a weak Canadian work ethic. While never missing a chance to pat herself on the back at what a tremendous worker she was.

    And she beat us.

    My childhood was lived in fear; even until my late teens. From one day to the next you would worry what kind of physical abuse you were going to suffer at my mother’s hand.

    She was (and is) nothing less than an abusive narcissist. And here’s the kicker: SHE HAS NO EXCUSE. I do not buy the PTSD argument with my mother. There was nothing ‘traumatic’ in her German experience. She started out life as a privilege bully, and she CHOSE to bring that evil with her to Canada.

    So yeah, I accept that PTSD explains some of the evil you see in some German-Canadians who lived through WWII. But I don’t buy it in the case of my mother.

    In her case, she wants it that way.