Waneek Horn-Miller On Aging: I’m Lucky To Come From A Culture That Values Elders

"That helps me a lot," says the 43-year-old former Olympian. "My mother and my culture have taught me that my body is sacred."

I often think back to what my body could do when I was 24. At that point I was co-captain of the Canadian water polo team and training six hours a day. I was about 165 pounds of muscle and could bench-press almost my body weight. I didn’t have a six-pack—I had an eight-pack.

My body changed drastically when, at age 34, I had the first of my three kids.

With each one I’d gain some 70 pounds, even though I exercised up until two weeks before giving birth, doing spinning classes and weight- lifting. My feet changed and flattened, and my hips moved. I’ve since got my muscle tone back, but there are only so many times a stomach can stretch out and in. It definitely is not anything I hide at the beach. I’m proud of my stretch marks—they’re part of my history, proof of what I’ve accomplished.

I’m working on embodying the aging process. My life used to be so focused on how my body performed, and now I’m pulled in many directions and toward other goals. I still play water polo competitively, but it’s all about having a good time and seeing young athletes fall in love with the sport I love. After the Olympics, I spoke with Indigenous communities all over Canada about all the interconnected threads in my life: sport and the Olympics, my involvement in the Oka dispute as a teen, and dealing with the stress and trauma from being stabbed in the chest by a bayonet during the standoff. I’ve since created the Eagle Spirit Camp at McGill University for Indigenous youth from around the country to experience sports and academics; and I’ve worked with the Assembly of First Nations on their IndigenACTION initiative to help look at the state of sport in Indigenous communities. And right now I’m completing my master’s degree in Indigenous studies and kinesiology at UBC.

I’m lucky to come from a culture that values elders. That helps me a lot, just looking at these women as they age. My mother, Kahn-Tineta Horn, is almost 80, and I see pictures of her in the 1960s, when she was working as a model, and she was just stunning, drop-dead gorgeous. She’s one of those people who walks into the room and glows with a certain something.

As a single mom, she tried to show me and my sisters how to be healthy, active and successful—she was always doing yoga and running 10Ks around Ottawa.

My mother and my culture have taught me that my body is sacred. It’s the one thing you truly own in life. I try to honour and cherish it, take care of it and feed it well.

I still lift weights, run and swim five times a week. I love the feeling of my muscles working. It’s a feeling of being free, weightless and centred—powerful.

Read more from our aging series—which also features Jann Arden, Marilyn Denis and Elaine Lui—here.