Silken Laumann knows what it's like to give your personal best in a burst of energy measured in a handful of minutes. She also knows what it's like to run against the clock.
Weeks before her race at the 1992 Olympics in Barcelona, the Canadian rower suffered devastating injuries when her scull collided with a German boat during a practice run.
Her leg was shattered to the point that the muscle hanging outside her flesh looked like a chunk of raw meat; doctors told her she would never row again.
But less than two months after her accident, Ms. Laumann, then the world champion, relied on inner strength as much as her years of training to row to a bronze medal finish.
In seven and a half minutes, she had turned her world around.
Today's challenge is to inspire others in even less time. As a We Day ambassador, Ms. Laumann has the task of making an impact on young people's lives in less than five minutes.
"That's all the time I've got, and it's a unique kind of pressure," says the three-time Olympian who will share her story of personal triumph at We Day Toronto before an audience of 20,000. She'll share the stage Thursday with other sporting legends including Magic Johnson and Pinball Clemons, music and movie celebrities such as Demi Lovato, Nick Jonas, Marlee Matlin and Nina Dobrev, and We Day founders Craig and Marc Kielburger.
"It's a big audience, and an audience of teenagers, where the aim is to affect a young person in just a small moment in time," Ms. Laumann continues. "It's a big responsibility."
To make sure it's a winning performance, Ms. Laumann, 50, will do what she used to do before a big race: "Say a little prayer that I can give my very best on that day."
Her very best will also include her very worst.
While growing up in Mississauga, Ms. Laumann suffered from depression and the eating disorder anorexia nervosa. She slept with her window open because she feared her mother would make true her threat to kill them both in the night.
"I had a mother with an undiagnosed mental illness," says Ms. Laumann from her seaside home in British Columbia. "I never knew what I was coming home to, a mother who would be raging or a mother who would be happy."
To cope with a turbulent home life, at a young age Ms. Laumann developed what she called a strong sense of self-determination.
As she writes in her 2014 autobiography, Unsinkable, it was a skill that came in handy once she decided to make competitive sport her escape.
But her willpower was also a weakness.
Ms. Laumann was so sure of her ability to fall back on herself that when she really did need help, she was afraid for a long time to ask for it.
The break up of her first marriage in 2002, when her kids were still small, pushed her to acknowledge that even Olympians need an outside hand sometimes, to see things through.
With the aid of counselling, Ms. Laumann has since risen above the more personal obstacles that previously had been weighing her down.
Today, she is happily remarried with four children – and another 20,000 more with whom she gladly shares her message of resilience. "I've had disappointments, but that's part of life," she says. "It's what makes us stronger."