On July 27, 1952, at the XV Olympiad in Helsinki, Finland, an American canoeist named Frank Havens won a gold medal and set a new world record in the men’s C-1 10,000-meter competition in canoeing. The C-1 event is raced by single-man sprint canoes, and Havens’ record-breaking time was 57:41.1. The race lasted nearly an hour—but it had actually started many, many years before.
Frank’s father, Bill Havens Sr., was also a canoeist. He was set to compete in the 1924 Olympics, alongside Olympic legends such as swimmer Johnny Weissmuller, who would go on to movie fame as Tarzan, and rower Benjamin Spock, who became Dr. Spock, author of “Baby and Child Care,” one of the best-selling books of all time. These were the games made famous in the film “Chariots of Fire.”
In 1924, when Bill Havens Sr. discovered that his wife was pregnant with their second child and that the birth would likely happen during the 1924 Olympic Games, he withdrew from the team, choosing family over the Olympics. Son Frank was born on August 1, 1924—96 years ago this week.
Frank and his older brother, Bill Jr., grew up canoeing, and both competed in the 1948 Olympics. Frank surprised everyone when he came home from those London games with a silver medal in the solo 10,000-meter event.
In 1952, Frank was back for the Helsinki games, and this time he struck gold as a winner and world record holder. In a telegram that he sent to his father, Frank wrote: “Dear Dad, thanks for waiting around for me to get born in 1924. I’m coming home with the gold medal you should have won. Your loving son, Frank.”
For Bill Havens Sr. it was the proof that the decision he had made 28 years earlier was the right one. The commitment made in 1924 by the father was perfected in 1952 by the son.
Frank is still the only American canoeist to win gold in a solo single blade event.
The choices we make and the commitments we keep make a difference—in the short term and in the long race. Often, time adds significance to the commitments that we keep, even if it takes years to see their value and meaning.