Q&A: How Olympian Adam van Koeverden kayaked his way to Parliament

Q&A: How Olympian Adam van Koeverden kayaked his way to Parliament

He’s back in the spotlight as a Liberal MP, with plans to make a splash in Ottawa

This time last year, you were living the blessed life of a retired Olympian—signing autographs and occasionally glancing at your many medals. And then you decided to enter the often nasty world of politics. How come?
For one, I don’t think it needs to be nasty. And two, I don’t like doing easy things. I enjoyed representing Canadians at the Olympics, and I yearned for the sense of doing something bigger than myself again. There are a lot of people I admire in public service, and I saw an opportunity to use my platform in a positive way.

What did you do between the Olympics and politics?
I worked at Deloitte, where I managed their wellness programs, I travelled a lot—I climbed Kilimanjaro, went to Madagascar and Tanzania for charity—and I thought about politics every so often.

When did you decide to run?
In September 2018, during a bike trip to New York City. My friend and I were both considering career transitions. We would ride 100 miles then stop and have a beer and talk about what we’d do when we got home. I got back, quit Deloitte and launched my campaign.

Was it a given that you were going to run as a Liberal?
Yes. Believe it or not, I was approached by the Conservatives more than once to run for them. I was like, Have you met me? Do you think I could look my female friends in the face and say I’m going to run for a party leader who doesn’t believe in reproductive rights? Or tell my gay friend I’m going to run for a party that doesn’t support his rights?

Let’s talk about your Olympic-branded jean jacket. You campaigned in it and it became a social-media phenomenon. Was that intentional?
It’s so silly. It was fall, so I put on something warm and comfortable, and it turned into a thing. There was no branding effort. At one point, I looked at my Instagram account, which one of my campaign people was managing. I suggested that there was too much jean jacket; he said, “I think it’s working.” Look, I’m not going to canvass in a blazer. I want to be casual and relate to my neighbours. And it’s not like I went door-to-door with my medals!

When you were door-knocking in Milton, was Justin Trudeau an asset or a liability?
It varied. A lot of people said they loved him; some, though not a lot, said, “I would vote for you but not for Justin.” All told, I had more than 12,000 conversations. I was chased off doorsteps and invited in for pizza and everything in between.

The last time you were interviewed by this magazine, in 2014, you were living in Queen West and hanging out in Trinity Bellwoods.
That’s right. I moved downtown from north Oakville, near Milton, for career opportunities. I paddled on the breakwall every morning, and on weekends I was home at my mom’s for Sunday dinner. When I thought about the area I wanted to represent, it was a natural choice to head home. The first thing I did was buy a home in Milton. You’ve got to go to the same grocery store and dry cleaner and dog park as the people you’re representing. It was an easy decision, because I like it there. Great mountain biking and running in the woods. I go to Rattlesnake Point in the morning with my dog, and we watch the sun rise.

Does Trudeau’s claim to Best Hair on Parliament Hill need to be reconsidered now that you’re an MP?
I think he has better hair than I do! But I don’t think my hair is my best quality. My work ethic is—or maybe my jean jacket.

Who would win in a boxing match?
Justin, no question. He’s not just a good boxer, he’s great. I can run faster than him and do more chin-ups, but boxing? He’d kick my ass. He’s been training since he was a boy. I plan to bring my gloves with me to Ottawa and learn from him—as a boxer and a politician and a family man.

Sounds like fatherhood is in your future.
I really want kids, but there are a few prerequisites that don’t exist in my life at the moment.

I guess the campaign trail doesn’t leave much time for a love life.
I suppose it depends on what your priorities are.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.