Dinner with Arnold Schwarzenegger

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My eyes squinted as I looked at my emails, the type seeming a bit too small and the screen a bit too bright. I was tired. Sitting near the elevator in the Fairmont Hotel, my mind began to drift into that haze that accompanies the desire to sleep. Just as I began to drift off, I heard a voice. Not just any voice, his voice. The voice of the Terminator, the Governator, and yes, even the voice of Howard Langston from Jingle All the Way.

My mind cleared just in time to see Arnold Schwarzenegger and Defence Minister Peter MacKay stride off the elevator and vanish into the waiting room. “Well,” I thought to myself, “that’s one way to start an evening.” I walked into the room bathed in the light of massive half-domed chandeliers, and squeezed past many classily dressed men and women. I took my seat at table 46 in the Grand Ballroom.

The room was huge, and I could feel the excitement of the 800 or so fellow Arnie enthusiasts. Bob Cox, the publisher of the Winnipeg Free Press, kicked off the event and introduced the main host sponsor of the evening, Paul Vickers, CEO of International Flood Control. After a fine introduction by Vickers, Arnold Schwarzenegger took the stage.

“Thank you Paul for the wonderful introduction, that’s exactly the way I wrote it.”
It is easy to forget that the man standing on the podium in a silver suit and red leather tie is 63 years old. As he gestured in front of the navy blue backdrop, he spoke with the passion and energy that one would expect from an action hero, and with an easy-going sense of humour rare in politicians.

He made clear he wasn’t doing speeches for the money. “Politicians go on speaking tours because they don’t have any money. I have plenty of money,” he boomed in his thick Austrian accent as the audience chuckled. He seemed to like poking fun at his fellow former politicians, challenging folks to name another politician “who was naked in Terminator 3,” and asking if we “could imagine Sarah Palin naked.”

Seeing this famous, wealthy and successful man standing confidently at the podium, it was easy to imagine that he had always been this way, that he had always been in command of his own life. He began to tell his story, and it was clear how far he had come. He told us how he was “born after the Second World War, with absolutely nothing” and how his family was so poor that he had “no Christmas or birthday presents.”

One day, he saw a body building magazine showcasing products like mass gainer and the Mr. Universe contest. He decided that’s what he would do. He was only 15 when he saw that magazine, but by the time he was 20 the title of “Mr. Universe” was his.

As the audience, now transfixed on his every word, sat and listened, he told us the rules that “made him so successful.” His first rule: “Trust yourself, and in your vision.” He spoke of how he “trained five hours a day” and was “obsessed with bodybuilding.” He put it bluntly, “You can’t accomplish anything in life if you don’t have a clear goal.”

He moved on to his second rule: “Break the rules.” “Everything they say is a liability is an asset,” he told us as he went down the list of things that were supposed to hold him back. For example, he was told to change his now iconic name by his agent. This same agent also told him he “could only get little parts.”
He took speech classes to try to eliminate his accent, joking of how he repeated the phrase “the fine wine ripens on the vine” in an effort to avoid the problems he had saying “W” and “V” words. I should add that he managed to get through the sentence perfectly.

Willpower and forging your own path, regardless of the critics, was clearly something that Schwarzenegger feels deeply in his soul. We could all hear the emotion in his voice when he spoke of his mother-in-law Eunice Shriver, who founded the Special Olympics. She “wanted to get all mentally challenged people out of institutions and into sports,” despite being “told by all the experts that this would be a disaster.” Now, “the special Olympics are in 160 countries,” he told us.

As he spoke, it was clear that his mother-in-law and father-in-law had a profound effect on his life. With pride in his voice, he spoke of how he was an ambassador for Special Olympics, and how as governor, he “hired a mentally challenged man named John to work the mail room.” He told us how “every morning John came and dropped the mail on my desk, gave me a hug and said ‘I love you.’”

He told us of the “Shriver rule,” that Sargent Shriver explained to him: “Tear down that mirror that makes you look at yourself and you can see the millions who need your help.” He said that Sargent Shriver also taught him about “the power of the heart . . . the heart powers more than blood, it pumps compassion, caring, love.”

As I watched Arnold Schwarzenegger speak, I was struck by his balance of humility and confidence. Having lived through so much, he seemed to have a deep faith in the power of every person to live up to their highest ideal. He spoke of the importance of having perspective, even in the face of political challenges, saying that “when something goes wrong in politics, the press beats you up or you lose. When something goes wrong for a firefighter or soldier or cop, they’re dead.”

Though he is not a cop, or a soldier, or a firefighter, after seeing him speak, I believe Arnold Schwarzenegger is a heroic human being. Not because of his fame or wealth or power, but because he had the courage to dream big and had the determination to make those dreams come true. He was born with nothing, and through willpower alone, he has built a life that “he wouldn’t trade with anyone.” We can all complain about our station in life. We can whine about our disadvantages and focus on the obstacles in our path. Or, we can do what Arnold Schwarzenegger did. We can dream big, and we can work relentlessly until those dreams come true.

Arnold Schwarzenegger was brought to Winnipeg by tinePublic Inc.. The Manitoban employee and volunteer photographer who attended the event were provided with dinner, consisting of steak and vegetables.

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