BEIJING - When Dave Calder was younger, his grandfather made him a simple wooden keepsake box and told him one day he'd have an Olympic medal to put inside.
The Victoria rower wasn't convinced, especially after he competed in two Olympics and came home empty-handed both times.
Turns out, granddad was right.
Calder and partner Scott Frandsen of Kelowna, B.C., captured Canada's first medal of the Beijing Olympics on Saturday, a silver in the men's pair. Just a few minutes later, wrestlers Carol Huynh of Hazelton, B.C., and Tonya Verbeek of Beamsville, Ont., also made the podium as Canada finally ended its medal drought at the Games.
Unfortunately, Calder's grandfather, the man he calls his mentor, wasn't there to see it. He died 3 1/2 years ago.
"He always had faith that one day there would be an Olympic medal in there and I wasn't so sure," a choked up Calder said. "It's worked out. This thing's going in that box and nobody's ever going to be able to take it away from me."
Calder's last Olympics ended in disaster. He and teammate Chris Jarvis left their lane in the final metres of the men's pair semifinal four years ago in Athens and were disqualified. Despite repeated appeals, they weren't allowed to race in the final.
Calder, who was also a member of the men's eight that finished seventh at the 2000 Sydney Olympics, was devastated and walked away from rowing. He turned his attention to his wife and daughter and his job as a community relations adviser for the provincial government.
But there was still that empty spot in the keepsake box. Calder had to try again. So he and his wife Rachel talked it over and decided last August that they could manage if he went back to rowing full-time.
"I said of course if you want to do it, you have to do it," Rachel said. "You need to do it now and not when you wake up when you're 50 thinking 'Oh darn, I should have done that."'
It hasn't been easy for the family. Rachel, an outreach worker in Victoria, has had to take on most of the responsibility at home while the 30-year-old Calder trained and continued to work part-time for the B.C. Ministry of Energy, Mines and Petroleum Resources.
"She was a single mom for a lot of this year," said Calder. "That was really hard on her. Balancing her work and the responsibilities around the family that I did take care of traditionally and I just didn't have the energy or the time to do anymore was incredibly hard."
There were days when the only interaction he would have with his four-year-old daughter Mira was at bedtime. He'd read her a story and then fall asleep with the little girl, exhausted after a long day of training on Elk Lake.
"It's been an incredible strain on them," said Calder.
As soon as Frandsen and Calder qualified for Beijing in late June, Rachel and Mira were booked on a plane to Beijing. The couple put the trip on their credit card and would worry about how to pay for it later.
It was an emotional day for the family at Shunyi Olympic Rowing-Canoeing Park. As soon as they saw each other after the race, they embraced for several minutes. There were some tears. Then, Mira crawled into her dad's arms and carefully examined his new medal, her tiny fingers decorated with pink nail polish gently rubbing the smooth surface.
She may not understand the significance of the medal right now but she knows one thing - now that the Olympics are over for Calder she can have her dad all to herself again. When he tried to put her down Saturday, she didn't want to be away from him. He did several media interviews with her in his arms.
"She won't let him go and he won't let her go," said Calder's mom Susan Calder-Heaps, one of about 15 family members who made the trip to Beijing to cheer him on. "I think they're stuck together for the next while."
Calder and Frandsen came into the Games with high hopes after beating world champion Australia in a World Cup regatta in June and winning all their races at the Olympic qualifier in Poland.
They got off to a bit of a rocky start, finishing third in their heat earlier in the week. But they posted the fastest time in the semifinal and were leading at the 1,000-metre mark Saturday before being overtaken by Aussies Duncan Free and Drew Ginn, who went on to win gold. New Zealand's Nathan Twaddle and George Bridgewater were third.
Frandsen also experienced disappointment in Athens as a member of the world champion men's eight that finished a disastrous fifth. He tried to get a seat in this year's eight in the spring but wasn't able to win the spot. That's when he and Calder teamed up.
Frandsen said winning a medal in Beijing wasn't about making up for poor performances in Athens.
"This has been a whole different story the whole way along," he said. "Today is more satisfaction for having a good piece (race) and winning a medal rather than atoning for past losses."
Still, Calder's mother knows how devastating the Athens result was for her son and is happy to see him finally have an Olympic medal to go along with the other medals and keepsakes in the box.
"He's had some ups and downs, lots of exciting times," said Calder-Heaps. "Certainly Athens was devastating for him. So to have today happen just makes amends for all of that."
His grandfather would be proud.
"He believed in his heart I would be the next Derek Porter and win an Olympic gold medal in the singles," said Calder. "And I tried to explain to him that that just wasn't going to happen for me but that it might happen in another boat class. I'm sure he was here today."