In celebration of Canada's 150th anniversary, WE asked remarkable Canadians the question: What are you doing to make our country a more caring and compassionate place?
When Olympic medal winning sprinter Andre De Grasse heads down his slice of the track, he is seemingly on his own. But there's something with him that the judges aren't measuring. Below the athlete's sharp focus and lightning speed, you'll find kindness – a trait he brings along everywhere.
"Going fast on the track wouldn't be possible without the support I get from my team or the love that I get from my family and friends," Andre says.
Hailing from Markham, Ont., the 22-year-old earned the country's praise during the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio, when he became the first Canadian athlete to win medals in all three sprint events.
Since then, Andre has channelled his competitive drive into motivating the next generation. Enter sprinters Daquan Berry and Ethan Smith, members of Andre's previous track club, Speed Academy. Seeing himself in the teens, Andre quickly decided to fund their trip to the New Balance Nationals. Taking place in New York, the esteemed high school track championship carried a cost the young men would not have been able to afford without Andre's financial assistance. As the track star says, his action is part of ensuring "these athletes have the same opportunities I had early on in my career."
On the road, hitting the world's tracks (he and his relay team took home a gold at the IAAF/BTC World Relays in the Bahamas in April), Andre – who trains out of Phoenix – has gotten use to juggling a full calendar. Still, his jet-setting schedule does not stop him from keeping promises back home. Just ask his mother.
On May 12 – in time for Mother's Day – Andre fulfilled a vow he made to her before he went to compete in Rio. The star competitor/sociology major donned a cap and gown to mark his graduation from the University of Southern California. Andre's mother has been a motivational force behind his education and is one of two drivers responsible for his success, the other being Andre's enduring commitment to finishing what he starts.
Andre is filtering that drive into helping youth find healthy outlets for their energy. Inspired by projects such as the MLSE LaunchPad in Regent Park, he says, "access to facilities for young people – [a place] where they can be safe, have fun socializing, play sports and get help with their schoolwork – is really important. We need more places like this to ensure a strong future for Canada."
Read on to learn why Andre encourages the next generation to unite and seek better understanding of each others' differences.
Why is "we" stronger than "me?"
I owe a lot of my success to my support team. There's no way I could have achieved what I did in Rio without my chiropractor Alban [Merepeza], who has been working with me from the very beginning. I've also had a series of incredible coaches starting in high school through to junior college, university and now as a professional track athlete. Each one helped get me to where I am today and played a role in my success.
What is the kindest action you've been on the receiving end of, and what about the gesture touched you personally?
I qualified for my first national team in 2013, but it was really expensive to get to the Pan American Junior Championships being held in Colombia. One of the families that sponsored my track club stepped up and helped get me to that meet. I came away from the competition with two medals and the confidence to qualify for more teams. The gesture was especially meaningful to me because I didn't have to ask for support; my coach Tony Sharpe knew that money was tight and set out to ensure I had the funding.
Fill in the blank: Moving forward into the next 150 years, our country needs more [blank] in order to build a caring and compassionate Canada.
Curiosity and understanding. Canada is a diverse country, with people of all different races, religions and nationalities living, playing and working together. However, if we want to build a caring and more compassionate country, we need to do a better job of understanding each other and that starts with all of us demonstrating a curiosity to learn about our differences.
Describe the core values of your ideal Canada.
Tolerant, ambitious and compassionate.
What small action have you taken in present day to help secure a brighter future for our country tomorrow?
This past winter, I heard about the high school athletes from my old track club who couldn't afford the travel costs to get to an important meet in the U.S. I thought back to 2013, when I received the support I needed to get to the Pan American Junior Championships, and I wrote a cheque to the Speed Academy.
As we work to make Canada a better country, what is one action you would like people to take?
Be inspired by the success of others and pursue your own ambitious goals.
This story is part of Living WE, a toolkit of ideas and inspiration for Canadians. It was created by WE, a movement that brings people together to create positive social change both locally and globally.