One of the highlight of this past year was probably the most enriching experience that I had the chance to be a part of. I received a call asking me if I wanted to be part of a one week unforgettable experience accompanied by 6 Olympics athlete and one other Paralympian athlete that is organized by the Canadian Olympic Committee. The purpose of this event was to be part of a tour where 8 athletes would visit all 4 maritime provinces to give speeches, while inspiring and keeping the Olympic/Paralympic spirit alive after the 2010 Vancouver Games. I really did not want to miss this kind of opportunity so I accepted right away. This opportunity is now known as the Heroes Tour.
On April 10th 2011, I took my flight out of Montreal to head to Halifax. I was excited about this adventure but I was disappointed in the fact that I had caught a virus which made me sick a few days before catching my flight. I was nervous that the virus would affect me during the tour. As I got to the airport on the 10th, I was feeling a little better so I knew that I was near the end of combating this virus. I knew this trip was going to be very important. Especially in the sens that I was going in the mindset to positively motivate and inspire people. They needed me at 100%. So I consciously decided to prepare this tour like if it was a basketball game. I had to try to hide the fact that I was sick, that I was very low on energy. I had to change my attitude and force it. Anyways once I got to the Pierre-Elliot Trudeau airport, I had quite a surprise at the check-in counter. I met my childhood friend that I have not seen and lost contact with in almost over 20 years. Her name is Rachel Picard and she works for Air Canada now. We caught up a little before my takeoff. She was very friendly. It was very nice getting back in contact with her. We are now facebook friends 🙂 and should reconnect soon by going to coffee.
As I got to the gate waiting for my flight, I met the first Olympian. She was the only other french-canadian athlete on this tour besides me. I remember her approaching the gate and seemed very pre-occupied. She spent very much time on her cell-phone. As I looked at her more closely, I could tell that I have seen her before. When she ended her call, we introduced each other. This athlete was 4x olympic medalist in short-track skating Tania Vicent. She was very nice and had a great smile. I guess we talked a lot Tania and I during the Tour because we both spoke french.
Once we got on the plane, Tania and I were not sitting near each other. So I took the time to review my notes. A few days back, before going on the tour. I did a little research online on the 7 other athletes that I was going to spend the whole week with. I figure I might as well know them a little before spending time with and them and know what they had accomplished. They are Canadian Olympic Athletes Medalists. In the past with my Canadian basketball National team, we had the chance to have Montreal’s Alouettes head coach Mark Trestman spend some time with us. Before meeting us, he new info on all of us. He had made his research. We were quite impressed that he took the time to do that. So I stole his technique with the athletes of the tour to help in our relationships. I just wanted to be able to put a face to the names, know what they accomplished, where they are from, etc. Most of them were familiar faces anyways.
Once we got to Halifax, we headed to the hotel. I joined Tania after we dropped our luggage in our respective rooms and went for a little walk around town. It was a nice little place with a harbor. As we walked around, across the street we saw a bald headed-guy with aviators on walking around with Canadian Athlete Olympic apparel. Tania said to me “I think he is one of the athletes.” So I waved at him and asked. Tania was right. He was no other than Bronze medalist from Vancouver in the four-man Bobsleigh team Chris LeBihan. Chris is awesome. I learned that he is married and just got a kid. He talked about how he managed sports and the married life. He was walking around town looking for a tie for the last day banquet. So met up, and all three of us kept walking and shopping together. That same night, I went back to my hotel room about to go to bed. My roommate was not there yet. The third athlete that I had the honor to meet. He arrived in the middle of the night. So, after I was asleep, he came in and woke me up. The C.O.C paired me up with the only other paralympian of the tour. I definitely knew who this paralympian athlete was. It was Sledge Hockey Team Canada Captain double leg amputee Greg Westlake. Greg is one of the funniest, fun, quick witted, cocky (in the good sense) athlete I know. We talked a little about my main man and former team Canada teammate Bradley Bowden. Brad is Assistant captain now in sledge hockey and competes with Greg so I’ve heard lots about Greg. I was also honored by Greg when he told me that when he was younger, he tried wheelchair basketball and looked up a lot to me and my teammate Adam Lancia. Over the years, he has become a awesome athlete and a great captain. After the little talk Greg and I had, It was time to go back to sleep a little because in the early morning, the show would start.
In the morning of the first day of the tour, from 6am to 7am, there was an optional morning run and weight lifting session for those wanted to train. I had the intention of going but I felt like it would be better for me to keep my energy for the day ahead especially that I did not have much to begin with because of my virus. People that really know me knows that I would of never skip the chance of training unless I had something wrong. I’m a train freak.
At 7am we had a meeting with the whole crew. We went through the whole week planning and introduced each other. I was one of the first one there. I met the staff. Julie Mahoney, a former fencing Olympic athlete from Montreal that I had the chance to work with in previous events, was there to greet me. She works at the C.O.C now, and was in charge of this Heroes Tour. She was the athletes coordinator. I like Julie. She is really outgoing, focused and really hard-working. I had the pleasure of meeting Dennis Kim from the C.O.C. He was also one in charge of the tour and acted as the emcee on the tour. I really enjoyed meeting Dennis. He is in charge of marketing at the C.O.C and brings a young-hip/fresh dynamic to the C.O.C. A great acquisition for the C.O.C. He showed us all the new ideas of branding. It really looked awesome. There was also a beautiful young lady named Georgina Gray that approached me complimenting me on the Posters that I am on for the Paralympic national Ad campaign. She was our Advance team so we dint get to see her a lot all week long. She would go to the venues before us to make sure everything was set up at our arrival. Derek Covington was CSC Event Lead, great guy. Did not see him much but got to talk to him later in the week. Isabelle Hodge, our Communications lead. She is a fun person to hang out with. She taught us a lot about twitter. Kate Moorhouse was our Logistics, event support and Lisa Wallace our Event Lead. There was also Wayne Russell the Board Representation. Our Executive Representation was no other than Jean Dupré, he may look like a intimidating guy at first but he is awesome, fun, down to earth guy. In addition to the staff, there was the lovely and uplifting Helen Stoumpos as our videographer. She filmed the hole thing and made a awesome video of the week that you can find attached at the end of this post. And last but not least, our Piper Michael Campbell. That’s right, we had our own piper. He would lead the way everywhere we went introducing us. First off our bus, first one to the events and we were just behind him. It was awesome.
Now to the Athletes. As I said. We were 8. 6 Olympians and 2 Paralympians.
David Bissett (Lethbridge, Alta.) is a two-time Olympic Bobsleigh athlete in 2010 and 2006. At the Olympic winter games in Vancouver 2010, he won bronze in the four-man event, Canada’s first Olympic medal in that event since 1964. Along with a host of World Cup medals, Bissett won silver at the 2007 World championships in the four-man. David is a big, strong and quite the reserved guy. He is quiet but had lots of fun with him. He is genuine and although he does not talk much, he says some of the funniest comments.
Kaillie Humphries (Calgary) made history by winning gold in two-man bobsleigh at the Vancouver Olympic Winter Games, Canada’s first women’s Olympic champion in the sport. The Bobsleigh pilot recently won bronze at the 2011 World Championships. Kaillie has so much charisma. She is so much fun to hang out with. She has attitude. I like that. There is something about her that just…… I don’t really know honestly… There’s just something really cool about her. She has that special something. You guys should take a look at her legs…. she has those huge awesome quads. I think her legs were in a magazine about special body parts. Seriously, I’m not kidding.
Adam Kreek (London, Ont.) is a two-time Olympian and three-time world champion rower. Kreek helped lead the men’s eight to a gold medal at the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games, as well as to gold at the 2002,2003 and 2007 World Championships. He has six World Cup gold medals. Adam, wow what a guy. I was actually inspired by him. He is very tall and seriously, he is one of the best speakers I have seen. He has a awesome personality, he is out-going, fun and really friendly guy. He helped me a lot giving me tips during the week for my speeches. I really encourage everyone to at least go to one of his public appearances. He is worth it. He is One with the mic. As for everyone else that is looking to hire a Motivational speaker, he’s your man. You can find him at http://www.kreekspeak.com/
Chris LeBihan (Kelowa, B.C) is also a member of the historic bronze medal fourman bobsleigh team at the 2010 Vancouver Games. Competing Nationally since 2004, he is a veteran of three World Championships as well. As I said earlier, he is a great guy worth knowing. Great all-around athlete.
Denny Morrison (Fort St.John, B.C) has captured two Olympic and seven World Championship medals in speed skating. In team pursuit, he led Canada to silver at Torino in 2006 before winning gold in Vancouver in 2010. Morrisson has won more than 30 World Cup medals, and is 2008 world champion in the 1500 meters. I did not know what to think about Denny at first. He seemed shy but quickly I saw I was mistaking. He is awesomely outgoing and someone that I could definitely see myself hangout with if we lived close by. We hanged out quite a bit Denny and I. Well we all did actually. He’s a great dart player. I’ll explain that one later despite what Chris thinks,lol
Tania Vicent (Laval,Que.) has captured a medal at the past four Olympic winter games. The short-track speed skater is a mainstay in the women’s relay, and in that event has won two silver medals (1010, 2006) and two bronze medals (2002,1998). A national athlete for nearly two decades, Vicent has competed at 12 World Championships, collecting seven medals. As I said before, Tania was my french speaking buddy. She has so much experience as a high level athlete that it was very interesting to have talks with her.
Greg Westlake (Oakville, ON) has been an offensive star for Canada’s National Sledge Hockey Team. At the age of 24 Westlake already has a Paralympic and a world Championship gold medal under his belt. He authored a great moment in Canadian sledge hockey history at the 2008 IPC Sledge Hockey World Championship, scoring the game-winning goal with just eight seconds to go to defeat Norway in the gold medal match.
Heather Moyse (Summerside, P.E.I) teamed with Kaillie Humphries to win Olympic gold in two-man bobsleigh. Moyse narrowly missed a medal in her first Olympic competition, finishing fourth at Torino 2006. The bobsleigh brakeman recently won bronze at the 2011 World championships. Heather also represented Canada in 15 Internationnal rugby games as a member of the National Senior Women’s Rugby Team. And shes done lots lots more. Wow!!! What a women. everything I’ve said about Adam Kreek applies to Heather also. Never have I been so captivated by the presence, the positive energy, the out-going charismatic personality of a women like Heather Moyse has. Every time she appeared somewhere, you could see that the surroundings changed. Suddenly her contagious positive energy would affect everyone around her. It was crazy. The only other women I have seen have this affect on people is when I met Kate Middleton On Canada’s day. Anyways, It took me a while before talking to her honestly. I think I was sort of intimidated. Anyways, later in the week we actually started to hang out and she is a phenomenal person. You can check her out on her site at http://www.heathermoyse.net. She is actually training right now to be a cyclist.
So these were the seven other athletes beside me part taking into this adventure ride. The Unforgettable Heroes Tour. (Actually I made a mistake. We had the meeting the night before, we just had a review in the morning)
In the morning of the 11th, as the crew met up in the lobby after our little daily debrief and hotel check out, we had a little tasteful smoothie before we embarked onto our bus. The magic bus as we called it. As we were loading up, once I was in the bus, I noticed something was wrong. I felt like I was forgetting something. I realized that I lost my brand new Samsung Galaxy S smartphone from Bell and Athlete Can. I was p!#$#$!!! I felt bad cause I delayed the bus from leaving but Denny forgot his medals too so it gained me time to try to find my phone but no luck. The phone was gone. I was not worried about losing the phone. I knew I could get another one. I was worried about the memory card in it. I dint have a backup. All my numbers from my friends in Texas were in there and all my photos. That’s whats the most frustrating about losing the phone. What a mood breaker. I was already down on energy from the virus and then this….. It was not going too well for me. I couldn’t stop thinking about it. I kept telling myself to forget about it and to live the moment. But it was too hard. All week I thought about it because I wanted to tweet everything that was going on. I wanted to take pictures, and I could not. I just saw everyone else doing it, but I just could not.
Anyways, our first stop was at the Armed forces, CFB Halifax. Our Piper came in the room blowing into his pipes where all the soldiers were ready to greet us. We were right behind him. It is an honor to see that these soldiers were there supporting us. I have seriously great admiration for everything that they do to protect us. It was awesome the welcome that they gave us. Each athlete was assigned a table with a couple of soldiers and we sat down. Heather Moyse was at the same table across from me with the soldiers. We talked and showed our medals to the soldiers. We shared our athletic stories and they shared their own stories. It was as inspiring for them than for us. The Stadacona Navy Band Quartet performed the National Anthem. We had breakfast with the soldiers. There was also a little stage organized for us by our advance team with a big poster behind us with all 8 of us on it. Our Emcee Dennis Kim gave a little intro about each one of us on the mic. Than Adam Kreek went to the podium and gave his speech. It was so funny. He even made a joke that killed the place of laughter. I can’t remember what it was but I remember everyone saying wow, I can’t believe he said that. He gave a great speech. That was when I knew that guy was a phenomenal speaker. After Westlake gave a great speech also. After that, all the athletes were asked to go on stage were we each received a medal from the Armed Forces. It was a great honor. It is always greatly appreciated when we know we compete hard competing for our country and then the country gives appreciation back for our efforts. It’s a great feeling. After breakfast we were invited to go on a little tour of a real army battleship. The HMCS Montreal. Wow, that was impressive.
The second stop of the day was the Cold F-X Podium Excellence Luncheon in conjunction with Canadian Sport Center Atlantic. We got to meet some young athletes that were heading to the Canada Games where they prepared a couple of questions for us. As we were having lunch, there was a stage with 2 couches. Heather Moyse started off with a little speech and then each athlete was paired up with a Canada games athlete to go up on stage to sit on these couches with the mics for about 10 minutes each and answer the questions. First pairing was Denny Morrisson with Aidan Cyr (NS Speedskater), second was Kallie Humphries with I don’t remember whom but you can see her on the video (sorry), third was Adam Kreek and Jeremy Page (Gold medal snowboard), I went fourth and I was paired up with an athlete that I knew already. It was Jamey Jewels. Jamey competes in Wheelchair basketball and was a rookie with the National women’s team. So she asked me a few questions and I answered them. It was fun. I like to think we did a good job. Fifth was Greg Westlake and Jared Goad (Gold medal gymnastics). We then finished this event with a autograph signing.
We then rushed to our third event because time was running late. The third event of the day was the most emotional event for sure. We went to Ronald McDonald House and IWK Health center family room. Wow what an event. We had to go spend some quality time with some terminally ill sick kids. That was tough. I always wanted to do something like that before. I always saw NBA players do things like that on TV and wanted someday to do it. As much as it is tough to see those kids, there is nothing like seeing them smile and know you were part of it. We had a great time. We showed them our medals, played games with the kids, some of us got their nails painted. The kids wore our medals, we just had fun and smiled and laugh. It was a really emotional charged event. It brought my basketball career to a whole new level. I was also surprise to see that the hospital had posters of me everywhere from the CPC Ad campaign. The visit to the hospital was by far the highlight of the day. We then left, went to the airport and flew to our next destination. St-John’s Newfoundland.
That night we arrived at St-Johns, Newfoundland. As we arrived we wanted to go out a bit. So we went out to a bar to get screeched in. Screeched in is a Newfoundland tradition where you take a shot of whiskey and you have to kiss a cod. So we did as a team all got screeched in and each kissed a Cod. We all got a certificate. We hang out at the bar, made some friends and par take into some friendly competition. Darts. We teamed up Denny Morrisson and I versus Greg Westlake and Chris LeBihan. We played around the world. Denny and I seriously could not hit anything in the beginning. We were getting a good old fashioned ass-whooping. Greg and Chris could not miss. Eventually they were so much ahead that Chris decided to leave without finishing the game. So Greg had to play his turns and play Chris’s turn cause Chris was gone. But Denny and I started to hit and we could not miss. We actually caught up and won fair and square. Even Greg admits it. LOL but Chris doesn’t want to hear about it. loll that whats happens when you put a bunch of athletes in a bar. We get competitive. So it was a nice night out, we, the athletes, got to get to know each other better. It was fun.
Day 2: St-John, Newfoundland
Wow, what a short night. We had another packed day on the schedule.
At 7:45 we had another meet and greet with some Canada Games athletes for about 15 minutes.
At 8am we left on a bus to head to Terry Fox Mile Zero. On the bus we watched a small documentary by Steve Nash on the life of Terry Fox. Absolutely amazing and very inspiring. The documentary is greatly done.
At 8:15 We visited Mile Zero. And I tell you, It was freezing cold and windy. It was nice to see. The stone where it is engraved Terry Fox Mile Zero was smaller than I expected but was still nice to see. We than walked back a hill with our Piper leading the way playing his music as always.
At 8:50 we departed for St-John’s City Hall for the Celebration of Heroes Event.There was about 150 students/community leaders aged 12-17 from schools, community centers, boys & girls Clubs, Big brothers and sisters attending this event. As always, we were introduced in the room by our piper and our Emcee gave each one of us our little intro. They showed a message video of Jay Triano, former Toronto Raptors head coach and the Deputy Mayor Shannie Duff gave a welcome and opening remarks from the city. Greg Westlake gave a inspiring speech and you could tell that as time on the tour was passing, he was getting more comfortable and better. We all were. He added a couple of funny stories about how he use to tell people how he lost his legs. After that, all 8 of us were sitting on stools infront of the crowd and our emcee Dennis asked us a couple of questions to get the ball rolling. Then it was time for questions from the crowd to the athletes. We followed by a autograph session. We closed the event with closing remarks by Dennis Kim and David Bissett and off we were on the road again to Janeway Children’s Health Center Visit.
At 11Am we got there and Chris LeBihan did the intro for our team of heroes. This was even bigger than the day before. There was even way more kids. But it was so much fun and touching. These are the best times of the tour I would say. smiles after smiles after smiles. My posters were there also, it was funny. Kaillie kept calling me superstar. Wemade lots of friends and took lots of pictures with the kids. We will always remember that day.
And before we know it, back to the magic bus and onto to Charlottetown, PEI.
Day 3: Heather Moyse Day
I really enjoyed being back in Charlottetown. I’ve been there in 1991 at my first Canadian wheelchair basketball league finals (CWBL). Great memories. I loved the fact of being back here for that reason. Great memories. Anyways, back to the Heroes tour. This was the first day of the tour we could sleep in a little. My virus was gone and I was feeling way better. I had my energy back. We started the day at 10am with another great hospital visit. the QE General Hospital. Great way to start our day. At 11:30 we went to Charlottestown City Hall. We were there to get a warm welcome by the mayor and sign the book. We got to meet David MacEachern, a former bobsleigh Olympic medalist that was getting inducted into the hall of fame at the end of the week. We met Mayor Dennis O’Keefe, had a photo op and Heather Moyse gave a nice little speech.
Now at 2pm we went to Summerside Intermidiate. It was held at Heather Moyse alma mater school. It was crazy the whole school was there to greet us but especially their hometown hero Heather Moyse. We went on stage after our intro and we noticed that the kids made big banners of each one of us that were hanging down the walls. Our Emcee Dennis Kim was making crowd pump-up/chants to warm up the crowd upon our arrival. At our intro, we each got on stage with each a different little style. Chris did a Cartwheel, and David Bissett did a belly slide dive on stage. The energy in there was amazing. We thought it could not get louder than that until Heather Moyse made her entrance. It was insane. The noise just amplified 10x. It was loud. So sitting on stage like a panel, Heather introduced us with more details again. There was a band that played the national anthem and a tribute to hometown queen Heather Moyse by one of her past teachers. Than Heather led with a Q&A with us. The students thank us with a banner, and off we went. This event was magical. Heather was amazing that event. It was very emotional for her that she even had tears at one point if I remember it right.
From there, we left on the magic bus and headed to our final destination where the biggest event was yet to come.
At 5:30Pm we arrived at the Hotel Casino New Brunswick to check in the hotel. Everyone had off that night except for Adam Kreek, Tania Vicent, Heather Moyse and myself. He had to go to the Coliseum for a walk through of the next day big show. Once I got to the Coliseum I dint know what I was up to. It was huge. There was going to be 4000 students in the super show and I had to give a speech in french. I was up for the challenge though. I had the help of Adam Kreek for my speech. He was awesome. For his speech, he decided to do the song ROW ROW ROW your boat, but with french words. It was amazing. Anyways. Had to get some rest for the next day and get my speech ready.
Day 4: FINISHING THE HEROES TOUR ON A BIG BOOM
We left the hotel at 8:15 to arrive at the Moncton Coliseum. As we arrived there it was insane. The whole Coliseum was packed with kids screaming and chanting. 4000 kids of grade 6,7,8 students. It was so high pitched that it was actually hurting our ears. We were backstage waiting for the show to start. Once the show started and they introduced us on stage the place went nuts. You could feel everything thing shaking and trembling. We were on stage after our intro and answered a couple of crowd questions, and we had our moments where we had to speak. The Arkells were there doing the first part of the concert. After the first part, Adam Kreek went on, and did his little song with his speech and the, it was my turn. I went up there and it was amazing. I spoke and lost time..lol I went over my time limit but I did not mind. I was enjoying myself up there with the crowd. Speaking infront of 4000 kids was a incredible feeling. After that the Arkells went back on to do their second part of the show and all 8 of us athletes decided to join onstage with the band and started dancing and singing. It was a unforgettable event. It was an incredible feeling and I was happy to have shared this event with these other 7 athletes.
At 3pm we went the the University of Moncton where we did a Performance Excellence clinic -CSC. This event was to make students a couple of training sessions exercises in little groups. We each had groups of 7-10 students and made them do exercises. I was in charge of Muscle mobility/activation. After the infield session, we headed to a classroom and went through a question session. It was a great time. More of a private up and close personal session it felt like. We ended up with a autograph session. While the autograph session was taking place, I received a couple of comments of how they liked what I said at the coliseum. I was glad to hear that I inspired people that day. And this ended the Heroes Tour.
Well, the Heroes tour led to the Canadian Olympic Hall of Fame that was held at the same hotel. I will talk about that week-end also but it will be for another post. The Heroes Tour is probably in the top 5 events that I have done in my life. I had the chance to meet 7 extraordinary athletes which whom we will be connected together for ever by this event. They have made me a better person and taught me a lot. It showed me that Olympic athletes and Paralympic athletes are no different. I will cherish these memories and relationships forever. It has been a enriching and powerful event. It has change my life and brought new meaning and purpose to my career. The only disappointment that I have was that I was sick and it took me a while to build relationships with the others and show them a little bit more the true me. I lost time with them but hopefully I will see them again one day. Maybe at the Heroes Tour 2 🙂 I will leave you with this awesome video. A recap of the Heroes Tour by our videographer, Helen Stoumpos.
As I am finishing this post, I have flashes of way more little mini stories that happened that I forgot to write. For example, the bracelet stories, the radio interview I did with Kaillie and how I saved her from herself a couple times :). If my fellow heroes happen to read this post and want to add things, please do in the comment section.