De Grasse highlights book of Canadians

TORONTO — The nomadic life of a world class athlete can be lonely, and Canadian sprint star Andre De Grasse admits to missing home sometimes.

“There are times when I’m travelling alone when I’m kind of miserable. But I think that’s just everyone,” De Grasse says in the book “Glorious & Free, The Canadians.”

The 23-year-old from Markham, Ont., is one of 33 Canadians the book profiles who are “unabashedly, unapologetic, out there really living their lives,” said author Kim Bozak.

De Grasse said his 2016 season, his first on the international circuit after leaving the University of Southern California, was tough at times.

“It was something I wasn’t used to because I had been travelling as a school with USC, so I would always be with my teammates,” De Grasse said in an interview.

The three-time Olympic medallist, who missed the world championships in August with a hamstring injury, tried to fill the void last season by bringing along a friend or family member to his competitions.

“So that has been a pretty cool experience for them,” De Grasse said. “You can travel with your coach or your therapist, but it’s not the same as when you travel with your close cousins or friends.”

Accompanied by intimate photos of the sprinter at his training base in Phoenix, the book touches on his faith — “I pray every day, when I wake up, when I go to sleep, every time I eat meals” — plus his love of fashion, his meteoric rise in the sport, and his unorthodox running style with his one flailing arm, and his upcoming foundation.

The inclusion of De Grasse in their visually beautiful and hefty 396-page coffee table book was a no-brainer for authors Bozak and Rita Field-Marsham.

“We wanted to uncover some of these unsung heroes,” Bozak said. “It’s easy, there’s lots of low-hanging fruit for amazing Canadian stories that are inspiring. But they’re told and they’re retold and we wanted to tell some new stories.”

Swimmer Aurelie Rivard, who captured four medals — three gold and a silver — at the Rio Paralympics, is among the profiles, and spoke candidly about her debilitating panic attacks, and the bullying she faced at a new school, because of her physical impairment (an underdeveloped hand).

“What is so fascinating certainly from my point of view in both those interviews is the incredible loneliness of being a professional athlete,” Bozak said of Rivard and De Grasse.

Rivard recounts a year of bullying she suffered, including an incident one day at practice. A fellow swimmer tossed a water bottle at her and the 21-year-old from Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu, Que., hurled it back, hitting the girl in the face. The bullying promptly stopped.

“When I think about that year, I wouldn’t want to go through it again,” Rivard says in the book. “But it really made me who I am today. It made me focus more on myself.”

Among other Canadians profiled are Roxanne Joyal, the co-CEO of social enterprise organization Me to We, world-travelling street artists Alexa Hatanaka and Patrick Thompson, Canadian architecture’s “it boy” Alex Josephson, and Matthew Romeo, who was once homeless before becoming Canada’s longest-running hip-hop radio show host and DJ for Drake’s OVO.

The book was seven years in the making. The idea sprouted from negative comments about Canada that Field-Marsham, a Dutch-Kenyan, received during trips home to Kenya. Her friends would tell her “You poor thing, you have to live in Canada.”

“We were kind of dumbfounded,” said Bozak, who’s from Regina. ”It started us off on this journey to tell another side of Canada that was beyond the cliches that we’ve been known for — being apologetic, Mounties, mountains, maple leaves — and visually show a side of Canada that is audacious, bold, daring, which was the Canada her and I both were experiencing.”

Proceeds from the book go to PEN Canada, which promotes literature, fights censorship, helps free persecuted writers from prison, and assists writers living in exile in Canada.

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