It’s not uncommon for someone to hear me say that I am the most patriotic person they may know. My family emigrated from Italy and came to this country striving to provide a better life for their family. They worked tirelessly to give my sister and I the opportunities they couldn’t have imagined for themselves.
As a young girl, my father would quote Muhammad Ali to me. He would say, “Alex, champions aren’t made in the gyms, they are made from something they have deep inside them - a desire, a dream, a vision.” I have carried that with me everyday of my life.
My parents encouraged me to not only dream, but dream big. They instilled a work ethic and discipline in both my sister and I that inspired us to be champions in life, no matter what path we made for ourselves.
"Our awe inspiring, tough as nails, hilariously passionate and wildly Canadian Olympic Team"
Ultimately, my heart led me to sport. It fuelled a desire inside me that even at just 5 years old I told my parents I was going to compete for Canada one day. It was this innate passion that forever changed the course of my life and those of my loved ones around me. A journey that has given me the “highest of highs and lowest of lows” to quote 4x Olympic medalist Adam Van Koeverden. And he couldn’t have said it more perfectly.
I was fortunate enough to be surrounded by our awe inspiring, tough as nails, hilariously passionate and wildly Canadian Olympic Team in Rio last month. Day in and day out, I met athletes from coast to coast who have poured every part of their being into representing our nation at the highest of levels. Literally, the best of the best in what they do. NBD.
"I mean, standing next to an Olympic athlete about to compete is about as inspiring as it gets."
You can feel it - the sheer amount of work they’ve put in to get there. But when you speak to them and hear their stories, they inspire us in so many more ways than just physical. I was lucky to call Rio de Janeiro my home for 2 weeks of non-stop sport and spent hours with our Canadian Olympians. We reminisced about how nerve-racking their first Olympics was, laughed about how surreal it was to be coming home with a medal and shed tears over the milliseconds it took to have a dream slip out of their hands.
Oh man - can sport ever be fickle.
That’s one of the reasons we love it. In any given moment, anyone can do something extraordinary. Back to back Olympic gold medalist in trampoline, Rosie MacLennan, she bounced back from an almost career ending injury to stand on top of that podium this year - again. How she did it? She kept “chasing that dream.” Every single day. No doubt, no fear. She said it so naturally to me, as if there were no other option. I loved that. It was a fire inside of her that just never went out, no matter what.
But as the sun would rise each morning over the white sand and our athletes prepared to battle it out for glory, what stood out the most for me was how the Team handled the toughest of days. How they gracefully faced an unexpected loss or close call, how they held their heads high and acknowledged, to millions of Canadians watching at home, there was still work to be done.
That’s not easy.
Melissa Bishop finishing fourth in the Women’s 800m, just off the podium, but racing a personal best and smashing a Canadian record was one of the most bittersweet moments of the Games. My heart sank to the floor as she spoke of nothing but wanting this for Canada and all the people who had supported her. She knew her best wasn’t the best in the world that day, but also knew she gave her competitors one hell of a fight.
"That’s what inspires a nation. The sheer drive to push your mind and body to extremes you never knew existed. To go after it with everything you have."
“You give it 150% or you don’t give it at all.” said one of our women’s Rugby 7s bronze medalists.
Each and every one of our athletes has a story to tell - it doesn’t matter what the scoreboard says. All those decimal points begin to blur and all that remains is an experience that impacted a generation of young people to keep trying. A moment in time when wearing the maple leaf gave you goose bumps and you believed in yourself a little bit more.
Thank you for reminding us how proud we are to be Canadian.
Thank you for motivating us to dream big.
I used to dream about competing at the Olympic Games and now I dream about impacting as many people as I can. We all could stand to love ourselves a little more.
No doubt. No fear.
Alexandra Orlando for HEMM