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5 Canadian Athletes Making A Difference

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Athletes are some of the most recognizable individuals in the world.  It is important to acknowledge them for their athletic achievements, but  it is also important to recognize those who are using their status for good!  Here are the top 5 Canadian athletes making a difference in their communities and around the world.

1) Clara Hughes

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With the recent recognition of International Women’s Day, I thought it was fitting to start off this list with one of the biggest stories to emerge in Canadian sports: Clara Hughes. She is a six-time Olympic medalist in cycling and speed-skating, and is the only athlete in history to win multiple medals in both the Summer and Winter games.  Clara was the Canadian flag bearer for the 2010 Vancouver Olympic games and lead the home team to it’s historic medal-winning performance.  But there is far more to Clara than her athletic achievements.

After winning Olympic gold in 2006, Clara donated $10,000 of her personal savings to Right to Play,  an international humanitarian organization that uses sports for development. With this donation Hughes encouraged Canadians to also support the cause and resulted in over half a million dollars in donations to the organization. Then, in 2010, she donated her $10,000 Olympic medal bonus to the Vancouver inner city school program Take a Hike, which uses adventure-based learning to give youth at risk a better direction in life.  

She is currently the national spokesperson for Bell Let’s Talk Day, and a passionate advocate for mental health. By sharing her past struggles with depression, Clara uses her own story to spread the word that help is available, recovery is possible, and people with mental health issues can, and do, lead happy and productive lives.  Clara has taken her commitment to mental health to the next level with Clara’s Big Ride for Bell Let’s Talk. In spring 2014, Clara traveled more than 11,000 km around the country, visiting 105 communities in 110 days to continue to raise awareness about mental health and drive positive, long-term change in the way Canadians perceive mental illness. To date, the Bell Let’s talk campaign has committed over $73.6 million to support a wide range of mental health organizations.

To top off Clara’s achievements, she was recently named one of the Top 100 Most Powerful Women in Canada by the Women’s Executive Network (WXN) - a much deserved recognition in my opinion.

2) Michael “Pinball” Clemons

www.argonauts.ca

Michael “Pinball” Clemons played for the Canadian Football League’s (CFL) Toronto Argonauts for 12 seasons and then moved right into the head coach role until 2007. His number 31 jersey is one of only four numbers that have been retired by the Argos.

Clemons was drafted to the NFL after college and played one season with the Kansas City Chiefs before joining the Toronto Argonauts. Clemons had multiple record-breaking seasons with the Argos and set a long-standing record in 1997 for all-purpose yards gained in one season (3,840 yards!) that stood until Chad Owens broke it in 2012.  It’s not surprising that Clemons was inducted into the Canadian Football Hall of Fame in 2008.

Clemons is one of the most famous former CFL players and also one of the most popular and recognizable athletes in Toronto-maybe even Canada. He takes the time to have a conversation with every person he comes in contact with and when you mention his name you often hear “Pinball- I met him this one time. He was so friendly!” In the recent Toronto mayoral campaign, a common sign or message heard around the city was “Pinball for mayor!”, even though he wasn’t even a candidate.   

Currently, Clemons is a motivational speaker and the co-founder of the Michael “Pinball” Clemons Foundation (MPCF).  MPCF strives to reach the most under resourced individuals at home and around the world by partnering with organizations such as Free the Children, Habitat for Humanity, George Brown College Foundation and Sky’s the Limit.  The organization also has a broad community outreach and is often seen promoting their “Just Give” campaign around the city of Toronto. I previously worked for MPCF and every time “Pinball” was in the office he left all of us feeling motivated and inspired.  His “give a hand up not a hand out” attitude is displayed through his personal actions and through his Foundation’s work.

3) Steve Nash

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Steve Nash is is a Canadian professional basketball player who currently plays for the Los Angeles Lakers. He is an eight-time NBA All-Star and a two-time recipient of the NBA Most Valuable Player Award. He has also led the league in assists five times.

Nash and his family started the Steve Nash Foundation in 2001. The Foundation is a private foundation dedicated to assisting underserved children in their health, personal development, education and enjoyment of life.  Like its NBA MVP founder, the Foundation is fast becoming a leader in assists . . . to a slightly shorter population.

The Steve Nash Foundation operates as two separate private foundations: a registered Canadian charity headquartered in Nash’s hometown of Victoria, BC, and a US charity headquartered in Arizona. Through the Foundations’ platforms, Nash works to increase access to critical resources, and provide a foundation for health and strength in communities across Canada, the US, Paraguay and Uganda.

4) Wayne Gretzky

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Wayne Gretzky, nicknamed “The Great One” is probably the most famous and internationally recognized Canadian athlete. He was born in Brantford, Ontario and learned to skate on a rink his father built in the family’s backyard (you know, typically Canadian). Gretzky has had more impact on the NHL record book than any other player. By the time he retired, he held over 60 NHL records and most of the sport's prestigious hardware, including nine Hart Trophies for most valuable player and five Lester B. Pearson Trophies for MVP as voted by other players.

In 2002, Gretzky founded the Wayne Gretzky Foundation (WGF). It’s mission is to provide less fortunate youth with the opportunity to experience the sport of hockey. The WGF believes that hockey instills many positive life skills and contributes to the physical, emotional and social growth of young people. The Foundation also partners with other charitable organizations to assist in their causes as well such as Right To Play, the CNIB, the Heart and Stroke Foundation, and Ronald McDonald House of Canada.

As The Great One says “ Perhaps the most famous coaching advice in all of hockey came from my dad. He told me not to focus on where the puck is, but where the puck is going. That's good advice for life, too. The puck is going to our kids. Our future. Hockey is our game. It promotes fitness and personal development. That's why the Wayne Gretzky Foundation is focused on putting hockey and well being within every kid's reach. It's not just about equipping kids for hockey. It's about equipping kids for life. You're guaranteed to miss one hundred percent of the shots you don't take. Every kid deserves a shot. Let's put every kid in the game." (http://hockey-blog-in-canada.blogspot.ca/2010/07/charitable-donations-wayne-gretzky.html)

5) Hayley Wickenheiser

www.cbc.ca

Rounding off my list is another hockey great: five-time Olympic medalist, Hayley Wickenheiser who is regarded as one of the best female hockey players in the world. However, it’s not just her lethal slapshot that is respected by her teammates, fans and peers; Hayley is also an award winner, community leader, mentor, history-maker and an accomplished businesswoman.

At age 15, Hayley was chosen for the Canadian Women’s National Team. She has since led the squad to six gold and one silver medal at the Women’s World Hockey Championships. As an Olympian, she earned a silver medal at the 1998 Winter Olympics and four Olympic gold medals in 2002, 2006, 2010 and most recently at the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics. In January 2003, Hayley made hockey history when she became the first female hockey player to score a point in a men’s professional game with the team Kirkkonummen Salamat of the Finnish league.

Wickenheiser’s passion for sport is matched by her desire to give back to the community in her work with organizations such as JumpStart, KidSport, Project North, Right to Play, Ovarian Cancer Canada and many others. In 2007, she travelled to Rwanda with a team of Canadian Olympic athletes for Right to Play and in 2011, she returned to Africa on a similar goodwill mission to Ghana. She is such a great role model to many young Canadians.

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Athletes are very fortunate to have the opportunity to do what they love for a living and it’s great to see those that give back either throughout their career or afterwards.  Many children and even adults look up to these athletes and what better example to set than how to be a true global citizen.

These athletes are working to guarantee a better life for youth, and you can too. Post your selfie to ShowYourSelfie.org and join the visual petition for global youth. Because every kid, everywhere, deserves the opportunity to fulfill their potential.

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Alison Costa