In December 2020, I accepted a virtual challenge to run two kilometers a day for a month. Was I already a runner? Nope. I would say that I was a casual runner at best. Was it hard? Certainly, but not as much as I expected. I was able to go outside almost every day and the sense of accomplishment was incredible. What I enjoyed the most was ending my run on a downhill run for a truly unrivaled sense of speed. I’ve been chasing this record pretty consistently throughout 2021. But this year the daily routine was overshadowed by starts and stops.
I was looking for inspiration to get back on track when I had the opportunity to chat with André De Grasse. Scarborough-born sprinter and co-author of a motivational children’s book. Race with me! recently landed in Toronto to launch its new partnership with Tre Stelle and the company’s new product, Cheezmade, a meat alternative made from 100 percent Canadian cheese. He had just won the gold medal for Team Canada in the men’s 4x100m relay at the World Championships in Athletics, where he ran the final leg in 8.79 seconds. And yes, I asked the most decorated Olympian in Canadian history how I could become a better runner.
During the interview, which has been edited for length and clarity, we also talked about what it was like to fight COVID-19 on his road to victory and the philanthropic efforts that keep him moving forward.
Congratulations on the gold medal! What was the most enjoyable experience of victory?
Just knowing we made history… it was [more than] 25 years since we did something like this. So it was nice to get congratulations from the guys who were there before – Donovan Aug 20 ’11 at 10:02 [Bailey]Bruni [Surin] and Robert [Esmie] — and, of course, other participants, our relay coach.
We’ve been to two Olympics together as a team, we’ve won bronze and silver, so we just wanted to get the opportunity to try and win gold. So it’s definitely good.
You have recently recovered from COVID-19 for the second time. How did this affect your preparation for the World Championships in Athletics?
There will always be ups and downs and things you can’t control. Of course, just not being able to train at my best for the last three weeks after getting sick was tough. But, you know, I wanted to make sure I was there for my team.
I scratched from 200 meters [race]and then just focused all of my attention on trying to be ready for the relay and finish the World Cup at a high level. So it’s definitely nice to be able to have that and say, “OK, I mean, it didn’t start well, but at least it ended well.” And I think that’s what life is all about.
I hope you can help me as a beginner runner. What advice would you give the average person to run better?
In fact, it’s all about technology. You know, make sure you shake your hands. And I think that for an ordinary person it is enough to start with a couple of laps around the track. Just try to feel this impulse. Take your time, obviously adjust to yourself… if you’re trying to run fast, you don’t have to prepare so fast for this moment.
I tell people that as a runner, I don’t always run fast. I’m literally warming up. I’m stretching. I do warm-up circles at a much slower pace. And then, of course, you have to do exercises to keep your technique.
Definitely I think if you work on small, small details and start slow and just do those things first, then you can kind of get into all this work. But don’t just start trying to run fast, because you will hurt yourself. You must take your time, relax, step [and] obviously make sure you are dehydrated.
So do these things and in the end may be Can I run 100 meters in 8.79 seconds?
Well, you will definitely have a personal record! It’s funny because I had [virtual running] call … the goal was for everyone to run the 400 meters and literally every week you come back and try to beat your time again. So a lot of people keep doing it over and over and actually run a little faster each time, even if it was only for one second… it was pretty cool to see that.
Even age didn’t matter, to be honest. We had people in their 20s, 30s, 40s, they just ran away. And I think that’s the way it is: it’s just practice. Once you practice, everything will fall into place.
Both the André De Grasse Family Foundation and the André De Grasse Fellowship for Future Champions Program help empower young people by giving them access to things like sports, health care and education. Why is it important for you to regain youth?
I have been fortunate to receive great support throughout my career. And I always want to be able to return that favor to many of these kids. To be honest, I just saw, especially when I got back to my old track and field club, how many kids were so good. And to be able to, you know, help them get a scholarship, go to university and maybe want to play their sport, I’m definitely glad to see that.
How can Canadians support your projects?
Our next project is coming soon. Actually, I’m throwing a wine dinner to help raise funds for the foundation. So all proceeds will actually go back to my foundation – helping kids with their sports… and anything really related to this educational piece, because we want to make sure they not only become sports stars, but they can also have their education. Be a productive citizen of the world. You can go to AndreDeGrasse.com and learn more.
As autumn approaches, what are you going to focus on?
My sport is all year round. While we don’t compete all the time, it is all year round. I mean, I literally train six days a week. So when autumn comes, I will come back here to train and prepare for another year. Next year we’ll have the World Championships in Budapest, Hungary and then it’s kind of a stepping stone for me to get ready for  Olympic Games in Paris. So definitely a lot, a lot of family time. This is my current schedule.
Ingri Williams is a freelance Toronto-based beauty and style writer and co-founder of T-Zone who lives for her vibrant lips and fuller hair. Follow her on Instagram @ingriewilliams.