Andre De Grasse on being Canadian, paying it forward


Canadian sprinter Andre De Grasse.. (Darryl Dyck/CP)

Andre De Grasse has a newborn child. I’ve been told by what seems like everyone who has a kid that the experience makes you contemplate things greater than your own existence.

For De Grasse, that’s certainly been the case.

It’s no coincidence the announcement of the Andre De Grasse Family Foundation earlier this month was mere days before he became a first-time father.

He announced the foundation earlier this month during a high-school track meet at York University, the very place he got his unprobeable track start and where he competed in elementary school track meets from Grades 4 to 8.

At York that day he spoke in depth to me about all the things he both loves and misses about Canada when he’s away.

De Grasse’s long-time girlfriend, Nia Ali, whom he met when they were both attending the University of Southern California, gave birth in Philadelphia to a girl named Yuri.

The child was born with killer track genes. Ali is a 29-year-old American sprinter who owns two-world indoor championship gold medals in the 60-metre hurdles, and a silver medal in the 100 hurdles at the 2016 Olympics in Brazil.

If their daughter decides to pursue track and field, coaching and resources won’t be an issue. But De Grasse is deciding to take care of kids where that isn’t the case. Kids like he was not too long ago.

Not only is De Grasse now looking after a newborn, but he’s also looking to get his season reborn.

The 23-year-old from Markham, ON is trying to regain his world-class form after uncharacteristically struggling in the Diamond League.

He is working his way back from a Grade 2 hamstring strain that caused him to miss last season’s world track and field championships and this year’s Commonwealth Games. De Grasse has competed in four events this year, the latest in Canada at the Harry Jerome Classic in Burnaby, B.C.

The experience in Burnaby was both sweet and sour. He co-starred as the anchor of the men’s 4 x 100 team, which consisted of Gavin Smellie, Aaron Brown and Mobolade Ajomale. The Canadians set a meet record of 38.42 seconds. But earlier, De Grasse finished third in the 100 metres.

It was a continuation of disappointing results for DeGrasse, including:

• Fourth in the 100 metres at the Drake Relays in Des Moines, Iowa
• Sixth in the 200 metres in Doha, Qatar
• Eighth in the 100 metres in Shanghai

Next up is the Canadian championships in Ottawa, then back to Europe for a couple of Diamond League events where he will hope to score enough points to get in the Diamond League Final.

De Grasse will be running at home again at Toronto’s Varsity Stadium in August for the North American, Central American and Caribbean Championships, an event being promoted as Track & Field in The 6ix with De Grasse as the headliner.

But what he’s most excited about is helping others with their running.

De Grasse and his first coach Tony Sharpe will be holding clinics via Sharpe’s “speed academy” during the off-season to fulfill The Family Foundation’s objective of helping thriving young track stars.

It was only six years ago that Sharpe watched De Grasse, then a Grade 12 student, run a 10.9 100-metre from an upright starting position, in borrowed track spikes and basketball shorts. Sharpe saw greatness and potential. Now Sharpe is telling De Grasse about other track prospects in need of resources. A year ago, De Grasse paid for Canadian teenagers Ethan Smith and Daquan Berry to get to the New Balance Nationals, a U.S. high school indoor track championships, in New York.

Now he has an infrastructure in place to take his philanthropy to another level.

The scholarship is contingent on an application process and once granted will include club registration fees, meet entry fees, uniforms, equipment and travel. Along with coaching, additional support will include weight training, nutritional advice, chiropractic work and academic counselling.

The 5-foot-10, 155-pound De Grasse leaned on similar support in 2013 as his mother Beverley fund raised to help foot the bill to got to the Pan American junior championships in Colombia.

Two years later, De Grasse signed an $11.25-million deal with Puma upon turning pro, and now he’s using that windfall of cash to open other doors for those hoping to follow in his footsteps.

De Grasse is finding his form as a parent and finding his feet on the track, but he already knows what he wants his legacy to be: Fathering a generation of young Canadian sprinters. And in a perfect world, his records will be broken by someone he helped break in to the sport.

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Andre De Grasse on being Canadian, paying it forward