Nearly five years ago to the day, I strapped my feet into my bike pedals and began one of the most enriching adventures of my life. The 2016 Grand Défi Pierre Lavoie is just days away, and I would like to share a little of what has changed in my life and in my family’s life since I first got those wheels turning.
I’ll be honest—I haven’t always had the nickname “The Machine.” In 2012, when Eric Caouette, a friend and partner with our organization, invited me to join his newly formed team to take part in the 1,000-km Grand Défi Pierre Lavoie, I was not in top shape. I wasn’t too familiar with the event at the time, but I had a feeling it would be an interesting challenge for a young father who hadn’t been very active since the birth of his two daughters, aged 3 and 4. You should know that ever since the Grand Défi was created, teams have been encouraged to include among its members a sedentary person who would benefit from a change in lifestyle. In 2012, that person was me.
It marked the beginning of my road to getting into shape. This commitment really took hold when my friends jokingly expressed strong doubts about whether I could accomplish such a tall order in so short a time frame. Challenge accepted, as they say. This gave me extra motivation, such that between March 2012 and the start of the 1,000 km in June, I had successfully gotten into shape and become passionate (some would say crazy) about cycling. The Grand Défi was such a powerful experience that I couldn’t imagine stopping there. I took it upon myself to share the experience with as many people as possible so that they too might have the opportunity to participate in this celebration of healthy living.
The following year, several family members jumped on board. Jean-Yves - and his partner Josée-, Christiane, Marie-Pier and my Aunt Myriam joined me and about 10 Groupe Germain employees to complete the 1,000-km event, while others took on La Boucle, a 135-km course. In addition to the exercise (a perk in itself), we also raised money in support of primary schools in Quebec City and Montreal and, incidentally, to promote healthy living among today’s youth. Our team spends a lot of time with school boards to choose engaging, structuring projects that truly meet the needs of schools in fostering active lifestyles. Over the past five years, our teams and their cyclists have provided support to over thirty schools all across Canada. Through our fundraising, we have donated nearly $425,000 in new money to sponsored primary schools, which has affected nearly 12,000 young people of all ages throughout the province and the country. All of this from just one team! A total of 200 take part in the Grand Défi every year. Imagine the force for change that this represents.
For those who haven’t yet had the opportunity, supporting a school is probably one of the most enriching aspects of the entire Grand Défi experience. Entering a gymnasium filled with motivated kids who are eager to collect cubes for a chance to win the Grand Prize is, frankly, exhilarating. I recommend it to everyone.
This year will therefore be the fifth time I take part in this wonderful celebration. Last year, I completed my first Ironman half triathlon in Mont-Tremblant—a challenge laid down by a friend I had invited as the sedentary person on our team for the 2014 Grand Défi. I will be doing a second one this year. Pretty cool for a guy who wasn’t doing much five years ago.
Given the scale to which the event and organization have grown, their impact not only on cyclists, but especially on thousands of young people, is indisputable. It may just be a coincidence, but several of my friends and family members have also started training recently. Regardless of whether or not these changes are directly related to the Grand Défi, I am convinced that it has been a positive influence on the people around me.
With just a few days until we set out from La Baie, I am extremely proud of what we have accomplished over the past few years with Pierre Lavoie and his Grand Défi. I very much hope that the organization will continue to build on its success and to create events that encourage everyone to dedicate themselves to a more active and healthy lifestyle. It’s a cliché, I know, but the health of our society depends on it.