Former IRONMAN age group world champion Pierre Lavoie is much more than a great athlete - he's become a driving force for fitness and active living here in Quebec.
By Kevin Mackinnon
The first time I met Pierre Lavoie was in 1998. I was covering IRONMAN Lanzarote and he finished a remarkable fifth. I raced up to do a post race interview with him at the line and managed to get a quote from him. Then, as I was turning away to sign off, he grabbed my arm and pulled the microphone to his mouth.
“I am doing this for my son, Raphael,” he said, his eyes tearing. “I lost one daughter already and I am hoping we won’t lose him, too.”
Both myself and Greg McFadden, who was manning the camera, looked on in shock. This was the first we knew of Lavoie’s story – and I had to come up with a close in a split second.
At that time Lavoie didn’t know that Raphael was sick with the same disease that had taken his daughter, Laurie, in 1997. When he returned from the Canary Islands, he learned that Raphael did have lactic acidosis, a rare hereditary illness that’s especially present in the Saguenay-Lac-Saint-Jean region. Raphael would also die from the disease.
“The values of ironman – the perserverance, the discipline helped me through the difficulties of losing a child,” says Lavoie.
In 1999 he launched a fundraising ride, the Defi Pierre Lavoie in Saugenay-Lac-Saint-Jean, to raise awareness about lactic acidosis and to raise funds for research. He rode 650 km in 24 hours around the region. He did that three more times, raising enough funds for a team of researchers from the University of Quebec to discover the gene responsible for the disease in 2003.
In 2005 he re-invented his fundraising ride, allowing children from schools the chance to ride one km with him – 6,300 kids took part. Three years later the program was extended across the province of Quebec. In May 290,000 children took part in the Grand defi Pierre Lavoie. One out of every two families in the province participate in the Grand Defi every year.
Lavoie is such a hero in this province it’s felt that his involvement as the co-president of the race was operative in getting the government involved and pitching in millions of dollars to pave the roads in the region. Of the 650 Quebec athletes competing here, probably half are involved because they’ve been inspired by his exploits and fundraising efforts.
Lavoie is determined to use IRONMAN to help expand his message. He’s bound and determined to get more people moving.
“Because athletes are the best way to promote a healthy lifestyle, it’s so important to have a prestigious event in Quebec to help increase awareness,” he says. “In Canada, kids who are 12 are suffering from Type 2 diabetes – that’s unacceptable.”
Lavoie was determined to see this event come to Quebec because he feels it provides a prestigious platform on which to increase awareness about healthy lifestyles and activity. Last night, at the carbo dinner, Lavoie had a clear message to all the athletes competing here in Mont-Tremblant: “You are examples for these kids. You are the ones they are looking up to. If you don’t take this in an important way, who will do it?”
Take cover, folks – the Pierre Lavoie message is coming to a community near you. He wants to expand his message throughout Canada. From there? Well, anything is possible, right?
This is a guy who refused to sit idly by as his children passed away in front of him. He and his wife Lynne Rothier lost two children, but two more, 22-year-old fireman Bruno-Pierre and eight-year-old Julian are very much alive and well. He’s inspired a province to keep moving. He’s walking the talk, too – this guy will be one of the top finishers tomorrow.
It’s been a long time since that finish line in Lanzarote. I thought the guy was incredible then. Not sure how to describe him now. “Heroic” doesn’t seem to be enough, but it’ll have to do for now.
You can reach Kevin Mackinnon at firstname.lastname@example.org