Derek Drouin returned to Corunna last week to visit his old elementary school – the place where his rise to Olympic glory got started.
“In this very gym is the very first time that I ever tried high jump,” he told the staff and students at St. Joseph’s Catholic School.
“I was sitting exactly where you were sitting when my dream of going to the Olympics really started.”
The Canadian high jumper who won gold in Rio this summer said he learned about the Olympic spirit while watching the 2000 games on TV.
“I was 10 years old and the Olympics in Sydney just started,” he said. “I spent those two weeks just glued to the television.”
The assembly was silent as Drouin recounted how Canadian triathlete Simon Whitfield crashed during a race but came back against all odds to win the gold medal for Canada.
“That day is the day that I learned what the true Olympic spirit was all about. It’s about hard work, determination, and adversity,” he said.
Students had an opportunity to ask Drouin questions. One wanted to know where he kept his gold medal and another wanted to know if he uses good luck charms – which Drouin said he doesn’t.
“Who taught you how to high jump?” a kindergartener asked.
Drouin replied it was his own kindergarten teacher who got him started.
“It’s just cool in that he learned high jump here,” said Reagan Samson, a Grade 5 student.
Her brother in Grade 7, Jack Samson, was equally impressed.
“I feel like I can accomplish a lot after seeing him,” he said.
Principal Coleen Cogghe said anyone could relate to the track and field star’s message.
“He talked about how it’s not just about sports, and that determination and perseverance can be applied to somebody who also has a passion for music,” she said.
“When it comes to your school and academics, hard work can make a difference and take you places you could only have dreamed about.”
Grade 8 teacher Mary-Lou Burton remembers teaching Drouin when he attended St. Joseph’s. His potential was apparent even then, she said.
“I don’t want to say that we knew from that time that he was going to be an Olympian, but he had all the good characteristics. A person of integrity is how I would describe him,” she said.
Following the assembly, students lined up to meet the homegrown hero face-to-face.
“When I was in elementary school and had athletes come and speak to me, that’s kind of when my Olympic dreams started,” Drouin said between signing autographs.
“I think it’s important for them to see that someone who starts off exactly the way that they did has been able to accomplish their dreams, and hopefully encourage them to do the same.”
Drouin lives in Toronto now where he continues to train full-time. His goal is to return to the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo, he said.