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Star Power: This Olympian Thinks Outside the Box

Posted: 12/06/2012 12:42 pm

Star Power: A six-pack of questions for celebs making a difference. Craig and Marc Kielburger, founders of Free The Children and Me to We, check in with some of their favourite actors, singers, athletes and activists to find out how they are changing the world.

Canadian Olympian Sylvie Fréchette encourages the beautiful, crazy people

Certain people have such boundless inner energy that it seems the whole global deficit might be solved, if only we could tap into their power reserves. Sylvie Fréchette is one of those people. "There's no time to rest!" She exclaims to suggestions from friends that she might be overdoing it, and she welcomes accusations that she might be "crazy."

It's not hard to see how this vivacious Québécoise helped Canada bring home the Olympic gold for solo synchronized swimming at the 1992 Barcelona Games, and the team silver in 1996, in Atlanta.

Now retired from Olympic swimming, 45-year-old Fréchette is a nationally-recognized motivational speaker and humanitarian, devoting her time and passion to both local and global causes. At home, she's founded sports programs and summer camps for kids in the Laurentians, north of Montreal. But she's also globally-minded, advocating for better access to clean water in developing communities.

We managed to pin down the bubbly Fréchette just long enough for a quick chat in Montreal.

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On any given day, we know that girls' education, world hunger and global warming are some of the social issues facing our world today. What's the biggest issue to you?

I would say right now I am very, very concerned with the war there is everywhere. It is children and women everywhere who are victims of all of this. And that makes me very emotional because I am a mom and at night I don't worry about a bomb falling on my house or having people just barging into my house and taking my husband away and not knowing when I'm going to see him again. Of course my children are quite young, but I try to make them realize that war starts between two people. It's when you say, "No, this is my toy!" "No, it is mine!" "No, I don't want to share my toy!" It's little simple things like that, that just grow and grow and grow.

There are people who look up to you as a role model. Who's your role model or hero?

My first real hero was actually Terry Fox. Very often when I had an injury or I was in pain or whatever... just that image of Terry Fox with his beautiful smile and his blue eyes, just running -- I was like, "Keep running, Sylvie, you can do it. There's so much worse. Keep on going, keep your head up, and shut up."

He is still alive -- in the thoughts and in the community and in the Terry Fox Run. I hope he is going to stay alive for a very, very long time because he was a proud Canadian and he made us proud and he still makes us proud.

If you could have a socially conscious super power and change one thing about the world, what would it be?

I think I would make a way to create water out of nothing. Because I've seen the power, the magic that water can bring to a community. I know water would change the world. When you have water, you have food, you can wash yourself -- it's your hygiene, so it's your health. I've seen villages in Africa, because there's a well close to the school, families send the kids to school, because if there's water there's a garden so kids can actually eat and they can drink, and then they can learn how to manage a garden so they can bring [that knowledge of agriculture] home.

Can you describe the moment when you decided you wanted to start giving back, living and doing for others?

We call it in French ma crise de la quarantaine ["my midlife crisis"]. When I got to about 40 years old, you know when you put everything back in perspective in your life, I thought, "Sylvie, you're probably halfway through your life." In the first half of my life I received so much. Of course I worked hard, but I was lucky in a way. And I got way beyond what I gave. So in the second half of my life I want to give back.

If people in the future are talking about you, what would you want them to say?

I say, Il y a des beaux fous -- there are beautiful, crazy people in life. It takes crazy people to make things happen.

About 30 years ago there was a beautiful, crazy guy living in the park and his favourite thing in life was to spit fire. And he would tell to anyone who would listen to him, "One day I'm going to create a circus without animals." That's Guy Laliberté and he founded Cirque du Soleil.

It takes beautiful, crazy people like that to think outside the box to provoke. And that's how I want people to see me. I am crazy.

People are always like, "Sylvie, don't you want to rest for a second?" No! There's no time to rest! I believe in crazy things and I believe it keeps me alive and it keeps other people alive. And I hope, even at my age, until I die, that I will be able to challenge the way we do things: the way we talk, the way we think. Because I believe that we need in this society to have beautiful, crazy people.

Craig and Marc Kielburger are founders of international charity and educational partner, Free The Children. Its youth empowerment event, We Day, is in eight cities across Canada this year, inspiring more than 100,000 attendees. For more information, visit www.weday.com

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