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TRANSFORMING THE NEGATIVE INTO POSITIVE – September 3, 1999, 3 p.m.: Pierre Lavoie begins his 24-hour, 650-km bike ride in Saguenay-Lac-Saint-Jean. His goal is to fundraise for research on lactic acidosis, an orphan disease that claimed his daughter Laurie in 1997, and from which his son Raphaël also developed. Unfortunately, Raphaël passed away the following year, but lactic acidosis, more prevalent in Saguenay-Lac-Saint-Jean than elsewhere, still affects many children. The community is counting on Pierre Lavoie to continue the crusade. Twenty years later, the Grand Défi Pierre Lavoie is now pan-Canadian and even has international ambitions. An encounter with a man of iron and heart. 

How did you reinvest your passion for cycling in developing an innovative philanthropic event? 

In 1999, I was a top-level athlete when I decided that my bike could serve for more than just winning medals. It was more than a fight against lactic acidosis; it was a campaign for physical activity. To be active, for a person, is to have control over their health. On a societal scale, it is becoming the best way to alleviate the overcrowding of the healthcare system that is too busy treating lifestyle-induced diseases to make room for the research and treatment of orphan diseases. If the trend continues, by 2030, 70% of our taxes will be spent on healthcare. It’s massive! I wanted to tackle the “elephant in the room”: the bad behaviour. Right from the start, my status as an athlete gave credibility to my approach and my project. 

What is the mission you are pursuing through each of the projects in which you are involved? 

My mission is to democratize physical activity. My objective is to shake up and change habits, respectfully and inclusively, without ever discriminating or stigmatizing. I firmly believe that the one who shakes the world is not the one who wins medals, it’s the ordinary guy who proves that if he is capable of doing it, then anyone can. 

To facilitate the integration of physical activity into our daily lives, specific measures should be established as a community. Implement gyms in offices, rethink work schedules and offer two structures in schools: one for organized sport (recreational or competitive), sports studies and competitions, and the other for those who want to move for fun. 

Are there any communities in the world who manage to do that? 

Scandinavian countries deeply inspire me. In Sweden, Norway and Finland, high school students play five different sports before they can choose one they particularly like and want to be more involved in. In these countries, 91% of children exercise for one hour a day, and no sport is competitive until they are 14 years old. The child is allowed to try, choose, without being scored or compared to others, and thus given the desire to move for life. 

To bring you closer to this ideal, you, Pierre Thibault and Ricardo Larrivée founded the Lab-École. How is this project shaping up? 

The Lab-École is a non-profit organization that we created in 2017. It aims to gather multidisciplinary expertise to shape the environment of tomorrow’s schools, by focusing on three areas of activity: physical environment, healthy and active lifestyle, as well as nutrition. For the first phase, many Québec architects participated in the architecture competition, and we are currently in the process of selecting the best projects. I am proud of this project because the Lab-École will give our province the schools most adapted to the needs of children and teachers alike. 

You strive to change people’s habits. The benefits of this significant project may take time to be realized. Do you experience any moments of discouragement? 

Never. The work that remains and the people who still have to be convinced are a daily source of motivation, as much as those who, every day, follow in our footsteps. Going out in the field to meet students and teachers inspires me even more, because I see how much the education community relies on us to educate, to do prevention. You have to believe in it and be patient. My mother always said, Common sense always wins out in the end. 


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