Wednesday, February 21, 2018

A mother's love

Trini Beverley De Grasse keeps Andre on course

PROUD MOM: Trini-born Beverley De Grasse proudly displays the Trinidad and Tobago flag, as well as a graduation photo of her Canadian son, triple Olympic medallist Andre De Grasse, at her Toronto, Canada home, recently. -Photo: JEAN-PIERRE DURAND for the IAAF

“My mom means everything to me. I'm so fortunate to have her in my life.”

Andre De Grasse is not overstating the high regard he has for his mother, Beverley. A single mom, the elder De Grasse has devoted her life to her only child, and has lived to see the fruit of her sacrifice. Andre is one of the fastest men on the planet, but perhaps more significantly for his Trini-born mom, the 22-year-old Canadian is the holder of a Bachelor's degree from the prestigious University of Southern California (USC).

Even after signing a mega US$11.25 million multi-year contract with Puma in December 2015, completing his degree was among Andre's priorities.

“Your parents, your moms,” says the sprint star, “are always going to say 'I want you to finish school, I want people to know you're not just defined by track and field'. I made a promise to her. I said 'Mom, this is not going to change me, I'm going to finish my degree'.”

Following a successful Olympic debut in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, where he captured three medals—200 metres silver, 100m bronze and 4x100m bronze—De Grasse kept his word, returning to California for his final semester.

Sitting in the living room of her modest but comfortable duplex home in Markham, a Toronto suburb, Beverley clings lovingly to Andre's graduation photo.

Based in Phoenix, Arizona, where he trains with Stuart McMillan's Altis group, Andre spends limited time in Toronto. But while unable to visit as often as he would like, the fastest man in Canada has found a compromise, bringing the best of Toronto to his Phoenix home.

“I try to go down once a month,” Beverley explains, “to help him out, spend about a week, and then come back. I know there's a lot of people and a lot of responsibility that comes with being a professional athlete, but I get my time with him.”

That time is short on this Wednesday evening. Andre is in Toronto, but is in high demand. Shooting a commercial has chipped away at his day. He will make a quick stop at mummy's house, before rushing off to catch a flight to Phoenix. After all, sprinting is his business, and a Thursday training session has been scheduled.

Mummy won't make the trek to Phoenix this time, but sends a reminder of her love—a home-cooked Trini meal of saltfish, sweet potato and dumplings.

“Not too many dumplings because of the carbs,” says Beverley, fully cognisant of the discipline required to compete at the highest level.

Yes, Beverley's son is now one of the best sprinters in the world. But the proud mother insists that for all the fame and fortune that has come his way, Andre is unchanged.

“He's getting more comfortable with the spotlight and the media. It's bringing him out a bit, but he's still the same, just more mature. He understands life a little better. Andre De Grasse is very quiet, very kind. We'd be in the house together, and you wouldn't know he's here. He doesn't talk a lot, but when something bothers him he would come to me and discuss it.”

Though the Olympic Games is the ultimate outing for any track and field athlete, Andre's double sprint triumph at the 2015 Pan American Games in Toronto stands out for Beverley.

“He won in front of family. That was really special for us. He had a lot of cousins and friends there to support him.”

Beverley is no stranger to track and field, no stranger to speed. Before migrating to Canada, the Claxton Bay lass represented Couva Junior Secondary and Pleasantville Senior Comprehensive at schools meets in Trinidad.

“I think it's genetics. I met a lady not too long ago and she said when she heard the name De Grasse she remembered my sister, who used to run really fast. Me and most of my siblings, we didn't train professionally but excelled at running.”

For a long time, Andre doubted his mother's claims of being a formidable sprinter in her teen years, but became a believer when Beverley “started working out again” and challenged him to allow her to do a training session with him.

“That's when I said, 'maybe you did run in the past'. She was always saying 'you got that from me, not your father'. I'm really happy that she ran and I got those genes.”

But it's not just the genes. For more than two decades, Beverley poured her heart and soul into her baby, her only child. Call it the gift that keeps on giving, for Mama De Grasse has given up her career as an early childhood educator to help her son transition into a global superstar.

“Being a single parent, I always had to work and do everything for Andre. But track and field has made both our lives comfortable, allowing me to stop working to help him along the way with his journey. It has done a lot for us.”

This time, it's a gift exchange, Andre De Grasse's blinding speed allowing him to give back to his Trini mom for her many years of selfless dedication.

EDITOR'S NOTE: Express writer Kwame Laurence is among a select group of sports journalists chosen for the latest IAAF Day in the Life project, featuring triple Olympic medallist Andre De Grasse. Next Friday, De Grasse the Caribbean Man.