Standing in the lobby of Carrefour Multisports, I saw Bruny Surin before he saw me. He’s been retired from competitive running for five years, but still moves with an athlete’s grace. I stepped forward to introduce myself, and his face creased with that million dollar smile, and “Mr. Surin” became Bruny. It’s easy to see why he is in great demand as a motivational speaker.

Bruny Surin emigrated from the chaos of Haiti with his parent and two sisters in 1975. His parents had come the previous year in order to gain employment and establish a household before bringing their three young children. The Duvalier family were maintaining a repressive regime at the time, and the Surins wanted to provide a better future for their young family. Bruny’s father worked as a mechanic, and his mother as a seamstress.

As a boy, Bruny was athletic, but not in track. His passion was basketball. However the high school track coach saw athletic qualities in Bruny that he knew would be good for track. However, it took Coach Daniel St-Hilaire a while to persuade Bruny to switch to track. “Perhaps it was the team sport that appealed to me more than the individual competition of track” Bruny observed during our interview. The coach enlisted the aid of Bruny’s friends, and with their encouragement, a he went out for the track team.
At first his events were the long jump and triple jump. However, one of Bruny’s idols was American Carl Lewis, who won gold medals in 100 Metres, Long Jump, Triple Jump, and relay. He did it all – and with great flamboyance.

“I admired his ability – I even had his name on my athletic bag as a constant inspiration. I remember one time Lewis arrived for his race in a helicopter that landed in the midfield. He was a showman – but he could back it up with his performance.”

Bruny explained the rigours of training to an Olympic athlete. “It’s your job – it’s what you do and what you are. We trained 6 days a week, with Sundays off. I did three hours of weight training every day, and that was after I’d already been at the track for several hours.” Bruny continues; “Of course we also followed very strict diets to provide the proper nutrition for our bodies.”

“I had a dream – a goal to be the best. I believed that if I prepared myself and kept working – that I could do it.” Moving on; “This is the message I take to kids in schools and to motivational sessions. Your dreams can happen – but you have to believe in yourself and do your preparation.”

And Bruny’s dream did come true at the ’96 Olympic Games in Atlanta. There had been many medals performances during his career, including gold medals in 4 x 100 relays races in World Championships. In Atlanta, the Canadian team was a little under the radar, and the American team was the heavy favourite. The Canadian beat the hometown American by nearly a half second, and Bruny’s time was an incredible 9.84 seconds. “It took at least two hours for me to realize what that meant. We were waiting at the doping control and I turned to my wife and said: ‘I ran in 9.84! I’ve just run faster than Carl Lewis!!’ Dreams can happen, and this is the message I take to kids.”

Bruny Surin would once again run 100 meters 9.84 seconds in the 1999 World Championships, winning a silver medal, and this remains the fastest losing time in a 100 metre race. But it’s the personal best that is important to Bruny. “At 32 years old, and drug free – I was able to ran a 9.84. This just doesn’t happen – but I did it!” This is an important part of Bruny’s motivational sessions. “People let themselves be limited by their environment, and tell themselves that they can’t achieve because of certain conditions. At 32, I wasn’t supposed to be able to run a 9.84 – but I did. And it didn’t just happen. I prepared myself, worked extremely hard, and as able to perform.”

Today, Bruny has a number of business ventures. “I ran competitively until I was 35. Many of my friends only did it until their mid-twenties. Because I lasted so long, I knew that I was going to have to transform from making my living as an athlete to making it in business. There wasn’t an abrupt end – I had planned for it.”

In addition to his other business activities, Bruny is working as a spokesman for Pfizer and their anti-inflammatory product Celebrex. “This is a permitted product, and one that I used myself during my career, Bruny notes. The company has just concluded a survey of Canadians who participate in physical recreational activity on a regular basis. The numbers of these “weekend warriors” who experience significant discomfort and pain after participating in their sport is alarmingly high. It is the direct result of not taking enough time to properly warm up and cool down after exercise.

Bruny has his own Olympic-sized story to tell about improper cool down. “The Olympic trials for the Sydney Games were being televised nationally, and the final heat of the 100 was scheduled at a specific time. There were some delays, and my qualifying heat was the last. The time between the races was greatly compressed, and I didn’t have time to go through the normal cool down and subsequent warm up. The 100 metres places a tremendous strain on the body, because of the explosion you make out of the starting blocks.”

Bruny had the option of not running because he had already earned his place on the team. “At lot of people think that we’re prima donnas. I knew that if I didn’t run in the televised race that I’d be finished with the Canadian public. They wanted to see me run, and so I did. I felt something go in my leg at 80 metres, and I slowed down a little. I still won the race – but I knew something was wrong. As I cooled down it got worse; and by the next day I could hardly walk. All this because I didn’t do the proper warm up and cool down sequence between races.”

“If this can happen to an Olympic athlete, it can certainly happen to people who are playing sports or working out for fun. I can’t stress enough the importance of including a warm up and cool down into your routine.” Studies show that Canadians are paying more attention to their fitness as they grow older, and have a level of fitness superior to their parent’s generation. However, as this older group continues to be physically active, there are improvements that can be made to their routines.

However, the Pfizer study shows that 86% of participants in recreational sports leagues experience pain the next day, and 26% say that their pain bothers them at work. A further 22% claim that their sports-related pain affects their sleep. Not very good numbers for something that’s supposed to be fun.

So Bruny is on a mission to encourage weekend warriors to include proper warm up and cool down as part of their activities. “People need to stretch out before and after their activities. Its spring now and lots of people will want to start jogging outdoors. I encourage them to get the proper equipment, with good shoes. And if they do get a little stiff or pull some muscles, they should consult their physician before taking any anti-inflammatory medication.”

Today life is good for Bruny Surin and his family. He continues to apply the same work ethic to his business enterprises that he used in his days as an athlete. He’s helping his daughters to become competitive tennis players.

I ask him about “the race”. Does he ever get tired of seeing it? “I see that race every time I make a motivational speech. My heart still flutters when I see myself. It’s a moment I lived for, and I realized my dream. I never get tired of seeing myself in that race.”

As our visit draws to close, Bruny says; “I’ve been very fortunate. I had parents who made a better life for their children, I’ve had people who helped me and encouraged me along the way. Now, if I’m able, I can help others by offering encouragement and helping them to see their own potential.”