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26. TiRon & Ayomari: “Life is too short to worry about getting it wrong”

In a music industry driven by fitting the mould, TiRon & Ayomari defy easy categorization. Not exactly hip-hop. Not quite R&B. Ditto for indie and pop music. In the midst of this landscape of carefully-curated brands and genres, of target audiences and defined demographics, the Los Angeles-based duo’s music raises a question: can one be all of the above, instead?

25. Emma Cubitt: “[I want] a community where we can all live together”

What if the key to growing a vibrant city isn’t in endless suburbs or more condo projects? What if, instead, it lay right in our backyards? Hamilton’s Emma Cubitt sees big potential in small houses lining the city’s laneways. Along with Good Shepherd Hamilton and the Social Planning and Research Council, Cubitt — a 37-year-old architect — is working on the production of 26 smaller duplexes for single women who have experienced homelessness.

24. Joe Roberts: “[My experience with] homelessness is the greatest asset I have”

For close to three years in his early twenties, Joe Roberts lived homeless while wrestling with an addiction on Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside. Now, over 20 years later, Roberts walked over 9,000 kilometres across Canada — pushing a shopping cart the whole way — to raise funds to end youth homelessness.

23. Sean Stephenson: “Your interpretation is what matters in life”

When Sean Stephenson was born, doctors predicted he would not survive more than 24 hours because of a rare bone disorder, Osteogenesis Imperfecta — a disorder that led to him suffering 200 fractures by the time he was 18. The condition also left Stephenson three feet tall and wheelchair-bound. Despite these challenges, the 38-year-old therapist has become a world-renowned motivational speaker and author, his message reaching everyone from Richard Branson to the Dalai Lama.

22. Searching for Sero: “You can’t buy happiness; you need to go find it”

Home for John Rathwell and Tracy Guenard is a pretty small space these days: since May of 2016, the Gatineau, Quebec couple has been crisscrossing Canada and the United States in a newly-polished 1991 Volkswagen Westfalia, meeting people and sharing their stories of pursuing happiness.

21. Richard Holmes: “What you can’t see is often more important than what you are able to”

At 17, Richard Holmes had everything he had wanted: a successful career as a mountain biker; a life in beautiful Whistler, British Columbia; sponsors wanting to endorse him. Despite the accolades, he had one other thing that was tearing at his confidence and progressively worsening in the process: a stutter.

20. 5 Kids 1 Condo: “Reality is bigger than what [we’re] told it can be”

What if our collective idea of a good life — a house with a yard, two cars, maybe a summer home to boot — is missing the mark? Adrian Crook, the Vancouver-based author of 5 Kids 1 Condo, has been exploring that question, becoming an inspiration to minimalists and urbanists alike seeking an alternative to the increasingly fleeting promise of a single-detached home in the suburbs.

19. My Son The Hurricane: “We’re nowhere near perfect, but we’re finding a recipe that’s working”

My Son The Hurricane is used to standing out onstage — after all, not too many bands come with 14 members these days. But after their latest scene-stealing cross-Canada tour, the Niagara/Toronto brasshop funk collective is standing out in a whole new way — and having a blast while doing it.

18. Charlie Engle: “I would never want to lose the addict part of me, because it’s all the best parts of me”

Charlie Engle is not like most people. For one thing, he’s run across the Sahara Desert — a feat that turned into a documentary narrated by none other than Matt Damon. He’s “summited ice-covered volcanoes, swam with crocodiles, and served a stint in federal prison.” Making the North Carolina-based writer and ultramarathon runner’s story even more improbable is that he’s accomplished everything after overcoming a life-threatening drug and alcohol addiction.

17. Shelagh Rogers: “We need to support each other in our suffering”

Shelagh Rogers has built a legacy in Canadian radio on the strength of bringing people together. From the CBC’s Morningside, to Sounds Like Canada, to This Morning and The Next Chapter, the Ottawa-born broadcaster’s inimitable warmth, kindness, and curiosity have made loyal listeners across the country. With a voice heard by over a million Canadians, Rogers hasn’t been shy about using it for a greater purpose: especially in advocating for mental health awareness through sharing her own story of depression.

16. Wali Shah: “I had every strike against me”

Very few voices can cut through a room like Wali Shah’s. The Mississauga-raised spoken word artist’s signature baritone has led him to appearing on MTV with Selena Gomez, presenting as a TEDx speaker, performing at the Air Canada Centre, and even freestyling with Kendrick Lamar. Today, he’s been bestowed the title of Mississauga’s Poet Laureate. He reflects on how the worst night of his life changed him for the better.

15. Robin Mazumder: “I’m really curious about how living in a city impacts your mental health”

What if urban planners started viewing themselves as part of a community’s health care team? That’s what Robin Mazumder, a Vanier Scholar and doctoral candidate in cognitive neuroscience at the University of Waterloo, would like to see. Mazumder started researching the psychological impacts of urban design after working in the mental health field as an occupational therapist.

14. Ben Fanelli: “It’s amazing what you can overcome [with] the right people around you”

If there’s a blueprint to recovery after a traumatic brain injury, Ben Fanelli is prototype. Eight years after suffering a fractured skull as a 16-year-old rookie in the Ontario Hockey League — an incident that left him hospitalized and at risk of needing brain surgery — the former Kitchener Ranger finished his career as captain and now sits on the board of directors of the EMPWR Foundation, a charitable movement driven towards concussion recovery that Fanelli himself spearheaded.

13. Josh Cassidy: “There are always people that will doubt us”

Josh Cassidy stopped listening to others’ doubts years ago. Born with neuroblastoma in his spine and abdomen, and facing coin-flip odds over whether he’d survive early childhood, Cassidy has become a three-time Canadian Paralympian and World Record-setting wheelchair athlete.

12. Amy Tunstall: “The biggest thing that holds us back in life is fear”

A few short years ago, Amy Tunstall was a self-described prisoner to her own bed. Today, she’s travelled over 17,000 kilometres across three continents by bicycle, raising awareness for mental health.

11. Christian Marques: “I wanted to feel alive instead of feeling comfortable”

Christian Marques had it all — a well-paying job as a software engineer, a nice apartment in the French Riviera — but deep down, something was missing. So it was that the moonlighting poet left it all behind to hitchhike over eight months from Turkey to Nepal, in what has become a book of verses in A Wandering Poem.

10. Patti Catalano Dillon: “If they’re going to beat me, they’re going to spit blood”

When Patti Catalano Dillon took up running, she was 40lbs. overweight and smoked two packs of cigarettes a day. Just a few years later, she became the “queen of U.S. women distance runners” as the first American woman to break the 2:30 mark in a marathon.

9. Adrian Owen: “Her brain lit up like a Christmas tree”

What if patients in a vegetative state were actually conscious? How could we communicate with them? World-leading cognitive neuroscientist Dr. Adrian Owen and his team at Western University’s Brain and Mind Institute explore that very phenomenon.

8. Mike Prosserman: “I want to live every moment to the fullest”

After falling in love with the freestyling nature of breakdancing at a young age, Mike Prosserman began travelling the world as one of Canada’s top breakers by the time he reached high school. Now the founder and executive director of UNITY Charity, Prosserman — also known as “Bboy Piecez” — has applied that same do-it-yourself ethos to turning what started as a high school project into a nonprofit dedicated to empowering youth through hip-hop and self-expression.

7. Kay Okafor: “Everything happens for a reason”

Kay Okafor’s path to the CFL is about as unlikely as they come. Born in Enugu, Nigeria, he caught his first glimpse of football after arriving in Canada as an 18-year-old university student. Now a two-time Atlantic University Sport champion, his unlikely journey is continuing with the Hamilton Tiger-Cats, and Okafor is grateful for it all.

6. Martha Lenio: “I wanted to see if I could hack it [living on Mars]”

Martha Lenio knows better than most what it’s like to live on the red planet. The Waterloo, Ont. native spent eight months as commander of NASA’s third HI-SEAS Mission, simulating life on Mars.

5. Royce White: “It’s bigger than mental health; it’s more about politics”

He’s been dubbed “the most important basketball player alive.” Royce White may not be suiting up for an NBA franchise, but his advocacy for mental health made him a household name long before he was drafted by the Houston Rockets.

4. Adulis ‘Chedo’ Mokanan: “Everybody has their own journey”

Adulis ‘Chedo’ Mokanan has made a career of picking the brains of artists and creatives. As host and founder of The Come Up Show, a radio show and website described by CBC Music as a “hip-hop centrifuge” and one of the Top 10 Canadian music blogs, Mokanan has interviewed over 500 artists in his decade in the music industry — the result of which has led to one key lesson.

3. Mike Farwell: “I am the luckiest man on Earth”

Morning radio personality Mike Farwell has never shied away from a microphone, but losing two sisters to cystic fibrosis has driven him to make a difference like never before.

2. Emanuel Fletcher: “[25] is an age I never thought I would reach”

As a teen, Emanuel Fletcher thought he would never graduate high school. Now a husband, father, and motivational speaker, his life changed dramatically one day, he says, when an accidental overdose brought him face to face with God.

1. Eileen Zheng: “Kindness is out there”

In February of 2015, Eileen Zheng donated her left kidney to her mother. A year later, she cycled across Canada to prove that “life does not stop [after donating]; it is where another life can begin.”