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Michel Chikwanine didn’t set out to tell his story. Memories of being held captive as a child soldier, witnessing his native Congo go through two civil wars in the late 1990s, and fleeing with his family to become refugees in Uganda were painful ones to revisit, much less retell. Some stories, however, are too powerful to be held in. Sometimes, fate intervenes.
At 32 years old, Chris Burkard is still learning. The self-taught photographer and Pismo Beach, California native has become one of the most prominent storytellers of the social media age, amassing over 3 million Instagram followers with his stunning landscape shots from around the world. He has become a published author eight times over, a TED speaker, and creative director of his own studio.
At just 18 years of age, Loizza Aquino has already found her life’s mission. An 11-time award winning mental health advocate, Aquino — a native of Winnipeg, Manitoba — is the founder of Peace of Mind, a nonprofit comprised of young people working to eradicate the stigma surrounding mental health.
Few careers can be as fraught with potential for post-traumatic stress as the armed forces. Stéphane Grenier knows better than most. A retired Lieutenant Colonel, Grenier spent 29 years in the Canadian military, during which time he spent nine months in Rwanda alongside Roméo Dallaire during one of the worst genocides in modern history. Today, he works as a mental health advocate, espousing the benefits of peer support.
When it comes to sheer versatility, few in the Canadian music industry can hold a candle to Beatchild. The Toronto-based artist and Sarnia native has collaborated with the likes of Drake, Shad, and Melanie Durrant, while proving his chops not only as an emcee, but also as a producer and multi-instrumentalist. On 2018’s Heavy Rockin’ Steady, he returns with a full-length offering that Exclaim! describes as “retro, rich and layered… a thrilling journey you’ll be eager to repeat.”
A lot can change in a year. Amy Tunstall is living proof. In February of 2017, she had sought help for depression and anxiety. In the past twelve months alone, the Tunstall has hiked the Bruce Trail, raising over $3,000 for her home branch of the Canadian Mental Health Association; fought one of the busiest forest fire seasons in British Columbia; backpacked throughout Costa Rica and Nicaragua; and hiked the entirety of the Camino de Santiago through France and Spain.
Matt Falk was born to do comedy. Called “effortlessly funny” by the CBC, the Niverville, Manitoba stand-up comic has twice reached #1 on the iTunes Comedy charts. He’s also learned a thing or two along the way.
Dubbed one of the most adventurous women in the world of sports by Outside magazine and “the matriarch of mountaineering” by the Seattle Times, Hilaree Nelson O’Neill has seen her fair share of expeditions. The Pacific Northwest native has piled up a list of accomplishments over a 20-year career that would put her in the conversation with the most seasoned of adventurers.
Mario Rigby wanted an adventure. The Toronto-based personal trainer spent two years walking 12,000 kilometres across Africa, travelling through eight countries from Cape Town, South Africa to Cairo, Egypt.
Eric Koreen has a job most sports fans would only dream of: covering the Toronto Raptors for a living. For the past decade, Koreen’s columns for the National Post, VICE Sports, and The Athletic have earned him a loyal following amongst basketball fans — both for his insight and his occasionally irreverent approach.
Chali 2na is a born storyteller. Gifted with one of the most iconic voices in the history of hip-hop — a deep, rich baritone that rides over the groove and pulls you in with gravitational force — the Jurassic 5 and Ozomatli emcee rose to fame in the late 1990s and early 2000s as part of a wave of alternative hip-hop groups coming out of Los Angeles.
Many dream of seeing the world. Spencer Conway has done it from atop a motorcycle. Since leaving his job as an English teacher behind at the age of 41, the Biddenden, Kent resident has logged over 100,000 kilometres on his Yamaha XT-660 Tenere, circumnavigating Africa and South America — becoming the first person to complete the Africa bike trek solo.
Pauline Dakin has a story — one she was warned never to tell. A childhood marked by unanswered questions, the Run, Hide, Repeat author was twice uprooted from her home by her mother and moved — along with her younger brother — thousands of kilometres away from family and friends, both times without warning.
Aaron Williams remembers the first forest fire that left him awestruck. The author of Chasing Smoke: A Wildfire Memoir, Williams has spent ten seasons fighting blazes across the vast forests of Western Canada, Ontario, Quebec, and Idaho.
Marissa Korda has spent a lot of time thinking about what it means to be lonely. The creator of The Loneliness Project — billed as “a digital space to cultivate compassion” — Korda has received over a thousand stories from around the world about the experience of loneliness, becoming a hub for belonging in the process.
Ryan Robinson is one of the world’s leading highline athletes — a rare breed that walk across inch-wide cables suspended in the sky. For all of his successes, he credits one teacher above all: failure.
When it comes to highs and lows, Travis Gerrits is something of an expert. One of the top freestyle skiers in Canada, he is also part of a rising tide in sports: athletes using their platform to raise awareness about mental health. For Gerrits, the issue took on greater significance after being diagnosed with bipolar disorder in the fall of 2014.
What would you do if you found out you had a year left to live? Meet Chris Betancourt and Dillon Hill, best friends who have turned what could have been a devastating cancer diagnosis for Chris into One List, One Life — a chance to live out their dreams and help others do the same.
In 2013, Kevin Vallely set off with three companions on an expedition to row across the Northwest Passage — an adventure that would shed light on the urgency of climate change. The story has become Vallely’s first book, Rowing the Northwest Passage: Adventure, Fear, and Awe in a Rising Sea.
Few have captured the experience of life on the road as Chris Urquhart has — not the family vacation kind, but the dumpster-diving, punk house-squatting kind. At age 22, Urquhart, the author of Dirty Kids: Chasing Freedom with America’s Nomads, set out to follow young, often homeless, teen and twenty-something travellers across the United States.
Few stories are as timeless as a man and his dog. For Mikael Lindnord and his mongrel, Arthur, the story is one for the ages. Few could have predicted the circumstances that would bring them together: a chance encounter during the 2014 Adventure Racing World Championship in the mountainous jungles of Ecuador.
Mention the name Eric Drozd in Waterloo Region, and you’re bound to get a reaction. For close to three years, the Mississauga native hosted the Region’s biggest talk radio show on 570 News, drawing callers from across Southwestern Ontario. In April of 2017, Drozd did something few expected: he left his radio career behind to pursue a dream of becoming a police officer.
At 19 years of age in 2016, Keagan Girdlestone was rising fast in the world of cycling, already the youngest ever champion in the history of New Zealand’s Le Race, and a former under-16 national champion in South Africa. Competing against cyclists from around the world at Italy’s Coppa della Pace, and racing to catch up to the pack after an earlier collision, he crashed head first into his team car, slicing open his jugular vein and carotid artery. His return to the bicycle has been nothing short of miraculous.
Few and far between are those who can lay claim to visiting every country on the planet. Even rarer are the likes who can swap travel stories with Mike Spencer Bown. Having backpacked nonstop since 1990, the Ottawa-born, Calgary-raised Bown has hitchhiked through warzone Iraq and Afghanistan, explored the underground party scenes of Iran and Eastern Europe, and hunted with the Mbuti pygmy tribe while evading genocidal rebels in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”