Day 545: Gold medal good deeds

Jennifer Heil, left, and Alexandre Bilodeau, shown at the national championships last season. (Mike Ridewood-CFSA/Canadian Press)

As I do a couple of times every year, I made a donation today to the Special Olympics. Then, a little while later, I heard a news report about how two of Canada’s athletes donated their Olympic medal winnings to charity, and it occurred to me that these recent Winter Games have been extra special ones, too. Here are two reasons why:

Not-So-Everyday Heroes: Heil, Bilodeau each donate $25,000 to charity
excerpted from The Canadian Press

Olympic freestyle skiing champion Alexandre Bilodeau calls older brother Frederic his source of inspiration.

Now, Bilodeau is doing his part to return the favour.

The gold medallist in moguls announced Wednesday he’s donating $25,000 to the Canadian Association of Paediatric Health Centres in support of research into cerebral palsy.

For Bilodeau, the donation is a very personal one. Frederic was born with cerebral palsy and doctors said he would be in a wheelchair for life. But Frederic has proved them wrong, still walking and skiing at age 28. He was one of the first to greet Alexandre after he won gold.

Bilodeau’s moguls teammate Jennifer Heil, who won silver in the women’s event at the Vancouver Winter Games, is also doing her part to give back, donating $25,000 to Because I Am A Girl. The foundation helps girls in underprivileged countries.

The 22-year-old Bilodeau, who captured Canada’s first-ever gold medal on home soil Feb. 14, said growing up with Frederic taught him a lot about keeping things in perspective.

“When I was younger, I had to jump in the car and get to a school where there were so many people with cerebral palsy,” said Bilodeau. “The only thing [the students] could move was their head or their neck … but they had a smile. They were enjoying life probably more than anyone else. And this was a big lesson that I learned.”

Bilodeau noted his donation would be used primarily for children in need….

Heil’s charity is geared toward providing women in poorer countries with education. The 2006 Olympic champion said she couldn’t have reached the Games without plenty of help — and she would like to provide the same opportunities to those less fortunate.

“I’ve always felt as though I had the power in my own hands to build a future I could imagine,” said Heil. “And I hope that there can be many millions of girls than can have the same power in their own hands. And I believe the best way to achieve that is through education.”

As medallists, both athletes received cash bonuses from the Canadian Olympic Committee, but their donations will not come from those winnings. They say they had intended to make a donation even before reaching the podium. And while not every amateur athlete has the means to make such a sizeable contribution, Bilodeau pointed out that he and Heil were in a good position to do so….

“That’s the least we can do. We have that chance to give back, and why not?” Heil agreed.

“We really feel a responsibility from everything we’ve received,” she said. “It is a big donation, but we know that it’s only a small part of what these foundations need…”

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