Grant Lavallee wins Governor-General Award for volunteering

Renfrew – Grant Lavallee has volunteered thousands of hours to coaching and teaching others how to coach wrestling, and for those efforts, he was presented with the prestigious Governor-General’s Sovereign’s Medal for Volunteers.

He was recognized for his efforts at the RCAF Wing, the same location where he has coached and inspired thousands of local children. More importantly, he taught the same children not only how to wrestle, but how to face adversity and challenges both as children and adults.

For the past 37 years, he has been sharing his knowledge of amateur wrestling with young athletes and coaches through the Renfrew Amateur Wrestling Club, the Ontario Amateur Wrestling Association and Wrestling Canada Lutte.

He has promoted wrestling as a professional sport in his community by organizing large-scale competitions, thus encouraging young people to be physically and mentally fit.

The backdrop for the presentation of his medal by Renfrew Mayor Tom Sidney could not have been more fitting.

As both he and the mayor took centre stage inside the Wing last Thursday evening, a group of young wrestlers were practicing many of the same skills Mr. Lavallee taught beginning in the mid 1990s.

Mayor Sidney remarked it was people like Mr. Lavallee who inspired generations of local children to join the Renfrew Vipers Wrestling Club and some of those same young wrestlers went on to win medals at both the national and international levels.

“Grant not only coached and sent dozens and dozens of local children on to not only the provincial championships, but he has helped produce both national and international champions and it all started right here in Renfrew,” Mayor Sidney said. “Once in a while in my role as mayor there are times when I have the honour of recognizing some volunteers who do amazing work, and I feel truly humbled when looking at their accomplishments. Grant is one of those individuals of whom I am humbled to present the Governor General’s Award for volunteering.”

When Mr. Lavallee accepted his award, he thanked a long-time friend for his support over the years.

“I want to thank a long-time friend who many of you likely don’t know, and that is my friend from my first days as a student in Thunder Bay and that is Errol Scheel, a fellow university friend and a good friend today,” he said. “It was Errol who nominated me and I want to thank him for that.”

“This award is also a testament to all the kids, parents and coaches that have contributed to make the Renfrew wrestling club one of the best in Canada. I have tried to pass on to volunteer coaches that you don’t have to have played a sport to be a good coach. It is all about learning the basics of how to relate to young athletes and building on their skill sets. I have coached in several sports I never played, and have been successful.”

Norm Bujold, who attended Renfrew Collegiate Institute and was a member of the school’s wrestling team along with Mr. Lavallee, said he could not think of anyone more deserving of the award and his dedication to local athletes began when they founded the Renfrew Vipers Wrestling Club.

“It was 1991 and Grant told me two kids qualified for the Canadian Wrestling Championships but they both needed $1,500 to get out West,” Mr. Bujold said. “Grant knows all about the ins and outs of wrestling and I can raise money, so we had a fundraiser out at the old Butson’s place and we raised $7,600. I told Grant that we had seed money to start a club. He loved the idea and so began the Renfrew Amateur Wrestling Club.”

Both men knew the kids from small-town Renfrew could compete with anyone across Canada if given the chance. They also realized it would require year-round fundraising, a solid base of volunteers and local businesses to become sponsors to be able to send the wrestlers to all parts of Canada to compete.

“That hard work and commitment paid off pretty darn fast,” Mr. Bujold said. “Starting in 1993, the club captured the Canada East Wrestling Championship for 21 consecutive years. I am not boasting, but these kids have racked up so many team and individual championships it is due to the dedication of men like Grant who made it possible.”

Mr. Lavallee said up until 2015, the club produced 174 Ontario and national champions.

“I don’t think very many clubs in Canada can boast of that,” he said. “We have been very proud to carry the Renfrew flag when we go into tournaments and we are also very proud to give out Renfrew pins.”

He said volunteering in one’s home community is one of the greatest ways of giving back to the community.

“People like myself and Norm and all the parents and coaches that have helped the kids over the years do it because we believe in those kids,” he said. “We proved over and over again that if given encouragement and a commitment to learning from both losses and victories, it will help shape them as they enter adult life and face all of life’s challenges.”

Bruce McIntyre, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Eganville Leader