Andre De Grasse's mother describes the emotional toll of her son's journey to Olympic gold
Beverley DeGrasse says she's proud of her son, but through tears, she asks: 'Is it really worth all of this?'
Beverley De Grasse couldn't hold back the tears as she spoke about her son's Olympic victory and everything he went through to get there.
Canadian sprinter Andre De Grasse bounced back from a serious hamstring injury to win a gold medal in the 200-metre final at the Tokyo Games on Wednesday.
After his victory, the Scarborough, Ont.-born athlete collapsed to the track, laying on his back and holding his head in apparent disbelief. He later told CBC Sports he was feeling pride in himself at that moment, and a tremendous relief from "all the pressure" and "all the expectations to deliver."
Those comments hit hard for De Grasse's mother, who was watching from her home in Pickering, Ont.
In an interview with As It Happens guest host Katie Simpson, she spoke about the emotional toll of watching her son struggle, and ultimately succeed, on the world stage, so far from home.
Here is part of their conversation.
We just heard how emotional your son was after that race. What were you feeling as you watched him win gold?
Oh, boy. That was, like, the most amazing moment of my life. I know how hard he's been trained for this. And to hear him say [he had] the weight of the whole world on his shoulders? No one should have to go through that.
What's it been like watching your son go through this and dealing with all the pressure and the stress?
He was doing this for everybody, you know, the country, his family.... I mean, that's such a difficult thing to ask of anybody.
Tell us what you're feeling right now.
It's so difficult to hear him say those things. I mean, I may be excited, everybody [is] being excited, but are we really thinking about what these athletes go through? You know, all the pressure that's being put on them to really perform, and is it really worth all of this?
Do you think that's a conversation that we need to have right now after what we saw [U.S. gymnast] Simone Biles go through? And we're in a moment of joy and celebration for your son, but when you look and you hear him talk about this, do you question whether it's all worth it?
I do, actually. I do question it. Because it's, like, so much training, you know, so much, so much pressure they put on their bodies. It's joyful for a lot of us, but is it really joyful for these athletes?
Is the hardest part of this not being able to be there with your son in this moment?
Exactly. Not being able to be there, not being able to hold his head, but not being able to know if he's OK. With everything that's going on in Japan and COVID and everything, I prayed every day that he comes back home safely to us.
When you see him next, when you get to see him in person and you are in the same room and you can hug him, what are you going to say to him?
I love you, and I know you're doing this for all of us, but I just want you to be happy to do this for yourself also.
Do you think this is what your son really wants to be doing?
He wanted to bring back that medal for Canada. He wanted to bring that medal for us. He wanted that gold medal. And I just pray that that's what he wanted, too, for himself.
Your son is a father himself now. What does it mean to know that your grandkids are watching your son achieve this?
The kids were, like, super excited. His daughter, especially, she was so excited. I know she doesn't quite understand everything that's happening, but she just sees Daddy's racing and, you know, she's happy he's running and winning, and she understands that part.
Seeing his reaction when he saw you on that FaceTime call when [CBC News anchor] Adrienne Arsenault pulled up a phone, when she was talking to him after, you could see the reaction in his face that he was so excited to see you. We know that your son's career, it's still on such a strong trajectory. It's nowhere near over. Are you worried about the stress and the pressure as he continues to compete at the Olympic level?
Everybody thinks he's, you know, mentally tough. He doesn't really show and I know he tries to be really strong for everybody. But nobody knows what he might be going through inside. He doesn't complain.
But as a mom, you know, you worry. Like, would he be able to handle all of this that's happening to him right now?
What do you hope for and wish for, for your son?
I really wish for him to enjoy this moment, and be happy with his accomplishment and what he has done on the Olympic stage and, you know, people would respect him and not try to put too much pressure on him.
The whole world would be wanting a piece of him right now. But at least let him enjoy this time and this moment.
If there's one thing that Canadians listening right now can take away from this, what is it that you want them to know about how difficult it is for the life of ... an Olympic-level athlete and the family and the journey they go on?
It's not easy. It's not an easy journey.
After this emotional rollercoaster of a day, and everything that has happened, what are you doing tonight? Will you have people over and people around you?
My family members are coming over and a few friends are just going to celebrate outside in the backyard for a while.
It's better to be around close family and friends right now.
Written by Sheena Goodyear. Interview produced by Katie Geleff. Q&A has been edited for length and clarity.
For more stories about the experiences of Black Canadians — from anti-Black racism to success stories within the Black community — check out Being Black in Canada, a CBC project Black Canadians can be proud of. You can read more stories here.