From 'the profound to the profane,' Carol Off says As It Happens is a show about success

From fist-pumping record breakers to doctors risking their lives in Syria, As It Happens host Carol Off explores what success looks like.

The CBC Radio host spoke at Walrus Talks Success in Toronto as AIH celebrates its 50th anniversary

As It Happens host Carol Off speaks at Walrus Talks Success on Sept. 20 in Toronto. (Video courtesy of The Walrus) 7:03

As the host of As It Happens, Carol Off has done her fair share of interesting and often odd interviews.

But she says telling stories of success is at the crux of what she does — from the young woman who graduated from university in Afghanistan with honours despite being shot by insurgents, to the professional hoaxer who tricked the New York Times into believing he'd died.

"All of these people glow with their success and I marvel at the courage of some and I shake my head wondering about the energy expended on foolishness of others," Off said during a Sept. 20 speech in Toronto as part of The Walrus Talks Success series. 

As It Happens is currently celebrating its 50th anniversary. 

Off said she defines success through the stories she's covered on As It Happens.

"As It Happens covers the widest range of human experiences imaginable, from the profound to the profane," she said.

The profound

During its 50 years on the air, the CBC Radio program has brought Canadians the stories of people who seem to be without hope, only to see their lives turn around, she said. 

People like John Dickhout, the Ontario heart transplant recipient who ran a 10-kilometre race as donor Adam Prashaw's parents cheered him on.

"As he told me this story, I have to say that's one of the many times that I shed tears during an interview," Off said.

March 5, 2018: John Dickhout ran his first-ever 10-kilometre race in Ottawa - and he did it in honour of Adam Prashaw, the young organ donor who made it all possible. 7:44

Then there is the story of Alireza and Kiran. 

In June, Off spoke with Iranian refugee Alireza, who spent years in limbo in Turkey with his partner Kiran, waiting to be resettled in Canada. 

The couple was eventually separated and forced to live apart because Turkey does not recognize same-sex couples as families — but Off said after living through so much trauma, their survival depended on being together. 

Sept. 4, 2018: Alireza, who is from Iran, and his partner and Kiran, who is from India, have been granted asylum in Canada, where they hope to finally get married. 7:00

"Their pain was palpable as we spoke. I was so touched by their trust in me, and their candour," Off said.

Off wasn't the only one touched by their story, and in September Alireza and Kiran arrived in Vancouver with the help of Canadian sponsors.

"Heaven and Earth moved, and the two men were just recently granted asylum here, as was their dream," Off said. "And they plan now to get married in Canada."

The record breakers

While many stories are heartfelt, others are just full of heart — and a burning desire to break world records.  

"I'm always in awe of those people who dedicate enormous parts of their lives to getting into the Guinness World Book of Records as a form of success," she said

Take Ray Slater, the young man who fist-pumped his way to international success.

In 2012, Off spoke to Ray Slater, a radio producer from Austin, Texas who broke the world record for the most fist-pumps ever. 7:38

In 2012, Off spoke to Slater, a radio producer from Austin, Texas, who broke the world record for the most fist-pumps ever.

Slater managed to swing his fist repeatedly in the air to the beat of club music for 17 hours and 15 minutes. He had to glue his fingers together.

"Success story," Off said to laughter.

The unassuming heroes

But to Off, the true definition of a successful person is someone who doesn't believe they are a hero at all. 

"The people whom I respect the most, the people who I believe are most successful, often don't even acknowledge that they have accomplished anything," Off said.

She pointed to Dr. Hamza Hassan, the doctor who defied death so he could treat bomb victims in besieged Eastern Ghouta during the Syrian war.

Feb. 20, 2018: Dr. Hamza Hassan describes his hospital in Eastern Ghouta as a Syrian government offensive sends bombs raining down on patients and caregivers. 6:00

Or Heather Gooze, the Las Vegas bartender who performed a remarkable act of kindness during the mass shooting last year at the Route 91 Harvest country music festival.

Gooze stayed at the side of Canadian Jordan McIldoon for hours after he died.

Both Hassan and Gooze insisted they are not heroes.

"When I tell people they are heroes, or that I admire their courage or that they have done something extraordinary, they always dismiss that idea," she said.

Oct. 1, 2017: Vegas bartender Heather Gooze tells Carol Off about how she stayed by a Canadian man's side for more than five hours when he was killed in the Las Vegas shooting. 7:58

But Off thinks these people know it is true, it's just not why they acted. It was simply the right thing to do. 

"You cannot pursue success, or chase after it," Off said.

"But you will find success, like happiness, if you act selflessly ... that is what I admire and aspire to the most."

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