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Olympic sprinter returns to city
Akeem Haynes shows off bronze medal, tells J.H. Sissons School students to follow their dreams

John McFadden
Northern News Services
Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Akeem Haynes had a simple message for students at J.H. Sissons School on Monday - just pick a dream and follow it.

NNSL photo/graphic

A beaming Carlene Smith, back left, rests her hand on the shoulder of her Olympic bronze medal winning son Akeem Haynes. To his left is his aunt, Smith's sister Pauline Watler and Miriam Walker Gentles, Haynes' grandmother. In the front row are Haynes' sister Naila Samuels, 4, and brother Jahmarri Samuels, 7. - John McFadden/NNSL photo

Haynes, the Olympic-medal winning sprinter who used to live in Yellowknife, was the guest of honour at an assembly at the school. He was given the full VIP treatment, showing off his Olympic medal and even running the red carpet to get to the podium. His inspirational speech stressed to students that they too can become great - if they dedicate themselves to their dreams.

Haynes won bronze at the Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil last month after running the lead leg in the Canadian men's 4x100 relay team.

"It doesn't matter where you come from, as long as you can see something for yourself. Anything you want is possible," Haynes told the students.

"At a young age I saw something that I wanted for myself and I knew that in order to get there I had to make the right choices. When your parents tell you to eat your vegetables and read your books and go to sleep on time - there's a reason for that. The reason is they want the best for you."

Haynes said making the right choices led him to become a world-class sprinter but there were sacrifices, among them leaving his family behind to pursue his dream.

"I had to make those tough choices but it was something for the greater good," he said. "It's something you have to do because happiness is a journey and it's a process and no one get you there but yourself."

Haynes, 24, came to Yellowknife from Jamaica with his mother Carlene Smith in 1998.

He attended Weledeh Catholic School for several years before moving to Calgary. He now lives and trains in Phoenix, Ariz. Aside from talking to students in the city, he is also here to visit his mom, two younger siblings and other family members, including his grandmother and an aunt.

Before Haynes spoke to the students at Sissons, a video of his bronze medal winning race was shown on a big screen. His mother said watching the race still gives her goosebumps and she could not be prouder of her eldest son.

"It's amazing. I am happy that he is home. I am happy that he is here speaking to these young kids because they need that," Smith said.

She said his message of following one's dreams is an important one for all young people.

Haynes' seven-year-old brother Jahmarri, who also lives in Yellowknife, was among several family members in the audience for the presentation. He said he was proud to know his famous brother considers him to be his hero and inspiration.

"It feels good. He is also my role modal and my hero," said a beaming Jahmarri.

Rachell Simmons, principal of J.H. Sissons School, said she was thrilled to have Haynes speak to her students. She added his appearance had been in the works long before he won an Olympic medal.

"This was amazing. Last June when his mother asked me if it was OK for her son to come and speak - I said definitely, becoming an Olympic athlete is something for which you should be very proud," said Simmons. "It's even a more grandiose moment now that he has come back to Canada with a medal."

Simmons said she kept Haynes' appearance a secret until Friday because she did not want it advertised.

"They were totally thrilled. When they found out he was coming they said, 'Are you serious - he's really coming to our school,'" Simmons said.

"I said, 'Yes, he's really coming to your school because he thinks that it's important for you to understand that if you have a goal, you just work towards it.'"

Simmons said she could not think of a bigger highlight during her time at the school. Haynes, who has just released his second book, said he has not fully made up his mind whether he will continue to train toward competing at the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo, Japan. Haynes is scheduled to speak to students at his former school - Weledeh Catholic - this afternoon.

His mother said she expects her son to remain in Yellowknife for the next two weeks or so.

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