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Alex is on fire: Former gymnast wins award for community service

September 22nd, 2011 · No Comments

By Perry King









When first notified she was receiving an award for her work with kids, Alexandra Orlando immediately thought back to her work with the Pan Am Games bid.

“We did a community outreach summer, and I lead the youth portion of that,” said Orlando, the program coordinator for the bid’s Youth Program. “I set up days where I brought in ten to 15 athletes, and we had a whole day or half-day [where we] went to summer camps and did all different kinds of sports demos, and had athletes speak to [kids]. It was really incredible.”

In June, Orlando was awarded the 2011 Everest Foundation Adult Leadership Award for her work. In an email to the Gleaner, Farell Duclair, the founder of Everest Foundation and a former Calgary Stampeder, says that she received the award “for her ongoing contribution to youth and sports, particularly her active role as an ambassador for Right to Play.

“Alexandra exemplifies how the rigour and diligence of sports develops not only an athlete but also leadership qualities that reach beyond personal achievement,” he wrote.

Orlando, an Annex resident, was more than speechless when she was informed about receiving the award. “It showed me that what I’m doing is actually making a difference, and I’m actually affecting lives and making a change in the lives of youth. They’re our future, and everything I’ve learned I’ve wanted to give back and give to my community,” she said.

Orlando, 24, has been working in the community since she was 16. Early in her career, she developed a passion for working with school-aged children. “I had a unique experience, when I was younger, to work with a lot of older athletes and I saw how even little gestures can go a huge way with kids,” she recalls.

“Whether it’s answering a question or getting water for them, they’re so blown away by someone who actually cares. What’s really important, when you’re working with kids, is that even if you’re tired and had a long day—especially athletes, when they’re doing a million things—you know it’s a great cause and you go and give it your all. They can feel that, and they know that you’re really there for them.”

Describing herself as a “pretty outgoing, fun person,” Orlando wants to etch an identity as a community organizer. “Every time I create a summer camp or help with programming or sports demos within my community, I make sure I really do bring my A game when I go, and I want to make it as fun for them as possible.”

Before she retired as a rhythmic gymnast after the 2008 Beijing Olympics, Orlando was a five-time senior National Champion, six-time Commonwealth Games gold medalist and a three-time gold medalist at the 2007 Pan Am Games in Brazil.

Orlando was the only rhythmic gymnast from the Americas to qualify for the 2008 Olympics.

Since retiring, Orlando has mentored the Canadian Youth Olympic Team and is an ambassador for the international NGO Right to Play. She also instructs at Havergal College and sits on the Canadian Olympic Committee’s Women in Sport and Youth and Education Committees. “There’s so much that I want to do. My friends describe me as someone who ‘falls off the face of the earth’ a lot, I’m extremely busy,” she chuckled.

“I love to keep myself busy and I always love to learn, so I’m always throwing myself into situations where it will be challenging for me. The world is a huge place, and there’s a tonne of opportunities for me to go. Working in sport now, it opens up all these doors, so I want to see where that takes me.”

Tags: Sports · General