Never walk way from your dreams.
That was the message UFC fighter Sean Pierson was trying to power-slam home to 100 high school student-athletes at the 26th annual Town Crier Athlete of the Year awards.
On June 15, nominees from more than 60 schools celebrated their sports achievements of the past year and enjoyed a buffet breakfast at EDO Sushi on Eglinton Avenue West.
Pierson was on hand as an inspirational speaker, but said it was he who was inspired.
“I hope to be a strong role model, for you, for my son and for people growing up,” Pierson said during his speech. “But you guys are the ones that are actually motivating me to be a better person.”
The Pickering native was a member of Brock University’s wrestling team, but always harboured ambitions of becoming a professional mixed martial arts fighter. It took a while, but through hard work and perseverance the now 35-year-old Pierson realized his dream.
This past December, at UFC 124 in Montreal, Pierson was called in to replace an injured fighter and won his match by unanimous decision. He followed that up with his second UFC fight in Toronto this April.
“The one thing I can tell you is never give up on a dream,” he said during his speech. “I’ve been told by, I’d say, hundreds of people that I’d never make it to the UFC.”
While Pierson said he enjoys encouraging young people, he said he didn’t think students such as athlete of the year Christopher Williamson or regional winners Niya St. Amant, Maddie Stephen, Scott Morrison and Danielle Underwood were in need of much motivation from him.
“They’ve already made a lot of hard choices and they’re excelling in both athletics and school,” he said after the event. “I was just hoping to be able to show them that all the hard work and sacrifices that they have done are well worth it in the long run.”
EDO owner Barry Chaim, who has hosted the awards for the past three years, also preached perseverance in his short speech to the young athletes. Chaim was a city all-star in basketball during his high school days in Montreal. He also played the pivot for the University of McGill’s varsity basketball squad.
It’s the competitiveness and will to win that he learned from sports, he says, that has helped him in the challenging restaurant business.
“I stuck with it because I think there were lots of hurdles in the way and I refused to let them get me down,” he said.
Both speakers touched on the fact that in life and in sports success is often determined more by effort than by talent and natural ability.
“I always tell everybody, I’m the average Joe trying to be not so average,” Pierson said. “I’m no different than anybody else, I just put a little bit more effort in than a lot of people.”
Pierson said he wouldn’t be in the position he’s in now if it weren’t for the positive role models he had growing up and called it an honour to be able to speak at the awards. If there was anything he wanted the students to learn from him, he said, it was never lose hope.
“You’ll never look back and regret chasing a dream,” he said. “It’s giving up that you look back and you regret doing.”
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