Team Canada talks: What it means to wear the maple leaf

Happy Canada Day!

Our country was just a week old when its first world champions were crowned in 1867. Those four rowers from New Brunswick have since been followed by many others who became global sports stars over the last 150 years.

RELATED: Decade by decade: 150 years of Canadian sport

In celebration of the milestone birthday, recently asked dozens of PyeongChang 2018 hopefuls about what it means to compete for and represent Canada around the world.

Here are some of their heartfelt responses, starting with the honour of wearing the iconic maple leaf:

Kaillie Humphries – Bobsleigh

To me, the pride associated with wearing a maple leaf, knowing you are an extension of that country as you head around the world, you are the best of what that country has to offer… I feel very proud to be able to wear the maple leaf, not just for my representation but for knowing who as a culture, as a nation we are as people and I want the rest of the world to know that as well.

Kaetlyn Osmond – Figure Skating

When I went to my first Junior Grand Prix I was wearing Canada and it wasn’t until I got onto the ice and they said representing Canada… that was kind of cool. I went from representing a club to my province and now suddenly a country.

Kimberley McRae – Luge

It’s a feeling that you don’t get in anything else you do. I guess some backpackers when they wear the maple leaf on their backpack you get the same feeling. Everybody is open to having you there and willing to help you but it’s also a passion, it’s a drive and you bring the Canadian culture and the community with you everywhere you go.

Andrew Poje – Figure Skating

I think to have the name Canada across your chest means you also lead with your heart because Canada is so open and so loving of everyone that it brings into its borders.

Justin Snith – Luge

When you first make that team it’s like yes… I get that suit with the maple leaf on it, you want the jacket that says Canada on the back… then you get there and you’re like, wait a sec, now I have an entire country behind me. What do you say to that?

Marianne St-Gelais – Short Track Speed Skating

People always say ‘the kind Canadian’ so everybody thinks we’re kind and that’s true, we’re kind, but we’re also strong and I like proving that to everyone that we are strong and we are the best.

For some athletes who have chosen to come here, Canada is a land of opportunity.

Mirela Rahneva – Skeleton

I look at all the obstacles my mom had to overcome and the opportunities she has presented to us just even moving her family to Canada and it means a lot. it means everything. It’s basically all of the struggles that we have gone through and we have done it for this, we have done it for the dream, this is why.

Piper Gilles – Figure Skating

I feel like Canada gave me a fresh start and I think that’s one of the most special things about Canada is that they are very welcoming. They encourage people to come here and for me to be able to represent Canada for the first time (at the Olympic Games) will be super special.

Our athletes feel the love and support of the entire country.

Tristan Walker – Luge

It’s kind of weird because, obviously, it’s very Canadian to be humble but the way Canada stands behind their athletes, it’s almost anti-Canadian in a very Canadian way. It’s like humble pride that comes from a very deep place in the heart I think and it brings the entire country together and to be part of something like that is very special and I would compare it to, from this to a professional sport, I would wear the maple leaf rather than my name on my back ten times out of ten.

Lewis Irving – Freestyle Skiing (Aerials)

There’s no greater feeling than being on the podium and having the Canadian national anthem playing. I feel like Canada supports athletes so much that it’s just a way for us to give back to the rest of the country and have their voice heard on the world stage.

They also feel the love and support of each other, across all sports.

Marie-Michèle Gagnon – Alpine Skiing

We’re so united. We’re one team whereas some other teams they have like their stars and they don’t want to mix with everyone… Like all these Olympic gold medallists could be holding their heads high and just be like “I’m not coming to those events”. They come and they’re super involved and they’re so easy to get to know and I think that makes it really unique. Then you get to know them and then once you see their success, it totally inspires me.

Charles Hamelin – Short Track Speed Skating

I think when you wear the maple leaf, to show like when you see the Canadian team, you don’t see if we are the short track team, you don’t see 10 different people, you see one team, you see Canada. When you go into the stadium you see the country and how united we are and I think it is something very special for us and it’s something that defines Canada… When I wear the maple leaf it’s like I become one of the gang, part of the Canadian team and all the pride I have from watching results of the other. I feel when I wear this suit, I feel like a superhero.

When our athletes travel the world, they see first-hand how much Canada is loved and respected.

Valérie Maltais – Short Track Speed Skating

Canada is a country that is appreciated a lot. Like when we’re in Russia, if there was no Russian in the race, they were cheering for Canada – you’re proud to be Canadian for that. You can feel it when you’re travelling that people love the Canadians.

Simon Pouliot-Cavanagh – Freestyle Skiing (Moguls)

It always impresses me when we go to Japan. Canada is so welcomed over there and the flag after the Japanese flag is the Canada flag. They love Canadians so it feels great to be Canadian when you are over there.

Meagan Duhamel – Figure Skating

It always makes me so proud, especially when you meet people from all of these different cultures and you tell them that you’re from Canada, they light up, instantly light up with some amazing story about Canada or what Canadians have done for them and that makes me really proud that that is people’s reaction to Canada.

Charle Cournoyer – Short Track Speed Skating

We are a country that is actually respected all over the world. We are more than welcome in any country and I try to embrace that welcome. I’m the kind of guy who goes to talk to every person from other countries. The guy I’m skating against, I’ll be joking with him after the race – even if something bad happens to me because of him – after the race I’m friendly and I enjoy bringing that kind of Canadian into other countries.

But of course, they’re always happy to return home, even if just in their minds.

Manuel Osborne-Paradis – Alpine Skiing

You know, with how much we travel and everything, I feel like each country has a personality and each country has its own kind of person. When I get back to Canada it doesn’t matter if it’s Quebec or Toronto or whatever, I always find we’re all very similar and I always really enjoy just hanging out at the coffee shop and talking to whoever it is. To me it’s those people.

Patrick Chan – Figure Skating

Whenever I’m in competition or moments where I’m looking for my identity, I can always think back to home and the beautiful places I have been in Canada… There is a certain energy that we have in our country and in some of the most beautiful places and I feel like I can bring that with me when I am away competing and representing Canada and the maple leaf. It makes me proud because there aren’t many of us. We are small but mighty.