Fitness: Hockey Enforcer to Humanitarian, with Georges Laraque

Georges Laraque was known for being a powerful enforcer during his 13 years in the National Hockey League, but he’s stronger in many ways than people realize. At the same time, there’s a lot more to him than tough guy.

Born in Montreal to Haitian immigrants, Laraque faced racism growing up, especially in his chosen game of hockey, where there were few non-white players at the time. (The NHL is still a predominantly white league compared with, for example, the National Basketball Association or National Football League.) Laraque openly admits his favourite game is soccer. So why choose hockey? “It became my goal at an early age to make it to the NHL,” he says. “This was to show all the people who showed prejudice towards me that one day, they would have to swallow everything they ever said about me.”

Nicknamed BGL (Big Georges Laraque), Laraque was naturally big and strong, and trained hard with a strict work ethic inculcated by his father. He found himself in the NHL’s brutal enforcer role, regularly called on to drop his gloves and slug it out with someone. But if you think that sums up his fighting spirit, you’re missing the real BGL. He says, “What I do on the ice is definitely not the type of person I am off the ice. I hate violence.”

Underscoring this ethic, he became a vegan in 2009 and has gotten involved in a number of charitable activities, including disaster relief for Haiti under World Vision, Team in Training for cancer research, Mira Foundation which provides service dogs to the visually impaired, and many other hospital and school visits and charities. He is a partner with natural food and drink businesses, and served for three years as the deputy leader for Canada’s environmentalist Green Party. He also follows the teachings of His Holiness the Dalai Lama.

Laraque was one of the hockey players who courageously donned figure skates in 2010 for CBC TV’s Battle of the Blades show that partnered a hockey pro with a figure skating pro for pairs competition. Partnered with Annabelle Langlois, whom he dwarfed by a foot and a half and almost two hundred pounds, he raised funds for World Vision. Laraque says, “I still figure skate too and, each year, I participate in year-end shows for many clubs. I say it and say it again: figure skating is physically and mentally more challenging than hockey.”

But Laraque isn’t limited to skates. You can find him putting his hockey legs to work on his road bike – a replica of the one Lance Armstrong used to win the Tour de France. He also runs races, where his build is far from the norm. He says, “Even though I’m a heavy weight, I participate in many 10k, 21k races and even marathons. I am conscious that I am the only elephant in my category that races such distances, but I love challenging myself and improve my time every time out.” It’s wonderfully refreshing to see an elite athlete be so willing to stay humble and enjoy sports without the need to be the best. We’re still wondering when he’ll try an Ironman triathlon on for size, but he jokes, “In order to do that, I would have to learn to swim. At the moment, I swim like a rock.”

Finally, Laraque is full of fun and humour. “I’m not shy at all,” Laraque says, “and would do pretty much anything to make people laugh because I’m a pretty happy person. I sing my heart out at karaoke even though I can’t sing to save my life.”

Let this happy warrior with a huge heart inspire you to step outside your own comfort zone, have lots of fun, and help others while you are at it!

Georges LaraqueGeorges Laraque is an NHL veteran who has played for the Edmonton Oilers, Phoenix Coyotes, Pittsburgh Penguins and Montreal Canadiens. His best-selling biography, The Story of The NHL’s Unlikeliest Tough Guy, goes well beyond the stereotype of the tough guy. He is now co-owner of two raw vegan restaurants called Crudessence, and Rise Kombucha. A conscientious environmentalist, Laraque stepped up in July 2010 to be the deputy leader of the Green Party. Since his retirement, Georges has been very active as a speaker on topics such as sports, motivation, racism, bullying, veganism, business, charities and politics.

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