When Akeem Haynes entered the Yellowknife Fieldhouse on Thursday evening, it wasn’t with an entourage of his fellow Olympic athletes.
Instead, he was shadowed by a swarm of tiny fans, all trying to follow in the bronze medalist’s (very fast) footsteps.
The 24-year-old took home bronze in the 4×100-meter men’s relay alongside fellow Canadians Aaron Brown, Brendon Rodney and Andre De Grasse at the 2016 Rio Olympics. On Thursday, he received a very different award – the first ever key to the city of Yellowknife.
“This is a complete honour, because I really wasn’t expecting this,” Haynes said.
“It just means a lot to me, it makes me feel honoured to be a part of this family.”
While Haynes currently resides in Calgary, he lived in Yellowknife from 1998 to 2004 where he went to Weledeh Catholic School. His mother, Carlene Smith, still lives in the NWT capital.
“To be able to come back to the city where I spent four years, the first place I came to live when my mom and I were trying to start a new life and share a moment… it hasn’t really sunk in but it feels good to be able to come back and just see the reaction of people’s faces when I’m able to show them the medal.”
Related: Olympic medalist Akeem Haynes set to receive key to Yellowknife
The decision to award Haynes the key to the city was spur-of-the moment. When city councilors heard the Olympian was visiting town, they quickly put the ceremony together.
Mayor Mark Heyck said that the speed of their decision does not mean the honour was not well earned by Haynes, both on and off the field.
“I think not only his accomplishments on the greatest stages in the world at the Olympics, but certainly his attitude towards life, his willingness to get out and talk to youth to talk about his journey from hardship to Olympic success (makes him) a worthy candidate,” Mayor Heyck said.
His Visit in Yellowknife
Haynes spent over 10 days in the city visiting schools and teaching students to pursue their dreams. He says he wants to be the voice of encouragement that inspires other kids to work towards their dreams.
“To be able to bring back a medal is good by itself,” he said.
“But to be able to share that with these young kids and just being able to tell them that what you want out of your life is possible… what I cherish most is those moments to be able to talk to those kids and those young adults and see them actually listen and be like ‘if he got out of Yellowknife, maybe we can do it’.”
The Olympian certainly made the night for grade 10 student Lance Dizon.
“It’s a really cool (meeting an Olympic athlete),” Dizon said. “They’re on such a high roster, like a special place for athletes. The Olympics is the best of the best and to see one in person it’s just so surreal and amazing.”
Haynes spoke at Dizon’s high school École St. Patrick this past week.
Dizon, who’s also a sprinter, came to the event to get his cleats signed. He plans to wear them for his next race.
Today it might be at the Fieldhouse in Yellowknife, tomorrow he might be bringing back an Olympic medal of his own.