Whether crusading against lactic acidosis, creating the Grand défi Pierre Lavoie, enjoying success on the Ironman circuit or appearing as a sought-after speaker, Pierre Lavoie’s life has been nothing short of extraordinary.
A true model of resilience, he drew strength and inspiration from a tragic event—the loss of two of his children—to build an extremely positive movement dedicated to the fight against orphaned hereditary diseases and the pursuit of a healthy lifestyle.
- He was born in L’Anse-Saint-Jean on December 17, 1963
- He lives in Saguenay, Québec, Canada
As a child, Pierre Lavoie didn’t think he had any talent for sports. He took up running at the age of 25 for the same reason others choose music: to woo a girl. Lynne Routhier is the chosen one. Together they had four children, two of whom died of lactic acidosis.
“Losing a child is like falling into a void without ever touching the ground. You lose your bearings and the pain is overwhelming.”
In an attempt to ease his pain and fight the child reaper, he launched the first challenge bearing his name in 1999: pedalling 650 km, alone, around Lac Saint-Jean and within 24 hours to increase local awareness about this rare genetic disease and raise money for medical research. The gene responsible for the disease has since been identified.
Without realizing it, with this first challenge, he had just kicked off what would define the next few years of his life.
- He participated in 10 Hawaii Ironman Championships
- He was crowned world champion 3 times in his category—1996, 2004 and 2005
- He set a world record in 2005
- He participated in several other international triathlons
Pierre Lavoie was 26 at his first triathlon. Even finishing last, he was hooked. Then came the Ironman.
“The Ironman taught me to go above and beyond, to persevere, values that follow me today in everything I do.”
Every time he competes, he has to fight the urge to give up, the challenge being so difficult. But he fights back: anything to cross the finish line, to experience that intense moment when he feels transformed, when everything seems possible.
The Ironman gave him the sporting experience he needed to undertake his first Défi Pierre Lavoie. And although it was this sport [cycling] that brought him to fame, he much prefers cross-country skiing. Even today, he performs as well as he did at the age of 30. All the more reason to love cross-country skiing…
He began speaking in public by chance, to share his Ironman experience. Then, out of necessity, he began his fight against his children’s illness. This led him to develop his first lecture, L’Attitude des gagnants, which he delivered for four years in several companies across Québec.
“Little did I know at the time that my lecture would be a gateway to the Grand défi Pierre Lavoie.”
In the first edition of the 1000 km event in 2009, the 91 teams of cyclists all came from companies where Pierre Lavoie had given lectures. These companies were also the first to support the project in a variety of ways.
Being a speaker brings him closest to fulfilling his childhood dream of becoming a teacher. Today, he knows he has the ability to influence people, just as teachers influence their students. He leverages this power to bring about lasting change in our society.
The Social Entrepreneur
When he launched the Grand défi Pierre Lavoie with Germain Thibault, Pierre Lavoie knew that his life would radically change. This adventure, which takes him all over the province and often far from his loved ones, demands an incredible self-sacrifice.
But his desire to tackle the problem undermining our healthcare system outweighs any sacrifices he has to make.
“Very little money is devoted to research into orphan diseases. The Grand défi is about preventing diseases that can be avoided through a healthy lifestyle, so that we have the money to treat the diseases we’re born with, like lactic acidosis.”
Pierre Lavoie has always acted with his heart, and that’s what makes him so strong and different. He did not become a social entrepreneur to make a fortune, but to change the world. And it’s only a matter of time before he can declare: “Mission accomplished.”
This year marks the Grand défi Pierre Lavoie’s 15th anniversary. It’s a milestone we’ll be celebrating in a very special way.
From the launch of the 1000 km, the Grand défi Pierre Lavoie’s flagship event, to the completion of the 2023 edition, some $30 million will have been distributed to schools, community organizations and scientific teams. This money has allowed them to purchase equipment or carry out projects promoting physical activity, and to advance research into orphaned hereditary diseases.
In 2017, Pierre Lavoie joined forces with Ricardo and architect Pierre Thibault to launch the Lab-École, a non-profit organization dedicated to bringing together multidisciplinary expertise to design the schools of tomorrow. As a result of this initiative, six elementary schools in different regions have been or will be built; one school was inaugurated at the start of the 2022 school year, three more opened for the 2023 school year, and two more schools are planned for the 2024 school year.
In September 2023, Pierre Lavoie launched the book Faut que ça bouge, une approche du sport différente pour des jeunes en bonne santé, co-written with Jean-François Harvey, kinesiologist, speaker and author.
- President of the Association de l’acidose lactique
- Spokesperson for CORAMH (Corporation de recherche et d’action sur les maladies héréditaires)
- Founder of the Club cycliste Acidose Lactique (ages 10-17)
- Founder of the Défi Pierre Lavoie
- Cofounder of the Grand défi Pierre Lavoie
- Cofounder of the Lab-École
Awards, honours and distinctions
2021 – Honorary Doctorate from the University of Ottawa
2017 – Honorary Doctorate from the Royal Military College of Canada, Kingston
2015 – Honorary Doctorate in Science of Human Kinetics from the Université de Sherbrooke
2012 – Member of the Order of Canada
2011 – Medal of Honour, Faculty of Medicine, Université de Montréal
2011 – Medal of the Order of Merit from the Fédération des commissions scolaires du Québec
2010 – Honorary Doctorate from the Université du Québec à Chicoutimi
2010 – Medal of the Lieutenant Governor of Québec
2010 – Medal of the Order of L’Anse-Saint-Jean, his hometown
2010 – Medal of the Ordre de la Pléiade
2009 – La Presse personality of the week
2009 – Honorary Citizen by the Canadian Government
2009 – Saguenay–Lac-Saint-Jean Ambassador of the Year
2007 – Reader’s Digest Citizen of the Year
2007 – Top 25 most influential people in Saguenay–Lac-Saint-Jean
2006 – Top 25 most influential people in Saguenay–Lac-Saint-Jean
2006 – Chevalier de l’Ordre du Québec
2006 – La Presse Personality Award in the Courage, Humanism and Personal Achievement category at the Gala Excellence La Presse
2005 – La Presse Personality of the Week in the Courage, Humanism and Personal Achievement category at the Gala Excellence La Presse
2005 – Member of the Ordre des Vingt-et-Un
2005 – Meritorious Service Medal by the Governor General of Canada, Madame Adrienne Clarkson
2005 – Bleuet d’Or in Saguenay–Lac-Saint-Jean
2004 – Motion of Congratulations from the Québec National Assembly