Exclusive Interview: Andre De Grasse On How LASIK Transformed His Life On & Off The Track
Athletics require precision and accuracy, so when Canadian sprinter Andre De Grasse noticed his vision was beginning to fade, he opted to undergo laser eye surgery with LASIK MD to ensure he could see clearly on and off the track with no hassle.
It’s been over four years since the world-renowned athlete had LASIK, and in that time, he’s broken new world records and has achieved even more wins, including one gold and two bronze medals at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.
LASIK MD recently had a chance to sit-down with Andre to learn more about how LASIK changed his life, his future career ambitions, and what he does when he’s not racing or training for the next big competition. Here’s what he had to say.
LASIK MD (LMD): You originally played basketball in high school, but how did you get into sprinting?
Andre De Grasse (ADG): I remember I was about 16 years old, and I was doing a co-op placement in high school. I was coming back from handing out resumes and doing some interviews to get certain jobs to help get [school] credits.
I was waiting for the bus and going home [when] I got on the bus and bumped into a friend from my early teenage years. I was just asking him what he was up to and how everything was going. He was like, “I’m going up to York University for a track practice. I’m training for this upcoming competition.”
I remember joking around with him on the bus and asking, “You’re fast? I don’t remember you ever being fast when we were younger.” He was like, “No I’m training. You should come out and join. Let’s have a friendly race and bet to see who’s faster.”
I went to go ask my teacher – she was a teacher and the track coach at the same time. I asked her if I could join the team, and she was like “Yeah, for sure you can come. We’re actually looking for people.”
So, I got there not knowing I had to have all this track attire. I remember my friend had his spikes and his uniform, and I just showed up in my basketball clothes and shoes. I had no idea what I was getting into. I just thought I was going out there to race him and that was it. But when I got there, it was a whole track meet with a lot of people. I had to race the rounds first and I had to know how to use starting blocks, which I had no idea how to use because I’d never used them before.
I literally went out there and ran. I guess I ran pretty fast – I ended up beating my friend that day. And that’s when I got discovered. Later that day, a guy named Tony Sharpe – he was in the 1984 Olympics for Canada [where] he won the bronze medal in the 4x100 – he came up to me and gave me his card. He said, “You should join my track club. I’ve never seen such speed like that. You’ve never done it before; you don’t even have the spikes or uniform. You should come and I’ll give you a few practices.”
I took him up on that offer and ended up going out to the club, and that’s really how I got into the sport.
LMD: After that, did you continue playing basketball, or did you realize you had a career in sprinting?
ADG: I still played basketball for a little bit, maybe like for six months after that. [But] I realized after Tony was like, “You’ve got to pick one. I have a feeling you can do something special. I feel like you have a shot to go to the Olympics.” He was telling me all these stories and how he had a track scholarship waiting for me to go to the U.S. Once I took that offer and scholarship, basketball was kind of behind me. So, I had to end up choosing one.
LMD: What makes you a good sprinter?
ADG: There’s a lot that goes into it. There are different types of runners, as you see. I’m not a traditional runner, they say. I’m not the traditional sprinter. My old coach, in Tony’s days, was bigger and bulkier, had a lot more muscle. But then you have a guy like me, that has muscle but is skinnier.
Nowadays, though, you’re seeing such a different dynamic with sprinters where it doesn’t matter what size or shape you are. It’s really who can just step on the line and train hard, work hard. Those are the people who can run fast.
Of course, you have to have the other dynamics that go with it, like a good coach and good spikes, those types of things. But nowadays, anyone can really run. If you have the speed, you can go for it. I’ve learned that over the years – people have told me, “How can you sprint? The traditional sprinters are bulkier and have more muscles, and you’re just like a tiny, skinny guy.” I’m not even that tall – I think I’m one of the shortest guys out there. But I think anything is possible if you put your mind to it, work hard, and have good people around you.
I think it was kind of weird how I got into the sport, but it ended up being a good thing the way I am. I think I’m setting the bar for other people like me to come in and sprint.
LMD: Was there a defining moment in those years leading up to your first Olympics where you realized you could be a competitor and that you’re very good at sprinting? Was there something that happened where it clicked for you?
ADG: I went off to school and got my first scholarship in 2012, and three years later in 2015, I ended up going off to the University of Southern California. I remember training with guys who had been training for a long time, were great at the sport, and had so much advice for me. I just had good coaching around me. I ended up winning the 2015 NCAA championships. When I won that, it was a big moment where everyone told me that if you win that, that’s next level to go to the Olympics or world championships.
I wasn’t too cocky or confident with myself even after that performance. But when I got to the Pan American games later that summer in Toronto, that’s when everything showed to me that maybe I can do this. Maybe I can go to the Olympics and represent Canada and be a champion one day, since I was able to win it in such a high-pressure situation in front of the home crowd and in front of all my family and friends. It gave me that confidence boost to say that, yeah, maybe I can do this.
LMD: Conversely, was there ever a point where you felt like you wanted to give up? If so, how did you get through that?
ADG: I actually injured my right hamstring in 2017 at the world championships in London, United Kingdom. I had to miss out on the championships, and I was kind of bummed out. But people around me were telling me it’s okay, that I was going to come back stronger.
And then, I ended up re-aggravating it in 2018, and I was like, “Man, what’s going on?” […] It made me say, “Maybe I should give up. Maybe this isn’t for me.” Because usually when you get hurt twice, it’s hard to really come back and run fast and be at your best.
But I had good people in my corner who kept telling me to stick with it, keep going, keep pushing yourself, go to rehab, do all the necessary things to heal your hamstring, like changing your diet [and] keeping hydrated. Having people around me got me out of the dumper. I kept saying I couldn’t give up on myself now; I have to give it another try and see how it goes.
Once I changed locations and changed my environment, got a new coach, [and] now, in this stage of my life, I just had a daughter… Things around me helped me evolve to say, “I can’t be down in the dumps. I can’t give up myself. I have to keep going and push myself.” Once I got over that mental barrier [….] that really helped me get past that.
LMD: You seem to thrive under pressure and really show up for the big races. What are your routines and pre-race rituals? How do you get and stay mentally focused for those big races?
ADG: I have a routine not even on race day but leading up to the championships. So, just making sure that I’m not worried or sweating the little things. Making sure that everything is good around me – that my family is good, that I’m doing the right things off the track to make sure everything is balanced, [and] all my time management.
So, now when I get there, I try to adjust to the time zone […] making sure I’m not jet lagged, getting proper sleep, making sure that I’m eating. It’s really a hard balance – I have a good team around me to help me with those things.
Once I get past that barrier, I stick to a routine where I’m eating 3 meals a day – making sure I’m getting my breakfast, lunch, and dinner just like I do at home. In between, I’m taking my mind off the race. I think if you focus too much on it, things can go bad. I don’t want to psych myself out or make myself nervous.
For the first few days, I’m outside, I’m enjoying the atmosphere, things around me. I’m going to places where I don’t have to do much walking […] as the time goes on, on day 3 or 4, I see my massage guy, continue with hydrating, [and] eating well. Then I take my mind off the race by watching movies, watching Netflix, listening to music, chatting with my family back home. It kind of eases my mind and makes me feel like it’s just another day, not thinking of it like a big race because that can really put the pressure on you.
On race day […] we usually race at nighttime, around 8 or 9 o’clock at night. So, I usually go to bed a little bit later [the night before] so I can wake up a little bit later. When I wake up around 9 or 10, I have a late breakfast. After a late breakfast, it’s about 12 or 1, I’ll go see my massage guy or chiropractor. Then I’ll come back, watch a little TV or a movie on Netflix, and after that I’ll drift off, fall asleep, [and] take a little nap. Then, I’ll try to wake my body up, do a little warm up, [and] listen to music. Then, I’ll get a late lunch or early dinner and will take the bus to head over to the track.
I’ll get to the track 2-and-a-half to 3 hours before the race when I’m in the zone. That’s when I’m thinking about the race and talking to my coach, thinking of a game plan and what I need to do, making sure my warmup is going well. My pre-ritual is I’ll listen to music to pump myself up. Especially [during] Tokyo 2020 when there were no fans, I really had to listen to music a lot to pump myself up since there was no one watching in the stadium. So, that was pretty tough for me.
LMD: When you’re not at a big race or the Olympics, what does a typical training day look like for you?
ADG: I train Monday to Saturday, six days a week. Sunday is my day off. Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, I train twice a day. We’ll go to the track, take a little break, and get a bite to eat. Then we come back in an hour or so [and] go to the weight room. By the time that’s over, that’s about a six- or seven-hour day. Then I’ll go home and relax a little before the kids come home. I’ll play with them and then do it all over the next day.
It’s really intense, especially during this part of the year when you’re not racing as much. You have to train your body to keep going. But when you get into race season, you train maybe four days a week because we’re travelling and competing all over the world. But from November to until about mid-April, we’re training six days a week.
LMD: So, will you be competing in Paris if all goes well?
ADG: Yep, that’s the plan. At least get to Paris and hopefully if my body is still going – I’ll be 30 years old at the time – try to aim for L.A. in 2028. But I’m just going to take it one step at a time and aim for Paris.
LMD: Let’s switch gears a bit and discuss your LASIK surgery. You had your surgery in Toronto in 2017 performed by LASIK MD’s co-founder Dr. Avi Wallerstein. Tell us, how did LASIK change your life? What changed for you both on and off the track?
ADG: Having that procedure was life-changing […] [Previously], I felt like my vision wasn’t on par and I didn’t want to have to keep wearing glasses. Getting LASIK surgery was so much easier [than wearing glasses or contacts], even on the track.
I remember before, in the 4x100 relay, I had to always remember to look at the tape behind me and every time it just felt blurry. So, now that I’ve had LASIK, I’m confident that I can see the tape and I know when to take off or when to go. There’s nothing to be nervous or worried about. [LASIK] really helped me on the track for that.
Off the track, just in everyday life […] I don’t have to be nervous to forget my glasses or my contacts getting dry. It really helps me feel confident and feel good.
LMD: Do you have time to visit countries a little bit when you travel? If so, what country have you enjoyed visiting the most?
ADG: Yeah, I do get a chance. Usually, I wait until after the competition. I stay anywhere from 10 hours to 24 hours after the competition until I fly out to the next competition.
So, I think my favourite place right now that I got to go to was Monaco. It was really nice and relaxing, so after the competition it was good to just go down to the water and just relax. But every place is really good – the last two places were Monaco and Rome where I had a really good time.
LMD: Who is your athletic inspiration?
ADG: My girlfriend, [Olympic medallist] Nia [Ali], she’s really an inspiration to me. Because having kids and being able to come back and win the world championships, that was really inspiring to me. I always knew that she could do it but seeing it in person and seeing all of her hard work every single day was, like, wow.
As a kid, I always liked basketball stars. Vince Carter was my go-to inspiration because I always liked watching the Toronto Raptors growing up.
LMD: During your off season, what kind of sports do you follow? Or what kind of sports do you play when on vacation?
ADG: I play golf, I go swimming. I remember I did snowboarding one time but then I decided I didn’t want to do it [anymore] because I don’t want to get hurt. So, I stick to the sports where you can’t get hurt as much.
LMD: When you were a kid, what did you want to be when you grew up?
ADG: I wanted to be an NBA player, a basketball player. I was just six or seven years old, and I told my mom I wanted to get a Raptors logo on my wall, and she got it painted. My favourite player was Vince Carter and I wanted to be in the NBA like he was. He was a sports hero to me.
LMD: Finally, to end our discussion on a fun note, we’d love to do a quick speed round of questions. Answer with the first response that comes to your mind! Ready?
LMD: What do you prefer – texting or talking?
LMD: Facebook, Instagram, or TikTok?
LMD: Fill in the blank: “Lasik is…”
LMD: Your favourite thing to eat in the morning?
ADG: Eggs and bacon.
LMD: If you weren’t an athlete, what career would you have?
ADG: Maybe a sports agent.
LMD: What’s your favourite chocolate bar?
ADG: Hershey’s cookies and cream.
LMD: Who’s the coolest celebrity you’ve ever met?
ADG: Ooh, that’s hard. Maybe, Drake? I don’t know, there’s so many! Will Smith was cool, he was funny.
LMD: If you could only eat one thing for the rest of your life, what would it be?
ADG: Probably anything seafood.
Thank you so much to Andre De Grasse for taking the time to talk with LASIK MD.
We can’t wait to see what Andre (and his perfect vision) will accomplish in 2022 and beyond!
If you’re interested in learning how LASIK eye surgery or another vision correction procedure can transform your life, just like it did for Andre, then be sure to book a free, no-obligation consultation.