Friday, 16 November 2012

GSP's hometown is a modest place, just like him

To get to know modest UFC superstar Georges St-Pierre you need to know where he came from -- Saint-Isidore, Que., a small town 30 minutes outside of Montreal.

SAINT-ISIDORE, QUE. - Maybe one day there will be a sign for UFC superstar Georges St-Pierre in his hometown. Like the one Wayne Gretzky has in Brantford or Bobby Orr in Parry Sound.

Even 25-year-old Sidney Crosby has been feted in his hometown. 'Welcome to Cole Harbour, Home of Sidney Crosby,' the sign reads with No. 87 written on pucks to the left of the H in home and to the right of the Y in Crosby.

In a drive down Rang Saint-Regis, the main street through Saint-Isidore, population 2,700, there only are a few signs that one of Canada's most popular athletes was raised on nearby Rue Yelle.

At the main intersection of town, there is a church, a school, a restaurant and a municipal office. Right across the street from the church is Le Rendez-Vous des Sportif.

The sports bar has a few UFC posters plastered on the front window that feature the local 31-year-old hero. Inside, more posters festoon the wall behind the bar and near the men's room there is a little shrine of French newspaper articles about St-Pierre.

"We're proud of him," the brunette bartender, Lysa Paquette, tells a couple of visiting reporters. "This place will be packed on Saturday. We'll watch the fight [on pay per view].

"One of Georges' uncles will be here on Saturday. He said he can see more by watching the fight here than in the Bell Centre."

Eleven months after major right knee surgery and 18 months since his last fight, St-Pierre returns to the octagon in Montreal on Saturday in a championship bout against Carlos Condit.

On the eve of the comeback, Paquette was asked if there is anything else in town that indicates St-Pierre was from Saint-Isidore. She thinks and then tells us about a change room in the local sports park behind the church.

Sure enough, there, between the baseball diamond, the beach volleyball pit, the soccer pitch and the outdoor rink, is a small brick building that with a plaque that reads "Chalet des Loisirs, Georges St-Pierre." This loosely translates to Georges St-Pierre's Recreation Chalet.

The door is locked. But you can see benches inside. It's nothing more than a change room.

St-Pierre liked hockey before martial arts

Saint-Isidore is a sleepy French-speaking farm community with a nearby limestone quarry. The town is located about a half-hour to the southwest of downtown Montreal, on the south side of the St. Lawrence River.

It's a modest place, just like its famous son. He grew up with two younger sisters in a lower middle-class family. His mother Paulyne worked in a nearby nursing home. His father was a flooring and carpet installer.

GSP was into all sports in his youth. He liked track and field and basketball and was particularly into hockey. He was a huge fan of Gretzky and the Edmonton Oilers. But he often had to don used equipment to play. Eventually the high costs to play extinguished his passion for Canada's game.

At the edge of town a bunch of wind energy turbines are being constructed. Saint-Isidore is not far the U.S. border and is only a few kilometres from the Kahanwake Mohawk Reserve on the shore of the St. Lawrence.

Bullying opened the door for karate

The reserve played a part in St-Pierre's story. GSP was seven years old when some older children at his school bullied him on the streets of Saint-Isidore. That's when his father Roland, who was a part-time karate instructor, began to educate his son on the finer points of Kyokushin karate.

Seven years later, St-Pierre now was fully immersed in karate and similar disciplines. The Kahanwake reserve would host an event in the then fledgling sport of mixed martial arts. The event was moved there after the New York state athletic commission would not sanction the event. Quebec wasn't crazy about hosting it either, but the province had no jurisdiction over Kahanwake. 

A young St-Pierre desperately wanted to attend the big night. His father felt it was okay, but his mother put the kibosh to the idea because the event's main sponsor was Penthouse magazine.

The disappointment only heightened the youngster's passion for the sport. Even his mother came around after a few years. She lent her son $2,000 for his kinesiology studies at College Edouard Montpetit in Longueuil, so he could use his more spare time to train.

St-Pierre worked briefly as a garbage man and a bouncer at a night club called Fuzzy Brossard, not far front the Montreal Canadiens current practice facility, to help fund his MMA passion.

When he made enough prize money earlier in his career, one of his first acts of gratitude was to pay off his parents' mortgage.

He's come a long way from those days, however. He's one of Canada's most popular athletes with lucrative sponsorship deals. He lives in Montreal now, trains at the Tristar Gym in the west side of the big city.

But there is little doubt that the big star athlete still has small town values, sign or no sign. 

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Tara Reid Nina Moric

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