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  • Writer's pictureJonathan Yue

How Sarah Wells turned her Olympic experience into the 'Believe Initiative'

Updated: Feb 5, 2019

Caught up with four-time Canadian champion in the 400-metre hurdles to talk about how she's empowering others to Believe.

Sarah Wells talks about her Believe Initiative at a CAN Fund event at the University of Toronto in 2017.

“This is the best day of my life.”

As she lay off to the side of the track, 400-metre hurdler Sarah Wells repeated those words over and over again, as she became the newest member of Team Canada’s 2012 Olympic team. In ways, it was also the starting point of her life outside of track and field.

"If you have the courage to believe in yourself then it will be the spark to ignite your dream.”

It was her fourth Canadian title, winning the race with a time of 55.71, accomplishing the Olympic standard by almost a second. But it wasn’t so much about making the team as it was about the constant belief she had in herself to overcome multiple injuries leading up to the Canadian trials.

“I got the word “Believe” tattooed onto my wrist [at the start of the season] and it kind of showed, after nine months of sitting out, even how impossible this dream feels, I am going to make the Olympic games,” Wells recalled. “I knew it would be hard, it was going to be tough, but I had this Believe to look down and remind myself of everything I had already been through, all the challenges that I faced, all the times I doubted myself, all the times I could have given up and didn’t.”

Since then, the Unionville, Ont., native has won a silver medal while representing Canada at the 2015 Pan American Games for a home crowd in Toronto and continues to embody that resilience and belief in herself.

Sarah Wells with coach Bob Westman at the Varsity Centre in Toronto.

What started out as just visits to local schools to talk to students about her experiences, Wells created the Believe Initiative, where she visits schools and attend events across Canada accompanied by curriculum and video series. “If you have the courage to believe in yourself then it will be the spark to ignite your dream,” is the quote that is highlighted during Wells’ presentations.

“If you can have that courage to truthfully believe in yourself, it will be that little spark. You still need to work hard for it, still have to grind it out, still have to get up when you fall down, all of those things will really take that spark and ignite it into a flame,” Wells explains. “As long as you believe in that, you’ll be able to overcome those forks in the road when you get to those tough choices, you’ll be able to overcome those obstacles when they come your way because you really believe you can get on the other side.”

Wells is doing just that. After failing to qualify for the 2016 Olympic team, the University of Toronto grad is still working to get stronger and faster on the track. At 28-years-old, she’ll be 30 when the next Summer Games comes along and she hopes to be there in Tokyo in 2020.

"Being 30 I'm going to know where my skill acquisition is. My coach Bob Westman says this to me, that when you're older skill acquisition is really high, but you do need far more rest, which is great considering I'm doing all this other stuff. " Wells says. "And dialling it back just slightly, and not intentionally to be honest, I'm almost going to be staying healthier. And then come 2020, actually being able to zero in, kind of lock in that as my sole purpose and kind of focus for the year.

Wells wants to continue the Believe Initiative along the way too. She believes that between all the talks and running of the organization, it will allow her to have more time to recover from the training on the track.

With the foundation that she created as an Olympic athlete and her current goal of making the 2020 Olympic team, she hopes that it continues to grow, and see others spread their message as well.

“I definitely have been able to use sports as a platform and I'm really grateful for that” Wells says. “Our sport [track and field] doesn’t necessarily have the infrastructure that makes it easy, but its totally doable and people really do care about what you have to say. people want to know what you're eating for breakfast, people want to know what you're telling yourself behind the blocks. People will listen as long as you don’t take that lightheartedly and choose to understand the power of your voice, then you can use that for some really good causes.”

For more information on the Believe Initiative, Sarah Wells can be reached at and @SarahWells400mh

© Jonathan Yue
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