TORONTO – What makes a hero?
They don’t all wear capes and tights or bend steel in their bare hands. On the new season of “The Amazing Race Canada,” the kind of ‘heroes’ viewers will get to know are those who wear military or police uniforms; who work as teachers, nurses, or launch charities.
On “The Amazing Race Canada: Heroes Edition,” premiering July 3 on CTV, there are also two retired air force pilots and Toronto Argonauts cheerleaders.
All 10 teams were nominated by friends, family and co-workers. Among those competing are two-time national barrel racing champion Nancy Csabay and three-time Olympian Mellisa Hollingsworth, both from Alberta.
Csabay, who received more than 30 nominations, has wanted to enter the “Amazing Race” for years. “I’m turning 50 this year, so why not?” she says.
Four years ago she was diagnosed with breast cancer. Just don’t call her a cancer survivor.
“I don’t want to give cancer any more energy than it deserves,” she says.
Hollingsworth, 37, won a bronze medal in the women’s skeleton at the 2006 Winter Games in Turin, Italy. Her hero is her father, a single dad who she says “tucked me in every night and told me I was his hero.”
For Csabay, that was her mom.
“I have so much respect for her,” says Csabay, just 17 when her mom died of cancer. “She was a tough, tough lady who endured a lot. I’m so grateful that I’m her daughter.”
Soaring into the field are two retired air force pilots from small-town Ontario — Corey “Chewy” Liddle, 47, and Mark “Happy” LaVerdiere, 48.
LaVerdiere was a Lead Solo pilot for the famed Snowbirds aerobatics team. Liddle was a pilot for the United Nations Humanitarian Air Service. Both served multiple tours in Afghanistan and took part in aid relief there, as well as in Haiti and South Sudan.
As for their nicknames: “Happy” bares a strong resemblance to, as he puts it, “a very handsome actor by the name of Adam Sandler.” LaVerdiere says he even golfs like the “Happy Gilmore” star.
An old hockey injury left “Chewy” with a lop-sided gait. That, and, at one time, a headful of shaggy hair and a beard begged comparisons to a certain “Star Wars” Wookie.
Among the younger teams are Argos cheerleaders Leanne Larsen, 25, and Marielle “Mar” Lyon, 26. They’ve thrown their energy behind cheering for healthy and safe learning environments in schools with the Toronto Argonauts’ Huddle-Up anti-bullying program.
Lyon says she was bullied growing up in Thunder Bay, Ont. “The hardest years of my life were from Grade 7 until Grade 10 or 11.”
The other teams in this summer’s “Heroes” edition of the show:
-Joseph Truong, 23, from Mississauga, Ont., and Akash Sidhu, 22, from Brampton, Ont., are the youngest team. Friends since high school and through their years at York University, they graduated together and created their own non-profit charity business.
-Taylor Callens, 25, and Courtney Callens, 27, are proud to be part of a Canadian family policing legacy. The B.C., brother and sister followed their father into the RCMP – the fourth generation of Callens to do so.
-Courtney Berglind, 28, was a bartender and Adam Kovacs, 29, a firefighter being auctioned off at a fundraiser, when they had their first awkward encounter. The engaged couple from Calgary are both first responders, with Courtney being a nurse.
-Martina Seo, 40, and Phil Seo, 37, are a brother-sister team from North Vancouver. The teacher and banker give to children in need all over the world, volunteering over 10,000 hours in Canada, Kenya, South Africa, Korea, Fiji and the U.S.
-Zainab Ansari, 32, and Monica Demian, 24, are both members of the Royal Canadian Navy. The Greater Toronto Area residents are proud to represent the amazing women who serve in the Canadian Armed Forces.
-Dylan Elias, 28, and Kwame Osei, 34, are out to unite the youth of Fort McMurray, Alta., through athletics and football. The two, who met on rival football fields while studying in Nova Scotia, hope to have a positive impact on inner city kids as well as those struggling on First Nation reserves.
-Childhood cancer survivor Todd Kirk and Anna Holtby, both 24 and engaged, have been friends since high school. Cancer left Todd with noticeable facial differences leading to stares and teasing; neither stopped him from becoming a high school quarterback.
— Bill Brioux is a freelance TV columnist based in Brampton, Ont.