Claudia Gourde

Fashion brand ambassador and fund-raising fir-tree thrower
It’s important to me that the volunteering I do is in line with my values and my passions; my children, sports and fashion.

“I’d been looking for a way to give back. I have two healthy kids, a good life. I wanted to share a bit of my luck.” In 2017 the Foundation CHU Ste Justine approached Claudia; they were looking for young business leaders to raise the profile of and help run their fundraising events. Given the choice between organising a ball, a golf event, an urban duathlon and a winter triathlon, Claudia chose the latter for its archetypical Canadian winter sports activities: cross-country skiing, ice skating and running on snow. And of course, the fir-tree throwing! “We added it as a side attraction to draw the crowds,” Claudia laughs, “Kids love to get involved, especially as one of Canada’s greatest NFL stars who is also a doctor, Laurent Duvernay-Tardif, hosts (and usually wins!) the event.”

Every year, around 350 professional and amateur athletes join Montreal’s business community in the sometimes bitingly cold sub-zero February to raise funds for a specific cause, such as a specialised bed for the neonatal intensive care unit or to provide essential medical equipment for home care, particularly during the COVID pandemic. “The event raises between CAD 550’000 and CAD 850’000. We choose a family who have had a sick child at the hospital to raise awareness around the given cause. The family become the face of the cause.”

In 2022 that face is Milan, up and coming ice-hockey star, who at age 15 was diagnosed with a rare blood disorder that finally led him to a bone-marrow transplant. “Today, thanks to the expert care he received at Ste Justine, Milan has started training again.”

“I’d been looking for a way to give back. I have two healthy kids, a good life. I wanted to share a bit of my luck.”

This year the winter triathlon took place virtually over a one-week period, where teams collectively partook in any sport they choose for a given number of minutes or kilometres, corresponding to key milestones in Milan’s life. “For example, 41 minutes of daily activity relates to the 41 days Milan spent in isolation at Ste Justine. I’ve been involving my kids. My youngest son and I have been doing yoga in the living room for 30 minutes every evening. He’s not much of a yogi but is happy to do it for a good cause. We’ve also been downhill skiing which is much more his thing!”

Organising an event of this size could easily be a full-time job and Claudia readily admits, she doesn’t have a lot of time spare. “How does the saying go? If you want to get a job done, ask a busy person!” Even if the virtual event is a little less work, Claudia and her fundraising colleagues normally start planning 7-8 months in advance. She organises all the logistics from reserving the park, arranging catering, sourcing the bibs and beanies from local sports shops, hiring and directing volunteer staff, and booking the DJ and mascots from Igloofest, to ensuring the ice is prepped and having a backup plan if it rains and there’s no snow. All at the lowest cost so the maximum can go to the people who will benefit.

So how did she become a fashion ambassador in all of this? “It’s important to me that the volunteering I do is in line with my values and my passions; my children, sports and fashion. The triathlon is very much aligned with these, but I was missing the fashion piece.” A fan of French women’s wear brand Ba&Sh, Claudia learned they were looking for ambassadors, women from all walks of life who represent the world of today. She applied and became one of 15 Ba&Sh brand ambassadors worldwide last year. “Every month or so they send me a couple of outfits to wear and promote on social media. In return, any purchase that one of my followers makes sends 10% of the proceeds back to the charity of my choice, so of course it was to Foundation CHU Ste Justine.”

Her inspiration stems from her father, “My dad was always volunteering and helping, he’d go out of his way to drive a kid to a hockey game who otherwise would not get to go because of his alcoholic parents. I think he changed a lot of people’s lives. I hope to pass on these same values and be as inspiring to my own kids.”

When Claudia isn’t organising triathlons, participating in fundraisers or encouraging others to donate to good causes, she’s the Chief Operating Officer for Pictet Canada. You can read more about her professional journey here.

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