Aaron Brown has always seen his track career as being about something bigger than himself.
He didn't run for personal glory, he ran for his family, his coach, his Canadian teammates and his sponsors.
But becoming a dad brought even greater perspective to his sport.
"Now it's just kind of magnified, right?" Brown said. "Because above all that, now I'm running for my son, not only to provide, but also set an example of what's possible, to show him you can grow up and dream and aim for high goals, just because that's what your father was doing."
The 28-year-old from Toronto and his wife Preeya Milburn became parents to son Kingsley — named for Brown's late grandfather — on Jan. 26.
"I want to set the example that, if at first it doesn't happen, you can work hard, go back and persevere and overcome obstacles and adversity that you deal with," Brown said last week from his home in Winter Garden, Fla. "All that stuff happens in sport, it's kind of like a mini-version of life, you start out in your career, you grow and you deal with adversity, overcome challenges, learn how to work with others and adapt to different obstacles that come your way.
"Whether he grows up to be an athlete like his father or does something completely different, I just want to show him like through how I embody myself as an athlete, what's possible for him in the future?"
Kingsley is one of a few new babies for Canada's track and field team. Damian Warner's partner Jen Cotten gave birth to their son Theo on March 11, while Andre De Grasse and partner Nia Ali, the reigning world hurdles champion, are expecting their second baby together this month.
Brown has had his share of obstacles, perhaps most notably at the 2017 world championships in London. A stomach virus ripped through numerous teams staying in a downtown hotel, including Canada. Brown was ill and forced to quarantine. Upon release he still ran to his fastest 200 time of the season and appeared destined for the final, but he was disqualified for a lane violation.
As a new dad, Brown has discovered that babies allow no room for bad days.
"It adds more perspective to the ups and downs of track and field," he said. "When you're sad about a bad day at the office, when you have a poor performance, there's still a smiling baby who knows nothing or cares nothing about that, they don't love you for what you can do on the track, they love you just for being who you are, so that grounds you and brings you back when you need some reassurance that people are still in your corner.
"I always got that from my family, they love and support me, but there's just something about an innocent baby who knows nothing about what you do for a living, who's just always happy to see your face or hear your voice, that's always reassuring."
The COVID-19 pandemic has taken bad days to a new level, throwing unprecedented obstacles at Canadian athletes. They've struggled to find adequate facilities to train and access to things like physiotherapy amid lockdowns. They also have had few top competitions because of travel restrictions.
Brown was locked out of his track and weight room in Florida for the first few weeks last spring and summer, and made do on grass fields and dirt paths.
"It was really scrambling to find anywhere where you can train and stay in some type of shape," said Brown, who was doing a round of media interviews as part of his sponsorship campaign with Bridgestone. "So that was tough and hard to find the motivation."
But Florida, including his training facilities, has been largely open the past few months.
"Even if we have to train with masks and social distancing and all that stuff, we have the ability to go out there and train, so we're pretty fortunate," he said.
Brown is a few races into his Tokyo Olympic season. He was third in the 200 metres at the Golden Spike in Ostrava, Czech Republic, on Wednesday, and will race at a Diamond League meet in Gateshead, U.K. on Sunday.
Canada's sprint relay team is a question mark for Tokyo. The team had hoped to clinch a berth at the World Athletics Relays earlier this month in Poland, but withdrew due to rising COVID-19 cases there.
Brown, who was part of the relay that won bronze at the 2016 Olympics in Rio, is confident Canada will be on the start line in Tokyo. Because of poor weather, the times in Poland, he said, were relatively slow, giving the Canadians some wiggle room to qualify based on ranking.
De Grasse, middle-distance runner Justyn Knight, and shot putter Brittany Crew will also compete Sunday in Gateshead.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 20, 2021.
Lori Ewing, The Canadian Press