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Andrea St. Bernard ~ Badass Grenadian Olympian & Lawyer

July 28, 2012

We are blown away by Andrea St. Bernard… no preamble necessary. Just read this interview below, published yesterday by The Toronto Star.

Andrea St. Bernard top lawyer & taekwondo fighter Photo by Davud Batten

When Andrea St. Bernard lays down the law, you’d be wise to listen.

St. Bernard, a lawyer with the prestigious firm of McMillan LLP in Toronto, is also an Olympic level taekwondo athlete who will fight for her native Grenada in London this summer.

We spoke to St. Bernard via email at her training camp in Cuba. Following is an edited version of the conversation.

Q. The vast majority of Olympic athletes I’ve spoken with have basically put their academic careers or jobs on hold to train for the Games.

How did you manage to get through law school and earn a position at a prestigious firm while still competing at an elite athletic level?

A. Sport has always been an important part of my life. In grade school I competed in every sport my school offered. In high school I narrowed my sporting interests down to basketball and volleyball, while competing on a highly competitive rep volleyball team which claimed many provincial and national titles. I received a full athletic scholarship and spent my undergraduate years competing on Duquesne University’s Volleyball Team. So training and competition have been a part of my regular routine for as long as I can remember. The daily routine of an athlete became my norm, and the excitement of competition has always been a driving force.

At the same time, I was always a keen student committed to academic excellence. Upon completing my undergraduate degree I was satisfied that my volleyball career had come to an end, but still interested in maintaining an active and competitive lifestyle. It was at this time that I was first introduced to Taekwondo. I began my taekwondo career humbly but with excitement for the pursuit a new athletic interest. My goal was simply to excel to the height of my potential. I was a few months into my taekwondo career, and barely a yellow belt when I began law school, but the daily routine of a high performance athlete was already ingrained in me, and the demands of maintaining a rigorous training regiment while completing law school seemed natural given my history.  When I interviewed with Bay Street law firms, I was open about my interests, and my intentions to continue competing. I was fortunate to have the support of a few lawyers at McMillan whom were impressed by my level of commitment to sport and academic excellence. I have always enjoyed the support of McMillan in my athletic pursuits. It wasn’t always easy, but it was always what I wanted to do, so I just did it.

Q. Give us a breakdown of an average day for you in terms of law commitments and taekwondo training. When do you eat? Sleep? Socialize?

A. In the first few years that I was an associate at McMillan, I had a very intense and demanding schedule. I was called to the bar in 2006 and joined the lending group at McMillan. For the next couple years, the economy was strong, and business was great. I was flooded with files and overwhelmed by a variety of professional opportunities within the firm. But, my desire to continue training never wavered, and I was well into high level taekwondo competitions by this time, so I knew I could not stop training. Flexibility was the key to my success.

My law practice is transactional which means that I am a slave to the demands of any given file or files that I am working on. There are many late nights and weekend work was normal. To maintain a high level training regimen I needed to do a lot of training on my own, often at odd hours in the morning, while always trying to get to the club where I could spar and train among other athletes. This often meant that I would leave the office in time to get to 8 pm practice, and return to the office at 11 pm for another few hours of work. It meant hitting the gym at 6 am before the office on many days. It meant just rolling with the punches and doing as much as I could.

All my vacation time was dedicated to training camps and competitions. I often travelled to Cuba to participate in the training program of the Cuban National Taekwondo team. I had varying degrees of success in taekwondo competitions, and I often blamed my failures on not being able to maintain any kind of normalcy in my regimen. Failing my clients or falling short on the demands of my professional career were never an option to me, so I was sometimes mentally and physically strained, which I know affected my sporting performance.

Last year, it occurred to me that I had a real chance to qualify for the London Olympic Games, but I realized that to achieve that goal, I would need to commit to a full-time athletic focus. I discussed my Olympic dream with a few partners at McMillan, and they agreed to give me a leave of absence to pursue this dream. So for the last year or so, I have had the luxury of giving my taekwondo career 100 per cent of my focus, while enjoying job security at McMillan. During this time, I have maintained a full-time training regimen which is well planned and regular. At the same time, I am also working on my Master of Laws at the University of the West Indies, which is far less demanding than my legal practice, and thus quite manageable. I have become a master of multi-tasking. I would eat in transit, or quite often at my desk.

Socializing had to be included within my daily routines, and in this way I was blessed. I met my boyfriend many years ago in a gym, and he has helped me to train at many uncommon hours.

Q. You practice law and live in Toronto yet are competing in London for Grenada. How did this come about?

A. I was born in Grenada where both my mother and father were born and raised. We immigrated to Canada in the early 1980s during the Grenadian revolution. We have always maintained strong ties with our native country, and often spent several months each year “back home”. Competing for Grenada was one way that I thought I could make a contribution to my native country. Grenada has never won an Olympic medal, and this only adds to my desire to do well representing my country.

Q. Does taekwondo give you any benefits, insights or advantages in your law practice, an often adversarial occupation?

A. I believe my many years of sporting experiences have contributed to the strength of my character. The life of a competitive athlete helped to build the resilience and perseverance that I think has carried me through to the successful completion of many challenging deals. Taekwondo in particular is an individual sport that demands self-confidence, courage and spirit. To me, this is analogous to many of the challenges I face in the office.

One must learn to look their opponent in the eye, and attack with confidence, while always prepared to counter the equally aggressive moves of your adversary. Both taekwondo and law are filled with confident players that are eager to test their skills in contest. It is important in both arenas to devise a strategy, but to maintain enough flexibility to rely upon spontaneous reactions.

original article:

5 Comments leave one →
  1. Liz L permalink
    July 28, 2012 2:34 pm

    Awesome information! 😀

    • Groundation Grenada Action Collective permalink*
      July 28, 2012 3:09 pm

      Spread the word. She is such an inspiration!

  2. August 2, 2012 7:29 am

    She’s a great role model for today’s youth. She managed to get through law school and also earned a position at a prestigious firm, while competing at a high athletic level. Most Olympic athletes are only focusing on their sports career. Andrea St. Bernard is one of the few who did both. That’s impressive!

  3. August 7, 2012 9:08 pm

    Go Get them

  4. Glemz permalink
    August 8, 2012 1:30 pm

    Great interview.. and it’s wonderful to get to know about Ms St.Bernard. Well done and thank you for wanting to give back to Grenada by representing the island at the highest sport event. You have my utmost well wishes, and I’m sure, the rest of Grenada’s. Good luck!

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