Q&A with Amanda Sage, the author behind Kickass Canadians

Q. First, we need the backstory! Can you tell KT readers a bit about yourself?

Amanda Sage: Sure! I’m a freelance writer. I do communications writing for a living, and have a number of other projects on the side, including the Kickass Canadians website and a feature film script I’m working on. I’ve also made short films, and written and self-published children’s books (one for each of my nephews) under my shingle, Wonderpress. And I have a photography hobby, which I’ve been neglecting a bit lately!

Amanda Sage’s website - <a href="http://kickasscanadians.ca" target="_blank">kickasscanadians.ca</a> - has been shining a spotlight on Canadian achievement since 2011. Photo by Andrea Tomkins
Amanda Sage’s website – kickasscanadians.ca – has been shining a spotlight on Canadian achievement since 2011. Photo by Andrea Tomkins

Q. Tell us about your Kick Ass Canadians (KAC) project. How did it originally come about?

I launched Kickass Canadians in January 2011. The idea came about the month before. Building up to that, I’d been realizing more and more that I knew a lot of people who had great stories. One night in December 2010, I was talking to Alex Jansen (who became one of the first Kickass Canadians), and realized that other people would want to hear his story; I felt privileged to be listening to him, and wanted to share his experiences.

The next morning, I called up Thomas J Bradley, who had developed my website amandasage.ca, and ran the idea by him for a site that featured articles on inspiring Canadians. He loved it and was up for designing and developing it, so I dove in—I grabbed the URL, booked the inaugural interviews, and wrote the first few articles over the holidays.

Q. You’ve met and profiled so many interesting people. Did anyone in particular stand out for you?

That’s so hard to answer. Of course it’s awesome to speak with people I’ve long admired from afar. Chris Hadfield immediately comes to mind, as well as Samantha Nutt, Ann-Marie MacDonald. And Scott Moir and Tessa Virtue—getting to sit backstage with those two at Stars and Ice, to watch them rehearse, and chat with them in person, was an unforgettable experience. I hope I’m able to offer a new perspective or insight on some of those well-known Canadians.

But one of the reasons I launched the site was to profile lesser-known Canadians who are doing remarkable things and changing lives for the better. People who “should” be famous. It’s impossible to pick just one person. Off the top of my head, Cynthia Bland, founder of Voice Found, stands out for her incredible strength and courage. She’s turned a traumatic childhood into something that can help people prevent child sexual abuse. And I am endlessly amazed by Blaine Penny and Andrew Furey. Blaine has two children, one of whom lives with mitochondrial disease. On top of managing that and maintaining work-life balance with a wonderful wife and a demanding career, Blaine has made the time to found and run MitoCanada, and consistently defend his reputation as one of our greatest ultra-distance runners. He’s also sweet, accessible, gracious and eternally optimistic. Andrew is an orthopedic surgeon, father of three, married to another doctor. He founded Team Broken Earth in response to the 2010 Haiti earthquake, and has kept the organization going, helping to promote continued learning and self-sufficiency in Port-au-Prince. He proves true the saying: “If you want something done, ask a busy person.” He just always seems to make time for others. It’s astonishing.

These are the kinds of Canadians we should know about; they deserve to be celebrated.

Q. 2015 marks KAC’s fifth year, and you’ve made a few changes. What’s new?

In 2012, I added a podcast to the site to provide updates on the interviewees. It’s called Keeping Up with the Kickass Canadians. This year, I had lapel pins made for each of the Kickass Canadians, based on Thomas’ gorgeous logo design. (And suggested by Kickass Canadian James Raffan, who is an amazingly generous person!)

I also switched web developers, because Thomas now teaches full-time at Algonquin College. Shift180 recently came on board to make Kickass Canadians mobile-friendly. And on Canada Day, I launched a new feature to the site, called the Kickass Continuum. It expands on the idea of featuring lesser-known Canadians, and will hopefully make the site more accessible. In a nutshell, I’m inviting people to contribute very short write-ups, along with a photo or other image file, about a Canadian they know personally who has inspired or supported them in some way. It’s about celebrating “everyday heroes,” and letting those close to us know that they matter. It’s also a way of encouraging creativity, because the criteria for the photo submissions are a bit unusual, in that I’m not asking for headshots. All the information is at kickasscanadians.ca/continuum. As people will see when they visit the site, Shift180 did a standout job of honouring Thomas’ original design while implementing some great new features. I’m excited to see what people will contribute to the Continuum!

Q. A significant part of KAC is about giving back, and CARE Canada is a major recipient of the funds you raise. Why is giving back important to you? And why CARE Canada?

I guess it’s important to me because, for most of us, there are always people who have less than we do, and I think it’s fitting to be mindful of that, and to make an effort to give back when we can. The Kickass community has offered a great opportunity to celebrate goodness, and have fun connecting, while supporting people and causes in need.

I chose CARE Canada as a reflection of the fact that there are those with less. Of course there are so many very worthwhile charities here at home. In fact, the first Kickass fundraiser, Kickass Talks for CARE, raised money for CARE Canada and a local charity, Big Brothers Big Sisters Ottawa. But I decided to keep the focus on one organization, and I picked CARE Canada because no matter how difficult things get for Canadians, there are still basic rights and freedoms in place that make things less dire than in other countries. I wanted to help raise money for people who don’t enjoy the benefits of living in a country as blessed as ours. I also wanted to support an organization that focuses on helping women and children, as that has been shown time and again to be the essential element in bringing about positive change and helping communities flourish.

Q. What do you get out of this Amanda? What keeps you going?

I find it energizing. I get excited when I book an interview with a new Kickass Canadian, or get to chat with them for the podcast, or see others take inspiration from the articles. It’s a thrill to see everyone come together for the fundraisers. I love it when I’m able to connect the Kickass Canadians with one another, so they can help each other out. I also love writing, of course. And with the Continuum, I’m looking forward to seeing the art and creativity that comes from the idea of celebrating loved ones. I’ve got an idea, for further down the road, that will combine an art hub with fundraising; maybe the Continuum will be the first seeds of that.

It’s a joy and a privilege to watch it all unfold. I hope others think so, too!

For more information, and to read the KAC profiles, go to kickasscanadians.ca.

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