Let me take you back to August of 2011. I was in high school and got invited to come check out the first day of training camp with the Laurier Football team. The first day of training camp kicked off with a “rookie practice” where all the first year players took the field together without any vets to get a handle on the playbook and how practices run. I remember showing up to practice and walking around the field – most of the players were a year older than me so didn’t look too different than my teammates or people I would have played against. Except one guy who stuck out. He was an anomaly – I assumed maybe they had a couple vets practicing with the rookies to set the standard, or maybe it was some sick joke, a “welcome to the team, rookie”, fox in the henhouse scenario.
I was then further surprised when the team finished warm up and split off into position groups. I walked over to the area where the defensive backs were – the position I was being recruited for – and here was this mutant again. I assumed this upper year player was a defensive end or a linebacker and here he was with the DBs. At this point I was fairly sure this guy was messing around. I asked the recruiter who that guy was. He said: “That’s Chris Ackie, he’s our top rookie recruit – he plays corner and safety”. This guy was only one year older than me, and we played the same position. Now that was a sick joke.
This was the first time I saw Chris Ackie but it wasn’t the first time we met. At the time I was just a high school scrub looking on. The first time Chris and I met I had graduated to a rookie scrub at Laurier.
It was August of 2012, in the first full team practice of training camp. Within the first few plays I had my own “welcome to the team, rookie” moment when I got buried by a large, large human on what was an unnecessarily aggressive play. I climbed back to my feet to see this large human on the receiving end of a flurry of uppercuts to the stomach from no other than Chris Ackie. Coaches broke it up and as we returned to the huddle I went to thank Chris (who at this point I hadn’t even formally met yet). He shrugged it off like nothing happened and we didn’t talk the rest of the practice. That’s when I realized Chris wasn’t defending me because of me, he was defending me because I was someone in need. That’s who Chris is. He’s looking out for everyone, especially those who can’t help themselves (like me, the rookie scrub). And in the nine years (and counting) of friendship that followed that day I’ve seen that quality over and over and over again. That’s in Chris’s DNA.
As I sat down to write this post I thought about all the things I could put in here. The countless examples of Chris doing superhuman things as an athlete. The countless examples of us doing foolish things together. The countless examples of Chris deflecting his celebrity status. Each one of those could be their own blog post. The reality is that Chris is an anomaly in every vector of life. He’s talented, he’s driven, he’s charismatic, he’s humble, he’s wise, he’s giving. All the things we should aspire to be, Chris demonstrates. But most of those stories are known. Chris is a legend in every sense of the word – the legendary stories will find their way into the records one way or another. I have no doubt about that. So what I decided to focus on with this post is the quiet thoughtfulness of Chris Ackie. Those close to Chris know this quality well. I have been fortunate to get exposure to this myself.
I told that story above about Chris defending me on the football field and if you’ve never met Chris you might read that and think: “wow this guy sounds like a psychopath”. I probably didn’t do Chris any favours by leading with a story about him throwing hands. But what I can say is that, yes, on the football field Chris is a dog; but off the field Chris is thoughtful and kind.
At Laurier Chris was quite literally a celebrity. Students loved him, profs loved him, the media loved him, everyone loved him. If I was at a party with Chris I was simply wall paper. I got stiff armed harder by girls trying to talk to Chris than I ever did playing football. Yet Chris is humble. And I mean genuinely humble. Not the “oh I know everyone loves me so I’ll play it cool” kind of humble. The “I’m going to skip the party to hang with the person who didn’t get invited” kind of humble. (Not me of course. I always got invited to parties, sometimes).
But it isn’t just humility that Chris consistently demonstrates. He is a man of action. He’s the guy that will do anything for anyone. Whether it’s someone close or someone he just met. I remember running into Chris late one night in the library in the thick of exam period. He was with this girl who was noticeably upset and Chris was sitting with her, letting her process her emotions, and being the supportive figure she visibly needed at the time. I stopped to say hi and introduced myself but then kept going. I texted Chris later to ask about that, assuming she was one of his close friends. He then told me he had just met her and noticed she was emotional in the library so wanted to see if he could help. With an exam looming the next day, Chris dropped what he was doing to help someone in need. To Chris that’s normal. He sees someone in need and meets the need. No questions asked. This time it didn’t require him to throw any punches.
This is just one anecdote in an index of countless examples I have. And my index is just a small sample of the broader index of Chris’s actions.
Because Chris has a high profile, a lot of his charitable work is seen. Not because he wants to make that known but because any time Chris is helping in a public setting other people want to document that Chris Ackie is there. But what has been cool to uncover is all the things Chris does that go unseen. The one-off mentorship he gives to younger guys. The anonymous financial support to organizations and individuals. The community engagement at local schools and care facilities. Not only does Chris meet needs, he seeks out opportunities to do so.
Chris is a great person. No one could ever argue otherwise. Chris is a unique and special friend. No one can argue that either. As individuals it’s easy to get wrapped up in our own priorities and to slowly neglect friendships – not out of malice, it’s just a function of getting busy. Not Chris though. For a guy who has more contacts in his crappy Android than a rural town’s phone book, Chris won’t let any friendship languish. He is thoughtful and intentional about each one of his friends. If someone has accomplished something, you better believe Chris is going to be one of the first people celebrating that. If you share something with Chris you better believe he’s going to follow up and ask about it. (I’ll get texts from Chris asking about my brother and sister – that’s how much he cares). But beyond that, he makes a point of being present. Chris will jam his days to make sure he is seeing those important in his life. If anyone has an excuse to deprioritize this it’s Chris. He’s a pro athlete, a working professional, an entrepreneur, a philanthropist, and so on. The man’s schedule is absurd. Yet if someone has a birthday, he’s there. When I gave a talk at UWaterloo he cleared his schedule to be back in town to see it. Those things mean a lot. And I know it’s left an impression on many.
What’s been cool to see is that after Chris graduated and got drafted number four over all to the pros, nothing changed. It’s still the same Chris. The anecdotes I shared above have continued to be true. Chris was living in Montreal when he came back to see that talk. He was texting me about my brother’s high school exam hours before a CFL playoff game. It’s the same guy. The only thing that has changed is that as Chris’s influence has grown, so has his desire to help others.
This last story I’ll tell is one that I have told once before. One of my greatest honours so far in life was giving the induction speech for Chris’s entry into the Laurier Hall of Fame. In true celebrity fashion Chris couldn’t even be there because he had a game the next day in BC so he joined via video (so Hollywood). In my speech I shared a story about Chris’s contract negotiation after his rookie deal. Chris was in demand. Every team wanted to sign him and so he was taking his time to decide. This stretched through the offseason, well past when most players of his status had signed. The media assumed Chris was holding out because he was trying to get more money. The truth was far from that. Chris hadn’t signed yet because he was trying to determine where he could have the biggest community impact. He wasn’t asking teams money questions, he was asking teams community questions. He was trying to find where he could deliver his greatest impact off the field. The media didn’t pick up on that because Chris didn’t make that known. He doesn’t do these things for the attention. He does these things because that’s who Chris is.
Chris Ackie is a lot of things – far more than I could capture in a blog post. One thing that I am thankful for is that Chris Ackie is my friend.