Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Andrea St. Bernard, JD 2005

McMillan associate to represent Grenada in taekwondo

By Karen Gross

In a field brimming with over-achievers, Andrea St. Bernard just might beat them all. Literally. The 32- year-old dual citizen, currently on leave from her legal life at McMillan LLP, is training full-time to represent her native Grenada at the London Olympics. Her sport? Taekwondo.  In fact, St. Bernard will be the first taekwondo athlete to ever spar on behalf of the tiny island nation at the Olympic Games.

"Although I arrived relatively quite late to the sport, my training was very intense from the beginning," says St. Bernard, who excelled in many other sports while she was growing up in Toronto, and attended college in the U.S. on a full volleyball scholarship. After graduating, she moved on to taekwondo and with characteristic determination, mastered it quickly. St. Bernard trained 12 hours a day at Toronto's world-renowned Young Choung Academy before she started law school. She was fast-tracked into local and national competition, earning an impressive stack of medals, while studying and graduating with her law degree. She then began working at McMillan. But even that didn't stop her.

"I had always wanted to get to the international stage," St. Bernard says. "But being a late starter, and having a professional career, I can't say that it was my absolute number one priority in life."

But the global stage beckoned and St. Bernard persevered, training and competing even as she built up her legal practice as a debt financing associate.  It was a difficult career combination, and one that ultimately became untenable. Canada's competitive requirements demanded too much of her time, and at a level she couldn't maintain along with her busy professional life. St. Bernard, whose parents had immigrated to Canada when she was a baby, had always kept strong ties to Grenada. And that's where she turned when she decided to compete internationally.

There, she found a much more accommodating sports schedule, and a small Caribbean country that warmly embraced her contribution. "Canada's got such a flourishing system," she says. "The impact I could have had there was really miniscule in my mind. Whereas Grenada had no history of international taekwondo competition."

The challenge has been thrilling and daunting. As Grenada's first-ever taekwondo Olympian, St. Bernard is carrying a heap of hopes on her shoulders. She's also had to generate much of her own funding (her fundraising website is Her colleagues at McMillan collected about $7500 on her behalf and the firm matched it. But as she has for most of her taekwondo career, St. Bernard is financing a big chunk of this dream herself.

When she marches into London's Olympic Stadium at the end of July, St. Bernard says she'll be ready. Competing for a small, disadvantaged country comes with its own particular hitches. But it also brings unique and rare rewards.

"I'm out to be a part of a group that I hope gets Grenada its first-ever medals," St. Bernard says. "It's a very different experience (from competing for Canada). I'm incredibly proud to be a part of it."

Photo: David Batten