Meet Toronto's Pan Am Athletes
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Meet Toronto’s Pan Am Athletes

Some of the top Olympic hopefuls set to grace the Pan Am Games, all hailing from the GTA.

The Canadian rhythmic gymnastics team. Photo by Jeremy Gilbert from the Torontoist Flickr Pool

The Canadian rhythmic gymnastics team. Photo by Jeremy Gilbert from the Torontoist Flickr Pool.

With the 2015 Pan Am Games in full swing, we took a look at our top athlete picks who hail from the 6ix.

Crispin Duenas: Meet Scarborough-via-North-York’s Crispin Duenas, a.k.a. Crispy, a.k.a. Black Duck. This high school substitute teacher earned his degree in physics from the University of Toronto in 2011, which coincidentally was the same year that he won an individual silver medal at the Pan American Games in Guadalajara, Mexico. Duenas had a major breakthrough at the 2013 World Archery Championships in Turkey where he won bronze in men’s individual recurve, earning Canada’s first world medal in the event in 42 years. He now has a career-high world ranking of fifth place. You can follow him on Twitter at @Crispin_duenas.

Shawnacy Barber: At only 21, Barber’s personal outdoor pole vault of 5.9 metres is currently the national best. The two-time Canadian champion had his international breakthrough at the 2012 World Junior Championships in Spain where he won third place for clearing a 5.55-metre jump or, if you’d like to put it into perspective, the length of a medium-sized U-Haul. Barber’s primary trainer is his dad, George Barber, who also competed in pole vault at the 1983 World Championships. Guess it runs in the family. You can follow him on Twitter at @vaultbarber.

Andre De Grasse: Described by Yahoo’s Neate Sager as “Canadian sprinting’s biggest thing since Donovan Bailey,” this 20-year-old Scarborough native made national headlines when he won the 100- and 200-metre dash at the NCCA track and field championships in Oregon earlier last month. De Grasse completed the 100 metres in a blistering 9.75 seconds and the 200 metres in 19.58 seconds, the fastest ever by a collegiate runner. De Grasse has expressed his enthusiasm of his newfound fame despite having to constantly remind people that “it’s De Grasse, not De Grassi.” You can follow him on Twitter at @Youngtip94.

Donna Vakalis: Vakalis made her Olympic debut at the 2012 Games in London where she placed 29th in the modern pentathlon. A graduate of Hamilton’s McMaster University, where she earned her bachelor’s in 2003 and her Professional Masters of Architecture in 2009, Vakalis is now working towards her PhD in Civil Engineering at the University of Toronto where she works as a teacher’s assistant. Somehow, in between all that book-learnin’, the pentathlete found time to earn 10th place at the 2011 Pan American Games in Guadalajara and, in 2014, earned a career-high finish of 28th. You can follow her on Twitter at @Sportisallover.

Vanessa Panov: She may be young, but she packs a lot of bite. At only 15, Vanessa Panov is the newest and youngest member of Team Canada with a gold under her belt from the 2014 Junior Pan Am Championships for rhythmic gymnastics. Panov was also part of the team that won fifth overall at the Youth Olympics that same year. She is currently majoring in dance at Earl Haig Secondary School in North York, and her favourite motto is “Practice makes perfect!”

Brayden Schnur: Brayden Schnur, a.k.a. Bray, is the poster boy of the motto “practice makes perfect.” Taking up tennis at the ripe old age of nine, this Toronto native now studies at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill where he posted one of the best freshman seasons in the school’s history, with a 19-4 doubles and 19-3 singles record. This highly sought-after player also won the National Indoor Collegiate Championship, earned a career ATP World Tour singles ranking of 456, and was named by Tennis Canada as the Canadian Junior Player of the Year. All of this at only age 20. You can find him on Twitter at @Brayschnur.

Rosannagh MacLennan: Trampoline champ Rosie MacLennan won her first medal, a bronze, during 2007’s FIG World Championships in Quebec City. In 2007, at only the age of 18, MacLennan and her partner earned the current, upheld world record for female synchronized trampoline routine with a DD of 14.20. In 2011, she won first place at the Pan Am Games in Guadalajara, second place at the Trampoline World Championships in Birmingham, and earned Canada’s only gold medal at the 2012 Summer Olympics in London. She’s pretty cool, if you ask us. You can follow her on Twitter at @Rosiemaclennan.