Feel-good stories of 2021: From life-saving animals to gold-medal wins

From life-saving animals to gold-medal-winning performances, 2021 saw its fair share of lighthearted and inspiring moments — in spite of a year still dominated by the ongoing challenges of COVID-19.

Here are some of the moments from the past year that left Canadians smiling, laughing and proud.

MAN’S BEST FRIEND

Over the last four years, Will Finch of Mississauga, Ont., has raised more than $40,000 on his birthday to help rescue animals. The 11-year-old started the initiative, Good Will Good Karma, after losing his puppy Karma, a rescue, but decided to “turn that hurt into love.”

Over in the nation’s capital, one woman was saved by the family dog and two neighbours after suffering a seizure while walking her one-and-a-half-year old Maremma mix, Clover. Video from a neighbour’s security camera shows Haley Moore collapsing while walking in her Stittsville neighbourhood, followed by Clover freeing her leash and blocking an oncoming truck. “If this ends up happening again, I feel 10 times safer and I know she will be there for me,” Moore said.

And just last month near Gimli, Man., a woman caught her 10-year-old family dog Titan on home security footage taking a golf cart in the yard for a joy ride before making a U-turn and smashing it into her truck. Titan walked away injury-free, while the truck suffered minor damage. “He still wants to go for golf cart rides so you’ll still catch him sitting in the golf cart ‘cause that’s one of his favourite things to do,” Mallory Kmet said.

$60M JACKPOT WON FROM A DREAM

Deng Pravatoudom of Toronto won a $60-million Lotto Max jackpot this year after playing the same lottery numbers for 20 years, which came to her husband in a dream. Pravatoudom and her 14 siblings immigrated to Canada from Laos in 1980 after she and her family were sponsored by a local church. She said she and her husband worked for more than 40 years as general labourers, saving what they could, before she was laid off from her job due to the COVID-19 pandemic. “All the hardship is over now,” Pravatoudom said through a translator while accepting her giant cheque.

ONLINE SENSATIONS

A couple near Swift Current, Sask., woke up one morning to find a TikTok of their seven-year-old daughter drawing had gone viral, garnering upward of 10 million views and attracting the attention of pop singer Halsey. Their daughter Bella was born with a genetic condition and has an immunodeficiency disease, along with a condition that had her on a list for a bowel transplant. Her mother, Kyla Thomson, has been sharing Bella’s medical journey since she was born on a blog and social media.

Out in Algonquins of Barriere Lake, a northern Quebec First Nation about 400 kilometres northwest of Montreal, nine-year-old Washiiyeh Jeannotte has made a name for himself with a series of Instagram videos showcasing his hockey skills. The NHL would eventually take notice and post a compilation of Washiiyeh’s moves on its own Instagram page.

Two-year-old Adia Leidums saw herself featured on CNN after her downhill skiing — and catchy phrases — were captured on video out on the hills of Fernie, B.C. “She’s adorable. It’s cute as anything,” said her dad, Erich Leidums. “It steals my heart for sure.” In another show of winter talent, 18-month-old Zoe Barabe’s snowboarding garnered millions of views on TikTok. Her father, Guillaume Barabe, said it all started when he rented a snowboard for her to ride during Christmas, and she immediately took to it.

Meanwhile, one Winnipeg man has racked up millions of views for his TikTok channel of him simply smiling for the camera. Borzah Yankey challenges anyone watching his videos to “try not to smile.” Yankey says he receives DMs from people all the time telling him their child couldn’t get through without smiling. He says he wants to spread his smile to cheer up others during the pandemic.

And one woman from Coalhurst, Alta., earned millions of views for a TikTok video of her life hack showing how to save time hanging shirts. Among those who liked her video was Dan Povenmire, one of the creators of the animated American TV series Phineas and Ferb, and voice of Dr. Heinz Doofenschmirtz. “People want me to be their mom, which is funny because I’m only 29,” said Carol Larson.

FALLING IN LOVE

After hearing of a possible break-in at his Montreal barbershop, one of the owners of Savvy Barbershop decided to watch his security footage, only to discover that the broken glass at his business occurred after a couple fell through while kissing. The shop’s owners said they were willing to pay for a night’s stay in a hotel for the couple if they came forward and identified themselves. The shards of glass have since been framed inside the shop. “I think that there’s something romantic about never finding out who it is. They just stay this mystery couple that’ll be part of our history forever. It’s kind of fun,” said co-owner Mike Rose.

SPORTS

A 52-year-old woman from Vernon, B.C., made history as the first woman to win the Race Across America after cycling 4,800 kilometres in 11 days, three hours and three minutes. Leah Goldstein was one of just three people to complete the race this year after many cyclists dropped out due to the high temperatures. Her closest competitor crossed the finish line 17 hours behind her. “I always say it’s 40 per cent physical and it’s 60 per cent mental, so you have to have it up here before anything, that’s where it really stems from,” she said.

During the Summer Games in Tokyo, Canada’s women’s soccer team emerged with an Olympic gold medal after coming out of a 1-1 tie in regulation to defeat Sweden 3-2 on penalty kicks. “I’m just like completely overwhelmed,” said captain Christine Sinclair. “We had a goal here to change the colour of the medal and we landed on the top of the podium.” On the men’s side, a highlight reel finish from Alphonso Davies helped solidify Canada’s 4-1 victory over Panama in CONCACAF World Cup qualifying play. The goal got the attention of Drake, who texted the 20-year-old Bayern Munich star after the game saying he wanted to meet.

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