Steve Mesler’s successes as a track-and-field star in Florida and as an Olympic gold medallist bobsledder for the U.S. at the 2010 Winter Olympic Games in Vancouver allowed him the opportunity to inspire and motivate children during classroom visits.

Following one of his speaking engagements, Mesler realized that the brief encounters with the athletes were not at rewarding for the students as they had the potential to be.

Mesler, who had relocated to Calgary for training, contacted his sister who was working on her PhD in education about his observations.

“We knew that there was a better way to impact kids,” said Mesler. “We knew that kids learn through relationships and they had to trust the people that they’re with especially when you’re talking about kids that are in more challenged circumstances.”

The siblings started Classroom Champions, a not-for-profit organization, and other Olympians and Paralympians offered their support.

The athletes spend time in the classroom but the relationship continues after the session through messaging and teleconferencing while the competitors train.

Michelle Salt, a Paralympic snowboarder from Calgary, donates her time to the program. She says the successes she achieved in both life and sport after losing her leg in a motorcycle crash inspire the children.

“I can relate to these kids and they can relate to me about tragedies and hard times,” said Salt. “Most of the schools that are part of this program are low income so there are some obstacles that they have to overcome in their lives.”

“I understand that. I’ve been through that.”

Elaine Leung, a teacher at Guy Weadick School, says the Classroom Champions program has had a noticeable impact on her students.

“Our mentor really believes in the students and I think that makes them believe in themselves.”

Schools throughout North America are participating in the program and Classroom Champions has been introduced to three schools in Germany.

For his dedication to future champions, exhibited through the Classroom Champions program he co-founded, Steve Mesler is this week’s Inspiring Albertan.

With files from CTV Calgary's Darrel Janz