Many an athletic Grade 9 student at Lo-Ellen Park Secondary has ventured, somewhat trepidatiously, out to their initial track and field practice session, only to find themselves, a few weeks later, completely immersed in the sport.
Coach Colin Ward can relate. Completely. A native of Deep River and eldest of three children in the family, Ward maintained an active childhood, though not in the organized sports setting that he witnesses, these days, in Sudbury.
“In a small town, there weren’t many things that people did all the time to a high level,” Ward said. Still, there was running, both in general, but also within the school setting.
“I think it’s fair that I’m a track coach now because I was quick when I was young,” he said. “I realized, when I was older, in high school, that I was likely more well-suited for distance. But I always wanted to be a sprinter.”
Through much of his childhood, Ward was aware of the presence of the Deep River Triathlon, providing a helpful hand as a volunteer to the event near the end of his days of secondary schooling.
It wasn’t until a teacher, competing in the triathlon, who opined while running past that Colin should really consider entering the event, that the stars aligned for Ward.
Entering Laurentian University that fall in the Outdoor Adventure Leadership program, the then 19-year-old joined the L.U. cross-country team, and also took advantage of the swimming course offered within his program requirements.
Daily workouts at the pool allowed the energetic student to gain a degree of self-taught competence in the initial leg of most triathlons.
“When I got back home in May, I bought a bike, started cycling and (the triathlon) became my passion and all I really thought about and did for the next five years,” Ward said.
With more of a background in general fitness, Ward worked for a year at the Canadian Forces Base in Petawawa following his graduation from Laurentian, before deciding to supplement his initial degree with a year’s worth of studies at Teacher’s College in North Bay.
By the late 1990s, Ward had returned to the Nickel City, and following stints at both Levack Secondary and Lively District Secondary School, the window of opportunity opened at Lo-Ellen.
“I knew that I wanted to come here,” Ward said. “I was selling myself as an outdoor ed. and track guy. I knew that Joe (Bacon) had been looking for help because he had been (coaching track), for a couple of years, pretty much by himself.
“I didn’t know I would be involved to this extent,” he said, with a laugh.
In fact, while Ward is easily, these days, the face of the very successful cross-country and track and field programs at the home of the Knights, the transformation into this role occurred gradually.
“I knew Lo-Ellen had a great track team and I was just going to come in and do what I could,” he said. “It wasn’t until the second year and I realized that Joe would soon be retiring and that I would have to take this thing over, that it hit home.
“I had better pay attention to the hurdles, I had better pay attention to the pole vault. I have to figure this stuff out,” Ward added.
And so he did, increasing his participation within the school program with every passing year and garnering valuable new helping hands along the way.
“It’s impossible to manage a team of this size without a whole bunch of support,” Ward said. “The moment I’m alone, things will change and we won’t be as successful.”
Thankfully, the influx of coaches Yves Poirier, Sherry Green and newcomer Jamie Bouchard, combined with the timely, reliable presence of retired teachers Joe Bacon, Doug Gingrich and others, has allowed the Lo-Ellen success to continue.
“Yves is absolutely my right-hand man and it couldn’t be done without him,” Ward said.
It certainly doesn’t hurt that the 37-year-old teacher/coach leading the charge is a never-ending bundle of enthusiasm, seeking to increase his technical knowledge with every passing season — a challenge, Ward said, that is made easier by the fact that he has walked (and ran), to some extent, in his athletes’ shoes.
“I certainly know my best race — Deep River 1998 — and it’s often something I can now relate to with the kids,” he said. “That moment where everything worked, and it never worked as well before or since. Every once in a while, you see a kid achieve that as a coach, and you know that they may not achieve anything like that too many more times.”
Posted by Laurel Myers