Coach­ing Against the Grain

Saskatchewan coach’s un­ortho­dox meth­ods pro­duced cham­pi­ons and changed lives

Canadian Running - - GOLDEN SHOE AWARDS - By Ja­son War­ick

John Fitzger­ald needed to im­pro­vise. He was work­ing as a teacher in north­ern Saskatchewan. His f ive-t ime Olympic race walker Tim Ber­rett , had driven nine hours from Ed­mon­ton to train with him. But the town’s only dirt road was a rut­ted, icy, dan­ger­ous mess. There were no in­door tracks, no tread­mills and the school gym was only 15 me­tres long. “Get in the truck,” Fitzger­ald told him. They drove to the shore of a frozen lake. The pair shov­eled a layer of snow off the ice un­til they had an 800-me­tre loop. Ber­rett did two hours of in­ter­vals, and Fitzger­ald made a fire for Ber­rett to keep warm dur­ing the breaks.

“It was a good work­out. That’s the day I walked on wa­ter,” Ber­rett said of that frigid day in April, 1993. One week later, Ber­rett fin­ished a ca­reer-high fifth place in the World Cup 50-kilo­me­tre race walk.

Fitzger­ald knows biome­chan­ics and phys­i­ol­ogy but says there’s a lot more to coach­ing. It’s about adapt­ing to the en­vi­ron­ment and the ath­lete.

“I try to get to know the per­son in­side and out, find the right but­tons to press and the dif­fer­ence be­tween the body, the brain and the heart,” Fitzger­ald said. “I try to find the pos­i­tives in ev­ery­one and bring it out.” For the past 40 years, across Canada and be­yond, Fit zger­ald has been f in­d­ing t hose posit ives. He’s pro­duced track and field cham­pi­ons at the Canada Games, Olympics and Par­a­lympics. But he’s equally proud of the le­gion of recre­ational 10k run­ners or high school vol­ley­ball play­ers he’s helped.

He’s stood track­side or biked the trails while his ath­letes ran in the wind and rain and snow, hand­ing out bot­tles and yelling split times. This sum­mer, Fitzger­ald be­came the sev­enth coach in­ducted into Ath­let­ics Canada’s Hall of Fame.

“It’s a good feel­ing,” he said af­ter help­ing the youngest of his six sons at a Saska­toon bad­minton tour­na­ment.

John Fitzger­ald died sud­denly of an aor­tic aneurysm on Oc­to­ber 26, 2018 with his wife, Lor­raine, by his side. The fi­nal in­ter­view and pho­tos for this ar­ti­cle were com­pleted one week be­fore his death.

RIGHT Circa 1979, John win­ning a 15 km ca­noe portage race in Chicoutimi Que­bec in -23 C. He ran 1:00:20 break­ing the course record by 20 min

LEFT John Fitzger­ald

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Canada

© PressReader. All rights reserved.