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Aiming for a new high

In this Following Up feature we catch up with recovering addict and medal-winning athlete Steve Baldamus as he trains for new challenges on and off the field

They call him Spyderman and Steve Baldamus, much like the animated crime fighter of his youth, fits the description provided in a line from the Spiderman theme song, “Wealth and fame, he’s ignored. Action is his reward.” 

“I have two goals,” said Baldamus. “Besides trying to help people out of addiction, the main one for me is the fun factor. Doing all the stuff I’ve never done before. It’s fun getting out and going to places I’ve never been before.”

His growing collection of medals and list of meets provide a glowing, play-by-play account of his action-packed travels and adventures.

“Last time I spoke to GuelphToday it was just after the winter meet last year and it was just before COVID hit,” he said.  “It was supposed to be the World Masters in Toronto that year. That got cancelled. A whole bunch of stuff got cancelled.”

Nevertheless, Baldamus continued to train and compete whenever the opportunity came his way.  He walked away from the 49th Annual Ontario Masters Championship at the Toronto Track and Field Centre last month with a healthy collection of athletic bling.

“I did 10 events in two days and got seven medals,” he said. “I got two gold, three silver and two bronze.”

It was an impressive feat considering he was recovering from an injury he sustained during an open meet two months earlier.

“I was injured in Welland and a couple days later I wanted to do a test and I was here with my son,” he said. “I tried to do a test jump over the hurdle and hurt my leg again. I hyper extended my knee and my son had to help me home.”

The athletic training and competitions are therapeutic for Baldamus both physically and emotionally.

“You might notice that I seem like I have lots of energy but, because I don’t work anymore, I need something to do with my energy. I am one of those people. If you want to call it ADHD or hyperactive, whatever. It is either spend money and my time doing this or I will be bored at home and wanting to do drugs. It’s that simple.”

It was either meeting for a meet or meeting for meth and only one of those choices was a winning combination.

“You might call it a tight rope, but a slackline is the best metaphor because it’s this way and that way,” he said. “There is a difference between a functional and a full-blown addict and I was starting to cross that line.  Two years ago, my dad had just died and I was sinking soulless and I saw a picture of myself. It was from July two years ago and I looked like I was 80 years old. That’s what meth does. It drains you.”

Staying on the field has helped him stay on track and overcome the hurdles he faced fighting his addiction.

“So, it has been almost two and a half years now,” he said. “It has been a tough, interesting two years. There are all these challenges. I remember my first meet. I guess it was three years ago. I was bouncing around.  I was so glad to be back at York University after 30 years. I was like a little kid.”

It was at York University where Baldamus first dreamt of competing for gold.

“Up until I got married at age 28, my brother and I would go up to York University almost every day to train,” said Baldamus. “I was trying to break two minutes for the half mile. Then I got married and had kids and that’s it. There went my opportunity.”

Baldamus has three children. The oldest, Matt is 31 and the youngest, Emma, is 11. His middle child and youngest son, Nick, 22, has become his sidekick at competitions and workout partner when they train at the U of G gym.

“He’s my coach, manager and cheerleader,” said Baldamus. “He wears my medals. He likes the gym, and they have a pool. We do basketball there. We do badminton. They have jogging track. Wintertime they have the indoor track. I have to do something to keep him busy, because most kids are just sitting at home playing video games.”

Nick recently accompanied his dad to the therapeutic gardens at the Ignatius Centre during a recovery therapy session with the Julian Project.

“It was Steve and Nick’s first time coming into programming,” said program manager and intern with the Julien Project, Guinevere M. Kern. “It was great to have some new folks out participating in the programs.”

Team Baldamus helped harvest organic vegetables for the Hope House pantry and prepare potpourri satchels for horticultural therapy programs.

“We’re just here to help folks come in and leave part of their day behind them and really enjoy themselves,” said Kern. “They grow in relationships with the land and also with each other and go home in a different space than when they came. It’s a big mandate of ours.”

It’s an opportunity for Baldamus to relax and collect his thoughts but the next track and field competition is never far from his mind.   

“I’ve got the Fall Field Fest in Hamilton in a month,” he said. “This will be the last meet for the outdoor season for the year.  It’s going to be a two-day event.  So, I might be doing five events one day and eight another day.”

At 61 years old many would consider him in his autumn years, but Baldamus wants to defy his critics and inspire others to get clean and join him at the track.

“I try to get people to meet me in the park because I know if they try it, they’ll have fun,” he said. “I know what it is like. When you are on that stuff it takes away your will.  I have said before, if I can get one person out of 100 to stop it and get off of it, that to me is one of my goals. To get one person to stop using.”

The high he’s offering is clean, pure and positive.

“My goal is to improve my score because last time at the throws pentathlon I got about 1,500 points,” he said.  “My goal is 1,800 points. I’ve had coaches tell me I should be doing the decathlon. I want to. All I need to do is learn how to pole vault. I can do everything else.” 

It is possible that the next time GuelphToday talks to Baldamus, he and Nick will be sporting some decathlon gold and, with any luck, sharing a story or two about the people they helped along the way.

“To him, life is a great big bang up. Wherever there's a hang up, you'll find the Spyderman.”