Whenever athletes start participating in track and field or cross-country competitions in the province, members of the Royal City Athletics Club will compete in the club’s very own uniforms for the first time.
The club was formed last summer to fill the void left by the collapse of the Speed River Track and Field Club in the wake of the Dave Scott-Thomas scandal and it did field competitors in several cross-country meets, including the Western Ontario championships in London in November.
“We formed in the summertime and we ran some basic programming and then once we got to the fall, we had a successful cross-country season where we actually had athletes compete in various cross-country meets in the region as well as a few represented us at the Athletics Ontario championships,” said Paul Galas, club manager and lead coach of senior jumps and multi events. “It was kind of nice to have our name on results somewhere.”
Due to COVID-19, Athletics Ontario’s championships were divided into three regional championships in order to keep the athletes from having to travel long distances to compete.
RCAC had 20 athletes at the Western Ontario meet and had two of them crowned champions of their age group – Talmon Young in U20 boys and Hannah Woodhouse in women’s open who combined with Kiana Gibson for an RCAC sweep of the top two positions.
However, the club’s logo was nowhere to be seen on their uniforms.
“In the fall, we had people racing at the championships and we didn't have the gear yet. Quite frankly, we didn't have the time to get things ready to go,” Galas said.
“We just told them to wear something that wasn't another club, wasn't the former club and just something that they felt comfortable with. It was typically they just wore a black or blank singlet.”
Next time out, though, they’ll be adorned in RCAC gear.
“That's something that we've been working on and we have stuff ready for those athletes whenever that time may be,” Galas said. “It's going to be absolutely amazing to see people wearing our logo, running and representing us whether that's in our own backyard, and hopefully we can run something here, or if it's somewhere across the province.”
The club started with about 80 athletes registered and that could grow by about 20 for the upcoming outdoor season.
Like every other sports association or club in town, RCAC has had to deal with protocols for the pandemic. The outdoor workouts saw the athletes spread out with lanes kept empty for social distancing. They also didn’t run in packs and had to keep a safe distance in front of and behind other clubmates.
“On the track side of things, we were training outdoors until it got too cold and we had to go indoors,” Galas said. “Once we were indoors, it was just a battle of ever-changing capacity limits. Credit to our coaches that they were able to balance capacity limits where they had athletes warming up outside before there was a transition so they could jump right into the track and get their times' worth considering there were time restraints and certain amount of time allotted for cleaning, transitions and whatnot. It was a challenge, but we got through clean.”
When the lockdown hit on Boxing Day, the club’s coaches had to use email and video chats to connect with their athletes.
“They've been active sending them online workouts to do at home and running schedules to do in their own space,” Galas said. “It's been definitely a trying time, but through the use of Zoom and online emails, it's been pretty good for the transition coming up.”
And the coaches also received requests from their athletes for more workouts.
“The athletes love to do it and at some point, they've actually been bugging our coaches to send them more stuff,” Galas said. “I have a good feeling not too many will fall behind. Maybe some people want to join just to get back into shape because they lost it. We're welcoming to all.”
The club’s coaches are a mix between veterans with plenty of experience to younger ones just joining the coaching ranks. They include Rachelle Campbell (lead coach junior sprints), Phil Martin (lead coach junior endurance), Cleve Thorson (lead coach intermediate track), Jason Kerr (lead coach senior sprints), Peter Quoasi, Sarah Welch, Joel Barr and Emily Case (assistant coaches junior endurance) and Paul MacNamara (assistant coach junior sprints).
“They've been absolutely great,” Galas said. “The strength is definitely in the depth that we have.”
The coaches will be working hard to keep their athletes upbeat and focused, especially the ones who were hoping to compete in high school track and field this spring. It was cancelled last week.
“They knew there were no indoor meets so whatever we were doing was to get to OFSAA and that news had to be crushing,” Galas said. “It's our job as club administrators and coaches that when things open up we look for opportunities that these athletes can use all that training for a better reason. Now it's shifting gears. Can we possibly put on meets or can we find them meets to go to. Obviously, we have to make sure it's safe first before we do that. We definitely feel for them and we're trying our best to provide opportunities whether that's setting things up or just doing it ourselves.”
That isn’t a change for the young club.
“The plans would be to continue with our high school division and we'd also like to bring back our intermediate division which was for ages around 10 to 13 and, of course, to cater to our varsity high-performance athletes who are either directly coming from the university season here at Guelph or other universities and even some who are returning back to the community from the United States because this is an Olympic year,” Galas said.
“Going in, the expectations were let's get our feet wet and whatever comes our way, we'll deal with it. We want to expand one day to offer more youth programming and to offer more looking at the older generations as well.”