A local former Olympian recently found out that she will helping Team Canada later this month during the Pan American Cross-Country Championship on Feb. 29 at the Bear Mountain Golf and Country Club.
Athletics Canada announced that current Vikes cross country and track Head Coach Hilary Stellingwerff will serve as a Team Coach with the national program.
“It’s exciting to be back with Team Canada on a different side of things. Anytime you can represent your country, it is a great opportunity,” said Stellingwerff.
While Stellingwerff has earned a spot on the national team 10 different times as a distance runner, this will be her first chance to help lead a team as a member of the coaching staff. She will be working under head coach Glenroy Gilbert, who won gold during the 1996 Summer Olympics as a member of the 4×100-metre relay team.
“I’ve been to World Championships and Olympics before, but never a Pan Am Games. I know what it’s like to compete at the international level and hopefully I can draw from my own experiences and help our runners out this year,” said Stellingwerff.
The two-time Olympian will be working with both men’s and women’s junior (U22) and senior programs once the athletes arrive Feb. 27.
“It’s going to be a great opportunity to work with some senior athletes that I used to compete with and a bunch of the junior runners I know from my time with U SPORTS,” said Stellingwerff. “I think that the best part of this race is having both junior and senior programs train and stay together – that rarely happens. Now, our junior runners are going to work with Olympians and soak up a lot of information. That is such a great learning opportunity for all of them.”
A few of the marquee senior names from the 2016 Summer Olympics are Genevieve Lalonde, who was a semi-finalist in the 3,000-metre steeplechase; Natasha Wodak, who placed 22nd in the 10,000m race and Jessica O’Connell, who finished 23rd in the 5,000m. Some of the nation’s best runners from the U SPORTS ranks will race in the junior division. No other members of the Vikes were chosen for the teams.
Both senior teams will be competing on a 10-kilometre track, while the junior men run an 8km race, with the junior women competing at a 6km distance.
Making the coaching gig even sweeter is that the races will essentially be in Stellignwerff’s backyard. The track at Bear Mountain isn’t open yet, but once it does, Stellingwerff will dust off her spikes and take a few scouting laps in preparation for the event.
“I don’t want to change the athletes’ plans too much once they arrive. I want to work with them and work with their everyday coaching staff to create race plans for them, and then support and assist them as much as possible on race day,” said Stellingwerff. “But our expectation coming in is to win.”
The Canadians had a pretty good haul during the 2018 Pan American Cross-Country Championship in El Salvador.
The junior women swept the podium, while Tyler Dozzi and Thomas Nobbs took second and third respectively in the junior men’s division. On the senior circuit, Victoria Coats was tops for the women in fifth, while Yves Sikubwabo placed the highest for the men in eighth.
The next generation of Canadian runners will also be on display at Bear Mountain. Kids in nearby elementary, middle and high schools will race the 8km track before the international athletes take over.
“It should be an awesome weekend,” said Stellignwerff.