It was one of those games, Ryan Poser said, that coaches endure on the first week of a football season.
“It was sloppy,” the Regiopolis Notre Dame Panthers coach said after his team escaped with a 9-7 win over the Ernestown Eagles in the opening game of the Kingston Area Secondary Schools Athletic Association senior season for both teams.
“Too many penalties … we’ve got lots of things to work on.”
On a clear and crisp day at Regi’s Brother O’Gara Field, the Panthers led 9-0 at halftime, thanks in large part to Jordan Pringle. He connected with quarterback Quinton Auty for a 30-yard touchdown pass and also kicked a field goal to account for all of Regi’s points.
In addition to the spate of penalties, dropped balls and broken plays by both teams also contributed to the game moving at an agonizingly slow pace at times.
“There was no flow to the game,” Poser admitted, vowing to reduce the incidents of holding, offside and sundry other infractions that plagued his team.
“You’re trying to control the ego and temperament of teenage boys, and sometimes it’s not easy,” he said. “That’s just the nature of teenage boys.”
The game became interesting at the end, after Ernestown’s Konner Burtenshaw ran 60 yards around left end for a touchdown in the third quarter that brought the Eagles to within two points of the lead.
After Regi missed a field goal from about 20 yards that would have bought some insurance early in the fourth quarter, Ernestown was stopped when Kirk Gavreau intercepted a Josh Campbell pass at the Eagles’ 40-yard line with about eight minutes to play.
Regi did nothing with that opportunity—turning the ball over after a short gain, penalty and a quarterback sack—but as was the case throughout the second half, the Eagles, making their debut as a AAA team after winning the double-A championship last year, couldn’t make their way out of their own end of the field.
A good punt return gave the Panthers excellent field possession and soon they had first-and-goal from the nine. They were stopped at the one on first down, then twice denied the end zone from there, turning the ball over with 64 seconds to play but leaving the Eagles 109 yards from the end zone.
Ernestown, with a 35-yard pass from Campbell to Caleb Parlane as the big play, put together its best drive of the game and had the ball on the Regi 45-yard line with eight seconds left but Ethan Hunt ended things by intercepting Campbell’s pass on the final play of the game.
In Friday’s other senior game, the Holy Cross Crusaders displayed a balanced attack as they defeated the Bayridge Blazers 45-0.
The game at Holy Cross was close, 7-0 through the first quarter, before the Crusaders scored 21 points in the second. A field goal on the first drive of the second half removed any doubt of the eventual outcome.
“I think the depth of their bench start to take its toll,” Holy Cross coach Tim Pendergast said of the Blazers, whose roster was barely more than half of the Crusaders’ 45-man contingent.
Devon Christian, with two, Ian McLatchie, David Wallace, Emmanuel Onwuemeodo and Franklin Parkes scored touchdowns for Holy Cross, while Wallace and Brandon Robbins each kicked a field goal.
Play will resume Wednesday, when the Napanee Golden Hawks, 0-1, will visit Bayridge, and La Salle opens its regular schedule by hosting Regi.
Last year’s two county finalists, the La Salle Black Knights and Regiopolis Notre Dame Panthers, each opened their Kingston Area Secondary Schools Athletic Association senior girls basketball season with a victory Thursday.
Regi, the defending KASSAA champion, began the season with a 47-21 win at Sydenham, while La Salle defeated the Bayridge Blazers 40-22.
They were the first games played in the league’s new format. Twelve teams are divided into A and B divisions, with Frontenac and Holy Cross joining La Salle, Bayridge, Sydenham and Regi in A division.
Loyalist, Kingston, Queen Elizabeth, Napanee, Granite Ridge and Ernestown will play in B division.
The game went back and forth at La Salle, with the home team taking the early initiative and a 15-6 lead. Bayridge rallied under the direction of point guard Alyssa Platt to close the gap to four points, at 21-17, but the Knights closed the deal with a 19-5 run to end the game.
Lilie Dixon had 11 points for La Salle, while Platt scored nine for Bayridge.
Regi’s defence stifled the Golden Eagles at Sydenham and the Panthers played deep into their bench, as 11 different players scored. Logan Rook led Regi with 14 points, including four three-point baskets, while Annie Kennedy added nine points for the winners.
In B division play, the Loyalist Lancers overcame a one-point halftime deficit to pin a 23-19 win on the Kingston Blues. Playing at KC, Maanik Dhaliwal scored eight points for Loyalist while Bridget Way-Brackenbury added five.
By CLAUDE SCILLEY
Sometimes, it helps just not to know any better.
“It’s funny, because as a coaching staff we were just figuring that was about our third win ever with our little group,” Sydenham Golden Eagles coach Mike Love said Thursday night, as he and his colleagues reviewed the video of his team’s 35-8 victory over the defending champion Frontenac Falcons on the opening day of the senior high school football season.
“We kind of jumped in around ’04 or ’05,” he continued, “and in about 10 years that may be the third time we’ve beaten them, but the kids don’t know that. We have Grade 11s who have just come off an undefeated season and some Grade 12s who, the year before that, also had a good year. They don’t remember that.
“They don’t know the history as we know the history, so they’re just playing.”
Indeed, they played well Thursday, capitalizing on an uncharacteristic spate of Frontenac mistakes, as two Falcons fumbles and an interception ultimately led to Sydenham scores.
Sydenham’s Sam Moyse scored two touchdowns in the final minute of the first half to turn a nine-point ball game into a potential rout.
“We weren’t sure what to expect,” Love said. “There was a possibility of looking good, but we also knew there was a possibility of not looking very good, either.
“I knew our offence was going to do fairly well. Frontenac generally has a pretty stout defence but Dylan Fisher had a really wonderful summer with the Grenadiers, and we have a couple of solid running backs, so I knew that we were going to move the ball and hopefully score some points.
“I really was unsure how we would do defensively. Frontenac always offers a pretty big handful; they’ve always got multiple things up their sleeve and usually really good athletes executing them and I didn’t know how we were going to respond to that. I was happy with how it went, and the turnovers helped, for sure, as well.”
Fisher had a splendid game, throwing four touchdown passes, 60-yard scoring strikes to Mike Bashall in the first quarter and to Moyse in the second. Chris White caught an 11-yard TD pass early in the second quarter that gave his team a 14-8 lead and Moyse caught another ball just before halftime.
“We came up against a real strong passing attack,” Frontenac coach Mike Doyle said. “That first ball he threw deep (to Bashall) was just a beautiful mid-arc ball. It wasn’t a Hail Mary or a lob. It was tracking the while way. Hit him right in the mittens and away he went.
“That kid is sharp, and his receiving corps is good, too. They’ve got speed on us (and) we’re short on experience, in the secondary in particular. That was evident. We’ve got three kids in the secondary that was their first game of senior football. It was a real eye-opener.”
Fisher even displayed poise when not completing a pass. On a play in the first half where he turned left to hand off the ball and the back went to his right, instead of trying to scramble and make something of the broken play, he calmly took a step back and threw the ball to a vacant spot downfield. It was typical of the methodical, error-free ball Sydenham played.
Both coaches acknowledged Sydenham’s 14-point explosion at the end of the first half was pivotal.
“For sure, when the offence puts some points on the board it’s a little easier to relax a bit and get into your game,” Love said, “(but) we told the kids at halftime that Frontenac’s a team that can do that to us just as easily, and very quickly, if we relax and start patting ourselves on the back too much. We had to make sure that we kept doing the things that we were doing well in the first half and ignore the score.
“It’s a lot easier to have that talk when you have just put up 14 (points) near the end.”
It was not something from which Frontenac, with two rookie running backs and a quarterback who was not 100 per cent, was likely to recover.
“We kind of bounced back after the first big one and we had a nice drive but we ended up having to punt,” Doyle said. “Then, boom, boom. It took the wind out of our sails.
“It went from a game where we had a chance to come back into it to a game where, unless we did something special to start the second half, it was going to be out of reach.”
The loss was Frontenac’s first in KASSAA play since 2011.
“Hats off to them,” Doyle said. “They played really well.”
Bashall added four converts, two field goals and a single off a missed field goal to complete the Sydenham scoring. Braeden North kicked a single on the opening kickoff and he later converted Frontenac’s only touchdown, a first-quarter score by Connor O’Neil on a pass from Rob Magee.
The game was called with 8:39 to play in the fourth quarter after an ambulance was called to tend to a Frontenac player who suffered a neck injury. Ty Sands was discharged from Emergency shortly thereafter when it was confirmed the injury was a strained muscle.
In Thursday’s other Kingston Area Secondary Schools Athletic Association senior contest, the combined team of Kingston and Queen Elizabeth collegiates defeated the Napanee Golden Hawks 17-8 at Winston Chuchill Public School. The Hawks are returning to senior competition after a one-year hiatus.
In games Friday, the Ernestown Eagles, last year’s AA champions who are moving up to AAA this year, will visit the Regiopolis Notre Dame Panthers at 4:45 p.m., and the Holy Cross Crusaders will host the Bayridge Blazers at 5:15.
The league’s other team, La Salle, will begin its regular schedule next Wednesday, at home against Regi.
By CLAUDE SCILLEY
It’s not that Pat Sheahan necessarily has anything against mathematicians.
He just doesn’t want them involved when the time comes to determine his football team’s fate at the end of the year.
“I don’t think we’re out if we lose this weekend, but I would say if there are any more losses this season each one bears with it consequences,” the Queen’s Golden Gaels coach was saying Thursday, at a news conference where he was discussing the implications of Saturday’s Ontario University Athletics contest in Guelph.
“Now you get involved in mathematical equations (to determine playoff spots) and that’s not where you want to be down the stretch, particularly if you’re playing your best football by the end, (but you still) need somebody else to beat somebody or somebody to lose to let you in.”
Unfortunately for the Gaels, that’s exactly where they stand as they go into their fourth game of the season still looking for their first official victory.
With five games to play, the best Queen’s can do is 5-3, which gets them in the front door of the playoffs. Last year 4-4 wasn’t good enough to get all the .500 teams into the post-season.
3-5? To align those planets and solve that equation, a school would have to have Galileo and Pythagoras both on faculty to get that team into the playoffs.
The Gaels plight is not made easier by having already had defeats registered against them by Ottawa and Windsor, two teams that could very well be involved in any of the end-of-schedule tie-breaking analysis for the final few playoff berths.
“The consequence of losing this football game is you’ll pay a heavy price for it in the overall season,” Sheahan said, while nonetheless expressing confidence that better things are in the offing.
“Our team is gaining a sense of itself. (The players are) taking a look around and seeing how good they can be … but with any team like this you need to get a couple of wins under your belt to prove to yourselves that you can be what you see in the mirror. I think this team, by the end of the year, will be a very tough team to beat. I believe that. They have the ability to win the next two games. How we perform at critical points in the game, how we mature, will indicate the amount of growth that has taken place.”
(After Guelph, by the way, comes a trip to Hamilton to face the unbeaten Marauders.)
“We can win our way (into the playoffs),” Sheahan continued. “We need to demonstrate a certain level of improvement this week and an increased level of competitiveness, particularly at times when the game’s on the line.”
That’s not something the young Gaels were able to do in Saturday’s 43-12 loss to Western.
Two situations in that game illustrated the phenomenon of which Sheahan speaks. In them, the Gaels ran five plays from inside the Western two-yard line and failed to score on either the first sequence, which would have given them a 7-0 lead early in the game, or the second, which would have brought them to within seven points of Western’s lead in the third quarter.
Sheahan insisted his team’s play against Western “really wasn’t that bad.”
“It is when we collapsed that was the critical thing.
“When you have a young football team … you’re going to have a few explosions and that’s been characteristic of our team in the first three games. We’ve played well, we’ve played extraordinarily at times, but there has been a few explosions, a two- or three-minute lapse where, bing-bang-boom, the other team moves the football.
“There’s no real explanation for it, other than our team has lost focus.”
Indeed, Queen’s has had hopeful episodes: 39 points against the Lancers in a game where the Gaels twice came from behind for a win they would ultimately forfeit, and 30 points in the first 50 minutes against Ottawa in another game where Queen’s had to come from behind. That’s 66 points and three comebacks in seven quarters of football, enough to cover a host of defensive blemishes.
However, there have also been some miserable aspects: the three touchdowns the Gaels allowed Ottawa to score in the final 10 minutes that led to their Week 2 defeat, and exactly one touchdown in their last 70 minutes of play.
In other words, this team has played well enough at times to entertain the possibility of going 5-0 the rest of the way, but poorly enough to thank goodness that York stands in the way of them going 0-5 to the end.
“There is a maturing that (has to take place) and there’s accountability, that you know on your left and your right everybody’s going to do their job, and there’s a certain amount of confidence that comes with that,” Sheahan said. “We’ve had some great play out of some really young players but with young players the issue is going to be consistency.
“The other issue is if you happen to make a mistake, experienced players who are battle tested, they tend to let it go much easier; whereas (when) you make a mistake as a young player you start to second-guess yourself and then one mistake leads to another one and that develops into the inconsistent play that causes problems.”
In close line play, all you need is one player to fail in his task for the play to break down. At those crucial moments against Western, more than one player had a turn at being that guy, Sheahan said.
“We had two or three explosions at a time in the game where you have to be on point, at your best,” Sheahan said. “Kids who haven’t been in there before, they get a little excited, they second-guess themselves.
“You get in those games, you make those mistakes, you learn from them and then you move forward and you’re better the next time. That’s the theory.”
It’s a hypothesis that will be severely tested before a homecoming crowd in Guelph Saturday, where the No. 7-ranked Gryphons are undefeated in 10 games since 2011.
Offensively, the teams are mirror images, with Queen’s holding a slight edge in yards (407 per game, versus 385 by Guelph). Each team has a senior quarterback struggling to complete 50 per cent of his passes (Billy McPhee of Queen’s at .527; Guelph’s Jazz Lindsey at .479) and a No. 1 running back who has struggled with injury this year (Guelph’s Rob Farquaharson returned last week; Jesse Andrews of Queen’s is expected back Saturday).
On defence, the comparison ends. Guelph, having allowed 312 yards per game, on average, has the third-stingiest defence in the league; Queen’s has allowed 571 per average game, fourth worst in the land, more than Waterloo and fewer than only Alberta, UBC and, well, York. Only five teams in Canada—and only Waterloo and York in Ontario—have allowed more than Queen’s 36.7 points per game.
Game time at Alumni Field is 1 p.m.
By CLAUDE SCILLEY
Brent Johnson expresses all the sentiments you’d expect of an athlete who so defined his craft that his old team has decided that, henceforth, no one will be worthy of wearing his uniform number.
“Flattered,” he says. “Excited and happy and floored.
“It gives really nice closure to a career that not everybody gets.”
Johnson, the Holy Cross Secondary School grad who fashioned an outstanding 11-year professional career as a defensive end in the Canadian Football League, will have his No. 97 retired by the British Columbia Lions in a ceremony in Vancouver Friday night.
“It’s really a great feeling to think that I made my mark.”
Someone might wonder what’s not to get about a man who made a living putting quarterbacks on their backs, and did so more often in his career—89 times—than anyone else in the history of the B.C. football club.
“There’s a ton of good players that I’ve seen come and go,” Johnson explained, “and whether it’s injury or bad timing or they didn’t have that one season or even three games of consistent success—in the sports world you’re out of a job fairly quickly.
“I was lucky enough that I never got injured, and I was surrounded by great players that made me play really well and coaches that supported me. It was just the right mix. Not everybody gets that. I’m talking from my days at Holy Cross to all the way through (college) and the professional ranks, I was surrounded by people who wanted me to succeed and helped me deliver on that.
“It doesn’t always get put together for everyone. I feel quite lucky that it did get put together for me, because I know how hard it is.”
There’s a sense of humility that’s palpable across the phone from Calgary, where Johnson now resides with his wife, Lara, and son, Roman, 2. It gets reinforced when you ask him about his career highlights and he speaks of championships won, championships he should have won, coaches who had an impact on his life, and relationships that survive time and distance.
Not once, however, does he mention the tidbit that, you know, by the way, he was the CFL’s defensive player of the year (in 2006) or the league’s outstanding Canadian player (twice, in 2005 and 2006).
“The awards that I did get, I’m very proud of them, they’re very special to me,” he said, “but getting to be Canadian of the year and defensive player of the year? To be brutally honest, none of it got done without the help of my teammates. When I say I was lucky to be surrounded by these guys, I truly mean that.
“Of course I did my job, and there’s no question I did my job really well, but so did they. I got the recognition and I love that and I’m sure they feel that I was properly recognized but I also know that this doesn’t happen by yourself. If anyone tells you that they figured it out on their own, they’re full of shit, because you can’t. You can’t.”
After dominating the Kingston high school gridiron, Johnson went to Ohio State University, where he was all-Big 10. After a failed tryout with the Jacksonville Jaguars of the NFL, Johnson landed in B.C. in 2001, but it took him three years—and the arrival of coach Wally Buono, for him to become established.
During the next five years, Johnson had 65 sacks, intercepted three passes and recovered a remarkable 15 fumbles. “In those years,” Buono once said, “he was as good as any great player we’ve ever had in our league.”
Johnson traces his football beginnings to Rob Ball, a lineman on Queen’s University’s national championship team in 1978 who was then was coaching the defensive linemen at Holy Cross.
“He was the catalyst for me to keep playing football,” Johnson said. “I mean, I played before that but I never thought that I would make this into a career, never thought that I would actually go to school, have it pay for my education and take me to Ohio and Florida and Vancouver.”
Richard Harris, Johnson’s first coach at B.C., was also influential. “Yes, he knew the position, but for a young man just finishing university and figuring out his next step in life, he was a great mentor to have around.
“Even Wally and now Coach Benevides, those people took time to want to get to know me, not just as a player, but as a person … that’s what I’m speaking of, where I had all this help along the way. (Playing football) is what I was there to do, but they wanted me to grow as a person and contribute more than just being a football player. I was always surrounded by those people.”
That growth manifested itself in a keen sense of community. Johnson said he takes a lot of pride in work that he did—with youth football, reading to elementary pupils, visiting hospitals, among several initiatives with which the Lions were involved.
“It’s a hard concept to understand, especially when you’re young, because you don’t necessarily get what the big deal is,” he said. “Life is a tough road and as lucky as I was to have a terrific family and lots of support around me, not everybody has those advantages. As you go through life, you learn how important it is that if you’ve got a story, whether it’s triumph or disappointment or getting it done or not getting it done, you’ve got common ground.
“Whether the people admire you or not, you’ve got a story to tell because sports has that appeal and it writes that sort of narrative for every athlete. It’s really important to get out there and show that you know that a lot of times we’re fighting through things and a lot of times we have a setback and have to battle through it. A lot of times it’s not as profound as what they go through, but it helps.
“Selfishly it’s for us, we love doing it, it puts smiles on people’s faces, but all those initiatives helped me grow as a person.”
Those aforementioned career highlights? Not too few to mention, in Johnson’s case: winning the Rose Bowl and the Sugar Bowl while at Ohio State; winning the Grey Cup twice with the Lions.
“You know, there’s the tough ones that you remember (when) you had all this potential and you had this great season and you go into a playoff game and you suck, and you don’t get to write that book the way you wanted to,” he said, “but above that are all the guys that I got to play with and the relationships I got to build.
“The Grey Cups, the Rose Bowl, all those things aside, having those relationship with wonderful people, and knowing that they got to be part of my life and I get to be part of theirs; will go on and on. Whatever the distance (between us) you have this one force that pulls you together … those memories are still there and they’re quite real and they’re real for everyone who participates in this game.”
Johnson now works as an investment advisor with CIBC Wood Gundy, a profession for which he prepared during his playing days and one he’s been practising for two and a half years. His interest in the field stems from his time in Jacksonville, when an investment advisor came to training camp to speak to the players about money management.
“It really hit home for me, looking around the room, thinking, ‘Yeah, that makes total sense,’” Johnson said, “but no one seemed to be listening.” The importance of planning for one’s future involves big decisions, he said, “and I like being part of that.”
The number that’s about to be retired? There’s a bit of a story there. It’s actually the same one he wore at Holy Cross, when “I just liked the look of it.”
At that time, the Buffalo Bills were in the midst of their heyday, and they had a linebacker named Cornelius Bennett. “He wore 97,” Johnson said. “I was just getting into football at the time and I was, like, that guy seems like a pretty good player; he wears 97, that’s kind of cool. That looks like a neat number, so I took it.”
After wearing No. 60 at Ohio State, Johnson asked about No. 97 when he got to B.C. “It happened to be available,” he said.
As of Friday night, it won’t be available anymore.
One of a series of stories of conversations with ex-cadets from Royal Military College, as they reflect on their time at the college, their sporting endeavours and what they’ve been up to since graduation.
By CLAUDE SCILLEY
The stars didn’t always align for Sharon Donnelly.
At the recruiting centre, she picked the wrong branch of service. When she arrived at Royal Military College, she picked the wrong course of study. As an athletic pursuit, she wanted to try fencing but wound up a cross-country runner. She found herself in the college band, playing music she didn’t really care for.
By the end of her time at RMC, the engineering student bound for the navy was studying business on a path to army logistics. The cross-country runner, who never did make it to the fencing parlour, was playing water polo. The clarinetist was a highland dancer.
Clearly, Donnelly had a zest for campus life and an eye for new opportunities. It’s perhaps no wonder, then, that when the fates one day did conspire in her favour, she recognized the occasion for its potential—and a world-class triathlete soon came to be, one who would land at the Olympics twice, once as an athlete and again eight years later as a coach.
“I was just doing triathlon because it was fun,” Donnelly recalled of her early days of the endeavour, nurtured by a loosely knit group of cadets at RMC. “You go there with a bunch of people. It was a good atmosphere.”
It was the late 1980s and triathlon, the event that combines swimming, cycling and running, was in its infancy, a hybrid recreational event that was just beginning to be contested competitively. By late 1994, however, triathlon had come of age; it got its legitimacy when it was named a full medal sport for the 2000 Olympics.
Donnelly had stayed active in the sport and it just so happened that around that time, her mandatory military hitch was coming to an end. While she was wondering what to do with her military career, the Forces were in reduction mode, and they were wondering what to do with Donnelly. “I was doing fairly well in triathlon with inconsistent training,” she recalled. “I was (thinking), ‘If I can do pretty well with inconsistent training, with consistent training, I was curious (how well I could do).
“I’d competed at Olympic trials as a swimmer and thought, ‘What if I try for this? I don’t really want to pass up the opportunity to at least try.’ The timing was right. I’d get a little bit of a severance package and it would give me the boost to get onto the circuit and the first couple of years of racing.”
Her boyfriend—now husband—Dave Rudnicki, was an air force officer. As an army officer, Donnelly knew they would seldom, if ever, be posted together. They decided she would leave the Forces and try for a spot in the first Olympic women’s triathlon.
In 1995, Donnelly developed a five-year plan to reach Sydney that included a trip to the first World Cup race, held that year in Japan. “I contacted the head of the (national) organization to see if there was any help available to get there,” she said. “He said, ‘No, but if you come out and prove yourself, we’ll see from there.’ I came seventh in my first World Cup and the president comes up to me and he says, ‘OK, welcome aboard.’
“That gave me affirmation. I was seventh against the best in the world and I’m, like, ‘Wow. I think this might be the right choice I made.’”
At that race, Donnelly discovered the best triathletes were Australians, so she decided that’s where she would go to train. Every year, for three months prior to the start of the World Cup season in March, Donnelly would train on a beach Down Under. She was still working part-time and still affiliated with a reserve unit in Ottawa but with the 1999 Pan American Games approaching, she quit everything, “cold turkey,” to be an athlete.
Despite her success, and the prospect of an Olympic berth in her future, it was a difficult adjustment. “I had a hard time with that defining me, with people coming up to me and saying, ‘What are you doing?’ and I’d say, ‘I’m an athlete.’ It’s just not a viable occupation.”
It wasn’t until her husband was posted to Kingston at the end of 1999 that Donnelly began to feel comfortable in an athlete’s skin. “By that point I had come to terms with being an athlete, so I was slowly able to unwind from working to a different kind of lifestyle.”
She won the Pan Am triathlon in Winnipeg that year, gaining an Olympic berth for Canada with her time and claiming that spot for herself with her victory.
A three-time Canadian champion, Donnelly was ranked ninth when she arrived in Sydney for the first Olympic triathlon but she was part of a multi-bike crash in the cycling segment. Though bloodied, she carried her bike to where she could get its bent front wheel replaced, then resumed racing, ultimately finishing 38th in the 50-woman field.
“A little bit of a mishap on the bike,” is how Donnelly describes it today, with a laugh that belies the unspeakable disappointment you’d think would accompany such bad fortune.
“It happens,” she says, 14 years later almost to the day. “You look back, especially the next day, when they changed the course for the men because of the mistakes they made (designing) the women’s course. You can’t do anything about it and you know what? It’s just sport. No one’s shooting at me, no one’s trying to hurt me. It’s just sport. You test yourself, physically and mentally, and what’s the worst thing that happens? You finish the race, or you finish last, or you win the race. Big deal. You win so very few times. Where do you learn, and how do you get to those (victories)? It’s all those other times.”
Donnelly offers her own experience as proof of the hypothesis.
“If you ask me about the Pan Am Games race, I don’t remember any of it. Nothing. I remember one point on the run course, because I had gone over in my head what to do at that stage prior to the race; I remember my race plan and how I executed it. Other races, where something doesn’t really go right, you just replay it and replay it and replay it, which is good, because hopefully that won’t ever happen again.
“You do remember the stuff that goes right, but (only with respect) to the race plan. That race plan worked. It’s the same as in the military. You plan for everything and one of those plans is going to work. If something does go wrong, you’ve made all the necessary plans to (overcome) it.”
Unlike many cadets who land at RMC, there was no military background in Donnelly’s family.
“It was Grade 12 (Ontario still had Grade 13 at the time) and my mother had seen an article in one of the Toronto papers talking about RMC. At that time, the second or third class of women was going through. It was pretty new at that point, so it made news. She said, ‘Here’s something interesting for you.’ She left it at that.
“Reading the article, it looked like an incredible challenge. I was a top swimmer at that point, competing at national and international championships, and really dedicated to swimming, so I was no stranger to discipline. I felt that I could do this. I could learn the military stuff. I felt this was something that would challenge me and I thought I could do well at it. It was a good fit; it kind of ticked off all the boxes.
“Then when they called me in the spring I’m, like, ‘Uh-oh, this is for real. I’ve got to go to Chilliwack.’”
Donnelly readily admits she didn’t know much about what she was getting into. “When I first entered the recruiting centre, they asked what branch of the service do you want? I’m, like, I don’t know. They go, ‘There’s green uniforms for army, there’s blue for air force and there’s black and white for navy,’ so I entered as air force. The uniforms were great.”
She applied to study engineering, “but to tell you the truth I knew nothing about it.”
“(In high school), nobody told us what engineering was. I never even heard of it, but it sounded really cool. By Christmas (I realized), ‘This is not me.’”
As Donnelly cast about for something else to pursue, the Forces found something for her. “They looked down the road to see what they needed and they said, ‘You have army logistics available.’ I said OK, and I really loved it.”
Long before Donnelly got her academic future sorted out, the college set about establishing her varsity athletic career path. “I didn’t have much of a choice,” she said. She was the first female cadet across the finish line after the freshman fitness test. “Of course, the cross-country coach, Dick Hartnett, was standing there. He said ‘I want you at cross-country practice tonight.’ I said, ‘I don’t like running. I signed up for fencing.’”
After enough cajoling from fellow cadets, however, Donnelly finally succumbed to the pressure. “I didn’t really like the training much,” she recalled. “I had a really hard time that first year. I’d get lost on warmups. I did like the racing, though. Whether I swam or ran, the racing was different.”
As soon as cross-country season was done, so was Donnelly, until she realized that of all the athletic endeavors at the college, running kept you the fittest. “So I signed up again,” she said. “I started to open my mind and thought, ‘OK, I’ll gradually try to improve the training part of it to improve the running.’”
She was drawn back to the pool, however, when the college started a women’s water polo team in her third year. Meanwhile, she was also in the band and on the debating team. “I was kind of bored with marching tunes because I’d studied music at a pretty high level in high school so I thought, ‘OK, I’ll do highland dancing, I’ll learn something new.’ I guess I was starting to get addicted to fitness. You could get fit and dance at the same time and participate in all those activities that you do as part of the RMC band.”
Triathlon came about almost by accident. Some cadets started a club as a recreational pursuit, “and I thought, ‘That looks pretty cool.’” Donnelly happened to be at summer training at Borden that summer with one of those triathlon club members and one day he suggested she should register for a triathlon one weekend in Niagara. “I had a car and he was looking for a ride,” she said, “but like anyone who does a triathlon, you do one and you’re hooked.
“I fell in love with it right off the bat.”
It was 1988. “It’s funny. I went up to the registration ladies at the desk and said, ‘Excuse me, where’s the change room? Where do we change after the swim before we get on the bike?’ and they said, ‘We’ll introduce you to this lady.’ I didn’t know who she was. She ended up being the national champion and she was so helpful. She said, ‘No, you wear your bathing suit the whole way,’ and I thought, ‘Oh, god, that’s gross.’”
Grossed out or not, Donnelly finished second in her age group. “I think I won a pair of free shorts and that was the thing: I won something. That was really cool.’”
Speaking on the phone from Orleans, in the east end of Ottawa, Donnelly recalls her time at RMC with a level of enthusiasm that suggests she enjoyed herself. Asked if that’s the case, there’s a pause.
“There’s always that ‘but,’” she said, with a chuckle. “It was tough. It took me a couple of years to recover from the demands. For me, academically, because I chose to do so many things, it was a really tough time; looking back I’d still say it was one of the toughest things I’ve ever done, because I wanted to take it all in, as much as I could.
“I really focused on swimming as a kid, and put aside the high school life, the social life, so when I got to RMC, it’s such a social atmosphere, I just soaked it in. I scraped by, academically. I wasn’t the highest achiever but I gained so much more in my people skills, which is very important. I worked on my communication and leadership skills, things that a just-academic institution might not (allow me to) be able to do.”
After Sydney, Donnelly continued to race competitively. She was fifth at the Commonwealth Games in Manchester in 2002—countrywoman Carol Montgomery won the race—and that same year she was in the top 10 at the world championship. She narrowly missed gaining a berth on the Canadian team for the 2004 Olympics.
Two years later, the celestial paths crossed over Donnelly once more. He husband was posted to Colorado Springs, which just happened to be the site of the U.S. national training centre for triathlon. It also just so happened the fellow running the centre, Cliff English, was married to Samantha McGlone, the woman who beat Donnelly out of the 2004 Olympic berth. It didn’t take long for English to offer Donnelly a job as a resident coach, in charge of logistics for visiting athletes coming to train at the centre.
By 2008 Donnelly was an assistant coach with the American team. As the Beijing Games approached, the head coach was released. “They said, ‘OK, Sharon. You’re in charge,’” and she was off to China as head coach of the U.S. triathlon team. The top American male finished seventh in the race where Kingston’s Simon Whitfield, a one-time training partner of Donnelly, won the silver medal. American Laura Bennett finished fourth in the women’s race.
“It was an incredible experience,” Donnelly said. “It was interesting to go as a foreign coach, and stand on the other side of the fence, as a coach, not an athlete.
“I felt so proud of my team. At the opening ceremony, when the U.S. team came in, it was the same joy as when Canada walked in, because that was the team I was working with. People thought it was bizarre, as a Canadian, but no, because they were my athletes. I wanted them to win.”
Donnelly and her family moved back to Ottawa in 2009. She did some coaching, started a kids triathlon program in east Ottawa and considered some sports-related administrative jobs, but they didn’t offer the kind of flexibility that would allow her to spend time with her children.
Gemma, soon turning nine, was born in Kingston, an hour after Donnelly completed the Terry Fox Run on the base
“I walked it,” Donnelly said, “and I’ll never forget going up to (base commander) Col. Aitken and going, ‘You know what, sir, I’m not feeling very well. I’m going to go back home and take a rest.’ I had no idea I was in labour.”
Gemma was born five years to the day, to the hour, to the minute that Donnelly finished her race in Sydney. Her son, Evan, was born in 2007 while Donnelly and her husband were in Colorado Springs.
Of late, Donnelly has been busy promoting My Float, an open-water swim bag she co-invented with an Ottawa boating enthisiast and caterer, Met Yurtcu. Touted on the product’s web site (www.getmyfloat.com) it’s described as “an inflatable dry bag for beach swimming, snorkelling and boating that easily attaches to you and keeps your stuff dry.”
“It got me out there, getting in touch with all my triathlon contacts,” Donnelly said. “It’s not going to make me a millionaire but it’s getting me back out to the races and I’m learning about the business side of things.”
The appendage has two inflatable chambers, Donnelly said, and is bright yellow in colour. “You wrap it around your waist and you can swim and be seen by boats.”
The business, she said, keeps her busy.
“I’m pretty happy with how things are going,” she said. “It’s kind of neat to invent a product and seeing it done. I never could have done it by myself. I didn’t have the guts, but with a guy who has to get out there and sell himself all the time, it’s been a really good partnership. It’s been really cool, sort of a diversion from what I’m used to. It’s still a sports area that I like but the business side of it has been really neat.”
Its school-record 20th victory in a row has kept Laval in its familiar place atop the weekly ranking of Canadian university football teams, released Tuesday.
The rouge et or haven’t picked on any soft touches, as both of its victories have come against Top 10 teams: Montreal in the first week of the season and a 43-1 win Saturday over Sherbrooke, which began play as the No. 9-ranked team in the land.
Laval will try to match McMaster’s Canadian Interuniversity Sport record of 21 straight wins Saturday, when it visits winless Bishop’s.
The latest poll of members of the University Football Reporters of Canada left the top five teams unchanged, with Laval followed, in order, by Calgary, Western, McMaster and Montreal. The first four are among the seven teams in Canada who haven’t yet suffered defeat this year.
Movement was minimal throughout the Top 10, with Guelph and Saskatchewan trading places at 6-7, as the Gryphons moved up a spot and the Huskies down one despite the facts they both won their games Saturday and Saskatchewan remains unbeaten.
Mount Allison was the big gainer, moving up two spots to No. 8, after the Mounties scored two touchdowns in the last two minutes of the game to escape with a 27-25 win over St. Francis Xavier.
Manitoba, which fell out of the ranking last week all the way from No. 6 after losing its first game to Saskatchewan, returns to the Top 10. Concordia, 2-0 to start the season, makes its debut at No. 10.
This week’s ranking, with previous rank, my rank, record, this week’s result and next opponent:
- Laval (1) (1), 2-0, beat Sherbrooke 43-1; next: Saturday, at Bishop’s.
- Calgary (2) (2), 2-0, beat British Columbia 59-11; next: Friday, at No. 7 Saskatchewan.
- Western (3) (3), 2-0, beat Queen’s 43-12; next: Saturday, vs. Toronto.
- McMaster (4) (5), 3-0, beat Carleton 37-17; next: Saturday, at York.
- Montreal (5) (6), 1-1, beat Bishop’s 41-7; next: Friday, vs. McGill.
- Guelph (7) (9), 2-1, beat No. 8 Ottawa 42-7; next: Saturday, vs. Queen’s.
- Saskatchewan (6) (8), 2-0, beat Alberta 42-41 in overtime; next: Friday, vs. No. 2 Calgary.
- Mount Allison (10) (4), 2-0, beat St. Francis Xavier 27-25; next: Saturday, vs. Saint Mary’s.
- Manitoba (NR) (NR), 1-1, beat Regina 42-18; next: Saturday, vs. British Columbia.
- Concordia (NR) (10), 2-0, beat McGill 41-7; next: vs. Sherbrooke.