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Ben Trickey inspires young teammates at Sydenham

May 27, 2014

By CLAUDE SCILLEY

Whether Ben Trickey was happy to take the role — or reluctant — was never an issue.

“I kind of told him he didn’t really have a choice,” Sydenham track coach Leslie Lawlor said.

Trickey is the only runner returning this season from last year’s provincial silver medal-winning 1,600-metre relay team. “He’s the link,” Lawlor said, and as such she charged him with mentoring the new members of the team.

“Because he’s so shy, you don’t know how comfortable someone’s going to be doing that,” she said, “but he has really blossomed. It’s been excellent for him.”

To date, it’s been excellent for the team, too. Last Friday, at the eastern Ontario championship, with Trickey passing two opponents on the final leg, the Golden Eagles won the event. In the two weeks since the team debuted at the Foley Invitational meet in Belleville, the boys from Sydenham have lowered their time by six and a half seconds.

“We knew we had to go quite a bit faster in order to move on,” Trickey said. “We all picked up our game.

“We got our eyes opened and now we know potentially what we can achieve.”

Whether this group is good enough to get back to the Ontario Federation of School Athletic Associations championship — this year’s team is about nine seconds slower than last year’s team at this point in the season — will be decided Friday at the East region qualifying meet in Ottawa.

It would be foolish to rule it out, and a big part of why is Trickey, not only for his speed on the track, but for the leadership he has provided away from it.

“It was hard for him initially,” Lawlor said, “because (Jay Dearborn, Eamon Hillis and Wade Embury, the graduated members of the relay team) were his best friends, as well as his running mates, and he’s a very shy, quiet person, but he did adapt really well. He’s worked so well with the younger athletes. They really, really respect him because he’s so strong and so able. So committed. So diligent.”

Lawlor thought for a moment and recalled Trickey’s relationship with Hayden Peters and considered the possibility that she should have suspected Trickey would warm to the mantle of leadership. Peters, the patriarch of the Sydenham 4-by-400 group, graduated in 2012 after bridging the early days of the school’s splendid run of success — four OFSAA finals in six years — to the current group.

“Ben Trickey used to rule Hayden Peters,” she said. “Anyone who can rule Hayden Peters and be two years younger? He has an inner strength, a quiet inner strength.”

The Sydenham phenomenon in the boys 1,600-metre relay is remarkable from several perspectives. There’s the unquestioned success, qualifying for OFSAA every year since 2006, winning silver medals in 2011 and 2013, the only medals won by a Kingston-area school in the event since 1972 — perhaps ever. (In the year between the medals, the Golden Eagles won their heat at OFSAA but they were disqualified for an improper pass of the baton). There’s also uncommon depth: In the final preseason meet of the spring, Sydenham entered two teams and they finished 2-3, less than two seconds apart, just six-tenths of a second behind the winner yet five seconds ahead of the rest of the field.

So talented is the group from which Lawlor chooses her team, Nick Adams, the junior 800 metres champion at EOSSA — and as such, at almost any other school a shoo-in to be on the 4-by-4 team — must wait his turn in a group from which Connor Bayers, Chris Adams and Brady Robertson are Trickey’s most recent running mates.

Trickey modestly describes his contribution to the group as “confidence and leadership,” and his role as “trying to take the experience I had last year, and (use that) with these guys, to try to get better.”

Robertson said the message has been simple — “how important the training is; that you need to come to all the practices; (that) if we want to do well we need to be running three or four times a week” — and he said it resonates loud and clear when it comes from a teammate.

“He’s shown last year and the year before that hard work pays off in the end at OFSAA. I saw the guys running last year and I knew. To see how happy they were for doing well at OFSAA makes the guys coming up want to do well and keep the tradition going.”

Trickey has experienced the turnover from every end of the equation. In Grade 9, he was a rookie on a team that finished seventh at OFSAA but he was dropped the following year; in 2012 he was the newcomer coming onto the successful team. Now he is the savvy veteran, showing the way. During that time he has experienced the emotional gamut, from the crushing disappointment of reaching the provincial final only to be disqualified and the euphoria of coming back the next year and winning a silver medal.

“I’ve been through it, so I know what to expect, what I expect my teammates to do in order to make it there and do well there,” he said.

For him, Embury and Peters modeled that role.

“Wade’s fast and he’s serious about track,” Trickey said. “He’s a good friend and he wanted us all to push hard. He went hard every race, so it was our duty to go hard as well.”

In addition to the three relay appearances, Trickey has been to OFSAA for the 800 or 400 metres three of the last four years and he’ll be contesting the 200 and 400 metres Friday in Ottawa. He was second in the 400 a week ago, in 51.23 seconds, three one-hundredths of a second faster than the time he ran last year when he finished 14th at the provincial meet.

Shorter than most of his fellow competitors, Trickey compensates, Lawlor said, by having a stride that is remarkably efficient. As he trains alongside the much taller Robertson, the coach points out that the two strides are almost identical in length.

“He’s got a beautiful stride,” Lawlor said. “He doesn’t have the height but … he is very efficient. He is gifted in that way. We haven’t had to work on it. He’s just been very smooth since he came.”

It was Trickey’s performance as part of the 4-by-4 team — and his influence on it — that remains among Lawlor’s best memories of EOSSA. “They were so happy. They were so proud that they had won an EOSSA medal. It was really neat watching that.”

She’s sure the athletes are feeling a duty to uphold the school’s ‘tradition,’ as Robertson called it, “just because they have been so committed to it.”

“They’re shouldering a lot of responsibility, even if it’s just imagined responsibility, and they’ve taken it really seriously,” she said, and it’s a level of dedication that is plain for all to see. “There are younger boys who are potentially coming into that group and they’re seeing how hard the group has worked this year and are already talking about next year.”

Lawlor calls the 4-by-4 relay the ultimate event, because athletes are not only running a distance that demands both speed and endurance, but adds the obligation of doing so for a collective good.

“The bond that occurs while you’re doing that is pretty phenomenal,” she said. “There’s not another event in track and field that you actually feel like you almost died for each other. The 4-by-1 is pretty and, yeah, you do great, but it’s not the same feeling. In the 4-by-4 you’re so dependent on everybody to step up and do a hard race. (When you’re done) you really feel you have accomplished something as a group.”

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