Stride Ahead Sports would like to sincerely thank local track Coach Andy Tough
for taking the time to answer some questions about himself and his club
stride ahead*Tough Track for our newsletter.
This is the very interesting full length version of the abbreviated interview questions and answers we included in the Feb. 2016 newsletter’s limited space.
a) What is your personal background in running?
I started running in my elementary school days at Oakenwald School in Fort Garry. I really enjoyed the social aspect of running. I ran in the school meets to start with. When I was in Grade 7, I competed in the Divisional Track meet and won. The next week at another track meet a teacher from another school handed me a photo that he had taken of me during my race. The coach’s name was Sheldon Reynolds. Little did I know that this chance meeting would start a lifelong friendship and be the foundation of many good things to come.
I went on to run many races ranging from 800m to 5000m on the track, winning the High School Provincial Title in the 3000m in Grade 10 in a time of 9:20.22. It was an amazing race; I was the underdog, unknown and very nervous. As we were called to the starting line, a guy by the name of Bob Conway (track star from a club), said “Hey, what size are those things?” (I had just bought these very bright white New Balance spikes for the race and I wore Size 13)
This seemed to break the tension and stress I was feeling and I went on to win by 2 seconds ahead of the two favourites, Bob Conway and Dean Tweed.
I joined Takus Track Cub when I was 14 and was coached by a great coach by the name of Alphonse Bernard. I started running road races as well at this point ranging from 5km to 20km. I ran one marathon when I was age 14 in a time of 4:32.40, my first and only marathon! I ran many half marathons and my best was in a time of 1:18 in high school. My best 10km time was 32:50 on the roads. I ran in a fast field in Grade 11 High School Provincial Championships when they still had the 5000m on the track in a time of 15:54.
b) How did you get started in coaching?
When I graduated from Vincent Massey Collegiate in 1984, I decided to volunteer to help coach the track program at Vincent Massey.
We went to an indoor meet in Steinbach in early February 1985 called the Bill Russell Memorial Games. I decided while I was there coaching I might as well run a race too. I decided to run the 1500m. Little did I know that it would be my last competitive race. There was a false start at the beginning of the race. The starter lined us up again, putting us in two rows and I was in the first row. The gun went off. I took one step and felt a searing pain in my Achilles tendon. I ran one lap but couldn’t continue. I was taken to hospital in Steinbach and needed many stitches to repair the sheath of my Achilles tendon that was torn. I found out I was spiked severely by an athlete behind me right at the start of the race. I never fully recovered from this injury and I decided that if I couldn’t race I would give back to the sport I loved by coaching. It was the start of what is so far a 32 year coaching journey that continues to grow.
A new elementary school opened up in the Whyte Ridge community in the fall of 1993. The Physical Education Teacher was Sheldon Reynolds. Over the years I had gotten to know Sheldon and he invited me to come and help with a morning run club. It was an exciting new program and I was eager to get started. In May of 1995 I was hired as an Educator Assistant at Whyte Ridge School and I continued to work there for the next 15 years.
c) How did SATT get started?
Stride Ahead Tough Track (SATT) was co-founded by Sheldon Reynolds and myself in 2003. What started as a grass roots program of 10 athletes at Whyte Ridge School has grown into one of the largest Track Clubs in the province with over 150 athletes.
d) What is the age range of your athletes and what distances/events do you coach?
They range in ages from 9 to 26 years.
The grades 4, 5, 6 athletes are introduced to technical drills, circuits, starts, introduction to interval training, core strength and work towards developing their speed at a young age as per the long term athlete development (LTAD) model. At a young age, developing and encouraging a strong work ethic is a cornerstone for long term development.
Our University based program has ages ranging from 11 to 26 there is no age limit to success! With a strong foundation based on LTAD, Stride Ahead Tough Track continues to grow at the grass roots level as well as at the Provincial, National and International levels.
It is important to develop the athletes on a long term basis by not over-training them. We focus on the process and not the outcome. I believe that when athletes focus strictly on the outcome of a competition, this can lead to a high level of anxiety and predictably not the result they were looking for. When emphasis is on the process, the athlete feels more confident and focused on their individual goals. For example, explaining the process of why we do base training, strength and aerobic endurance in the fall makes cross-country training more appealing to some. When athletes are aware of the process of the different competitive seasons, reasons why they do certain workouts, why we do core strength, it educates them and keeps them on task. Athletes are encouraged to strive to attain their own personal bests.
I am the Head Coach of the club and love coaching both Middle Distance and Sprints. I am level 3 Certified in middle distance and level 1 certified in sprints through the NCCP coaching program. I have also coached Multi Events athletes, Amy Graceffo (Heptathlon) Canadian Juniors 2012 Bronze Medalist and Danielle O’Donnell (Heptathlon) Canadian Juniors 2009 Bronze Medalist. I learned a lot about jumps, throws and hurdles through this process. I love working with relay teams and watching them compete in what is considered to be an individual sport and see them bond together as a collective group of athletes.
I have also taken relay sessions with Alex Gardiner (Olympic head coach for the Canadian Track & Field team at the 2012 London Summer Olympics where Canada had its best athletics performance since 1992).
Alex is presently the speed power coach for the Manitoba Bisons.
Alex is one of the top coaches in Canada, we are fortunate to have him in Winnipeg and I have learned a great deal from him.
e) What support systems are in place to help you coach such a large club?
Stride Ahead Tough Track coaching staff has evolved over the years. Liam Francis leads the Sprint Group and Horizontal Jumps Group along with Sprint Coaches Glen Lovstad and Evan Kuz. Coach Kristen Mitteness works with all jumpers as well as sprints and multi events. We have had wonderful support from our senior athletes, Connor Boyd and Erin Tramley, coaching at the University Group practices with our younger age athletes. Coach Sue Zajac has done a masterful job developing the Grade 4, 5, 6 program out of Whyte Ridge School. Stride Ahead Tough Track athletes Owen Ready and Victoria Tachinski help coach at our school practices, inspiring and encouraging our young athletes along with 5th Year University Tough Track alumni athlete Mackenzie Post.
We have an executive staff consisting of President Andy Tough, Treasurer Lauchie Boyd, Registration Director Chris Harbeck, Volunteer Coordinator Zsolt Zrinyi, Sue Zajac Race Director Run at the Ridge and Fundraiser Coordinators Tanis Siemens and Faith Loewen.
Stride Ahead Tough Track is a strong supporter of Athletics Manitoba and we have had parents on the Athletics Manitoba Board. It is important to support our Provincial Sport Governing Body.
The executive along with a large contingent of parent volunteers have been instrumental in the ongoing success of the club.
“Parents are a vital part of the club in both encouraging their own young athletes and the ongoing volunteer support they provide at track meets, Run at the Ridge, SATT Open Track Meet (an outdoor meet we host) and at our bingo obligations.”
Ken Friesen of Stride Ahead Sports has continued to be a great supporter of the club and ‘Run at the Ridge’.
Kristjana, a Bison University athlete, has been a great help with my daughter Nina. Kristjana is an amazing individual: once she is done her own workouts she gives of her time and plays with Nina to free me up while I am coaching.
I am very lucky to have an understanding wife, Julia, who has been very supportive of me in following my dream and passion of coaching.
I have had the great fortune to be at the World Youth Track and Field Championships in Lille, France 2011 and the World Junior Track and Field Championships in Barcelona, Spain 2012. I am also away at track meets in the USA and Canada 6-7 times a year so she is very understanding to say the least!
I owe a lot to my senior athletes who have helped me out with babysitting when in a bind.
I really see Stride Ahead Tough Track as a big family. I am so grateful to all the parents who have helped me through tough times over the years, for their continuous support, especially in 2015 when I had some serious health concerns that have now turned the corner for the better. There is no better place to coach.
f) Obviously a lot of people want to see you and the club succeed. You have won several awards and been recognized for your coaching achievements. Could you elaborate on some of your personal and your athletes’ accomplishments?
I have been fortunate to win some awards over the years through coaching track and field and I owe many people a great deal of thanks for their support.
2015 Athletics Manitoba Elite Coach of the Year (co-winner with Alex Gardiner, a great honor for me to be mentioned with Alex)
2013 The City of Winnipeg Outstanding Achievement Award Medal Presented by Mayor Sam Katz
2012 Athletics Manitoba Elite Coach of the Year
2011 Dr. Jack Hunt Memorial Award for Developmental Coach of the Year, Sport Coaching Manitoba Excellence Award
2007 Club Coach of the Year Athletics Manitoba
2005 Peter Dick Award, School Coach of the Year, Coaching Manitoba Excellence Award
December 2005 Coach of the Month Award Coaching Manitoba
2004 Hershey Volunteer of the Year (Outstanding Local program Award)
2004 Elementary/Middle School Coach of the Year Athletics Manitoba
2004 “Thanks Coach” Award Manitoba Summer Games Dauphin
The three athletes below all started at the Whyte Ridge School program before moving on to the University based program.
Julia Zrinyi was a member of the Canadian Youth Team which competed at the World Youth Track and Field Games in Lille, France in July 2011. Julia narrowly missed the finals, finishing a strong 9th place at the World Youth Games. Julia followed this up the next summer by being a part of the Canadian Junior Team which competed at the World Junior Track and Field Championships in Barcelona, Spain in July 2012 with a strong showing in the 800m and the 4 x 400m. In August 2013, Julia won the Gold medal at the Pan Am Juniors in the 1500m held in Medellin, Colombia.
Shane Dillon who is currently in his first year at the University of Kentucky, was 2nd at the Canadian Junior Nationals in July 2015 in the 800m and then competed for Canada at the 2015 Pan Am Juniors in Edmonton finishing 6th in the 800m.
In 2015, Victoria Tachinski broke three Indoor Canadian Youth Records in the 300m (38.48), 400m (54.05) and 600m (1:30 .28). Victoria then went on to represent Canada in the World Youth Track and Field Championships in Cali, Colombia July 2015, in the 400m finishing 12th overall and was a member of the Bronze medal winning 4 x 400m Canadian team. She finished the 2015 Outdoor season off winning the 800m at the Legion National Championships in August in St. Therese, Quebec in a new championship record time of 2:06.88 leading start to finish.
We have been fortunate to have athletes receive scholarships at NCAA Division 1 schools:
Danielle O’Donnell (University of Louisiana Monroe), Julia Zyrini (University of Connecticut), Melanie Baran (Fresno State University), Amy Andrushko (NDSU), Kyla Siemens (Jacksonville University), Janine Zajac (Jacksonville University) and Shane Dillon (University of Kentucky).
Over the years we have also had a number of athletes compete for the University of Manitoba Bisons:
Eric Thacher, Connor Boyd, Erin Tramley, Quinn Anderson, Simon Berube, Matthew Van Schepdael, Mikaela Van Schepdael, Josh Ahlbaum Ateah, Andrea Mandzuk, Amy Graceffo, Tarina Ready, Yvette Morgan, Anthony Sesay and Erin White
None of these awards and achievements are possible without the athletes and being lucky enough to work along with great coaches. I feel I will always be a student of the sport of track and field and continue to learn and grow as a coach both by experience and by working closely with other great individual coaches like we have in our Stride Ahead Tough Track coaching staff, other club coaches, and our provincial coaches. I also have watched and gained knowledge from our University of Manitoba Bison Head Coach Claude Berube. I was a few years behind Claude when I joined Takus Track Club at age 14 and I see Claude as the cornerstone of the Manitoba Bisons. His longevity in the sport and his vast experience inspires me to continue to grow as a coach.
g) What aspect of coaching gives you the most satisfaction?
The peaks and valleys athletes go through in track and field make coaching exciting and invigorating. To share in the joy when an athlete has attained a personal best and at the same time be able to help them through the pitfalls that may occur throughout their running career are rewarding. Building coach/athlete relationships with a mutual trust and respect is of utmost importance.
“When an athlete trusts in the coach and the program, realizes that it is a long term development, and there is a method to the madness, good things begin to happen”.
“There is no short cut to development”
h) What do you see as the future of SATT & for your coaching?
Stride Ahead Tough Track continues to grow and I myself still feel fresh and excited 32 years into my coaching career. I hope to continue to build a strong foundation with Stride Ahead Tough Track and I see a bright and long future for the club.
I can’t see myself ever not coaching; there are always new and exciting challenges every year. One of my hopes is that my two girls, Nina (age 6) and Nika (age 2), get involved in track and field in the future and I have the opportunity to coach them. Nina has been coming to watch her Dad coach since she was 1.
It is a pleasure to have the opportunity to aid in the development of fine young athletes. “The sky is the limit, you just need a dream and to follow that path”.