Getting back on track

Leanne Fernandes says she's excited to get back out onto the pavement.  Coach Neil Dalgarno says Pope should have a good chance at medals this year at OFSAA.

To the average Canadian, melting snow and shining sun is a warm and comforting reminder of the summer to come.

To Leanne Fernandes, it’s so much more than that.

For this 16-year-old local track athlete, who has been in love with the sport since she did her first 10k in grade one for the Terry Fox Run, warm weather gets her heart pumping and excited to get back out onto the pavement.

Last year she had a strong performance representing Pope John Paul II at the OFSSA provincial track and field championship in Ottawa, winning a silver medal with the open relay team, and individually finished fourth and fifth in her own midget categories.

This year coach Neil Dalgarno says they’re trying something new.

“We’re definitely trying to change the way Leanne runs,” he says. “We’re trying to make her less of a distance person [and] more of a sprinter.”

Fernandes took a painful fall last season during a race that took her out of the running for the 1,500- and 3,000-metre races. This prompted the two to shift focus onto shorter distances.

“You look at the athlete, and you look at the potential,” Dalgarno says. “Somebody that’s talented as her could run longer or run faster.

“So whether she wants 200, or for that matter, she could still run a very fast 1,500 or even 3,000 metres if she puts her mind to it.”

Because of the unrelenting winter, Dalgarno says he’s had a tough time getting the team into training.

“Last week there was still ice on the track,” he says. “In 20 years, this is the furthest I’ve been behind.”

With a training schedule that would normally have started around mid-March, Dalgarno says he’s already lost two or three weeks.

“I’m preparing these guys a little differently,” he says. “We’re cutting out the preamble and getting right into more serious training.”

But he still feels confident about the coming season. Due in part to the experience that many of the athletes gained last year, but also to the greater number of students who are showing an interest in the sport, Dalgarno says he is confident the team will have a very successful season.

He is also optimistic about the team’s newest member, former OFSAA gold medalist
Chanel Kellyman, who just transferred to Pope from Birchmount.

“She should be a terrific addition to both the open girls’ four by four and the senior girls’ four by one,” he says. “She’s a really talented kid.”

With major wins by the open girls’ relay team at a meet at York University last month, Dalgarno’s tip is to keep an eye out for the girls’ teams.

“I’m really looking forward to seeing the girls’ four by four and the girls’ four by one,” he says. “Both of those teams, I think, are definitely in strong contention for medals at OFSAA.”

Other athletes to keep an eye out for are Ginhette Reyes, in the triple jump and sprint hurdles, and Jared Hamilton, in the long jump. Both are former OFSAA medalists.

This year, the OFSAA track and field championships will take place June 5 to 7 in Hamilton.