Meet the U of G… The University of Gramantik that is. These are the people I train with and spend countless hours of joy and pain with every day of the week. From left to right: Katelyn Lehner (hep), Me, Rachel Machin (hep), Sam Effah (sprints), Rachael McIntosh (hep), and our amazing coach, Les Gramantik. There are 2 members missing in this photo, Earle Connor who is a multiple Paralympic Gold medalist, and Nicola Charlesworth, another fellow heptathlete. I have been here in Calgary for over 2 and a half years, and though the group has changed some, the feeling always remains the same. We work hard together, we push each other, and we encourage one another. We are all very competitive and hard working, and we all have big aspirations and dreams and are not afraid to put in the work to get there.
I have a story that I want to share with you, and it is about this group of athletes and their coach.
As of a few weeks ago, we found out that many things are changing in Canadian Track and Field, and not for the better. Let me lay down the facts. The track and field organization of Canada, called Athletics Canada, has totally revamped its strategy, and we are feeling the effects in some serious ways.
1. Our coach’s contract has not been renewed with Athletics Canada for the first time in over 30 years. He has been offered a job in Toronto but unless he moves away from his only home in Canada to take this job in Toronto, he has no job at all. He is not moving. His loyalty to us is too great and he has no desire to live on the other side of the country.
2. The Calgary Sport Center is no longer a Sport Center as of December 31st of this year. This means we have no more access to facilities (tracks, weight rooms …everything we need to train). We no longer have any financial support or budget through the sport center, which would normally go toward physical therapy, training camp expenses, accommodations, etc. It is definitely a huge help to a full time athlete who makes no income other than working part time. It’s all gone as of December 31.
3. Athletics Canada wants the 2 main training hubs to be in Vancouver and Toronto. Vancouver has no indoor facilities, and only has a distance program at the moment, and a throwing program in Kamloops. Toronto is on the other side of the country. Not to mention the majority of our group are heptathletes. That means we need the facilities to cover 7 different events. We aren’t like a sprinter who only need a strip of track, or a thrower who needs a shot put circle. We also need the added facilities of indoor High Jump, Long Jump, hurdles and the 800m. We live in Canada; we cannot train outdoors all year around no matter where we live in this country… unless we all moved to the states. (Which is starting to look pretty good about now). My point is, we cannot just pack up and move. There is nowhere else for us to go. That is why Calgary was a Sport Center in the first place. We have all the facilities here and we have an amazing coach here. There is an huge community of athletes here and it is such a healthy place to learn and grow with other athletes even in other sports. Now it is all being taken away. Just like that. And do I even have to mention the tiny fact that we have lives here? I am married and we have jobs. We have a home. My teammates are in the middle of university. They can’t just quit and start back up somewhere else again.
4. To add to the craziness of it all, we are not the only athletes this is happening to. There are other athletes who train in Alberta, who are Olympians who are also affected by the loss of the sport center. So my question is, if even the elite/world class athletes are not being supported, who is??? Even their coaches are being let go and are in similar situations as my coach.
I cannot express in words how discouraging this is. My coach was reasoning with the higher ups, and he asked them, “what about the athletes? what are they supposed to do?” He received the answer, “they can move.” The thing is moving doesn’t even solve the problem. I can understand if there was logic to it, or if there was a purpose, or if Calgary really had nothing to offer. However each one of us in our group has made multiple Canadian teams, and are on the developmental path to being world class. But Athletics Canada has made it clear that we are insignificant in their eyes. We have heard it from multiple people who are involved, they just don’t care. It breaks my heart to know that my country’s track and field organization overlooks it’s developing talent. They are taking away our future as a sport.
So as a group, the Univeristy of Gramantik is working together to build a support team. Our number one goal is to raise enough support to pay for our Coach’s salary. Les is the best coach in the country for what we do and he works so hard for us everyday. He isn’t just a coach, he is a great friend; We love him and we want to do whatever we can for him. We will also need the funds to pay for the use of facilities so we can keep training. I really have no idea how we are going to keep training with no facilities or coach, but I am praying that God will open doors that we didn’t even know where there.
I don’t know if anyone will really understand this situation, but to us as athletes, this is our life, it’s what we do. I have sacrificed much to be here. I moved from sunny LA to Calgary (a place I never thought I would live in a million years) to train for the Olympics with this group. Rachael moved from a full scholarship in Pittsburgh to no scholarship in Calgary just to have the opportunity to train at the sport center with Les. Sam and Rachel are Calgary’s own, and Katelyn moved from Saskatchewan. Being an elite track athlete is nothing like an elite basketball player or hockey player. We don’t get paid for what we do unless your are the top 8 in the world. That is why it is so important for us to have a community that we can invest in and be supported by. If Athletics Canada wants us to move to their new “Sport Center of Choice” at their whim, we as athletes will have a difficult time building a network and community, making it impossible for us to exist for long. Track athletes cannot do it alone. It is a fact. There is no way.
So first I am asking for your prayers. I know that God has a plan and with Him, anything is possible. Please pray that He will work in this situation and give hope and encouragement to my coach and team. I also ask that you share our story with others. Not only are we lacking financial support, but emotional support as well. Without your help in spreading the word and supporting us in any way you can, our future is very uncertain.
As a group, we have come to terms with the fact that we will receive no help from Athletics Canada as of December 31, 2013, therefore we are more determined than ever to perform and continue to improve our individual skills. We are a competitive group and we by no means see this as the end. We train over hurdles everyday and I don’t see how this is any different. It is just another hurdle. I will keep you posted on how things progress. Feel free to send me a message here or on Facebook or email with any questions. Thanks for reading!
Please visit my website to learn more about me as an athlete, my achievements, and how to support. www.natashajackson.ca