By Dan Plouffe
With the temperature topping 30ºC, the conditions weren’t ideal for the Run Ottawa Distance Night Thursday at the 2018 Canadian Track-and-Field Championships.
But for Josh Cassidy of the Ottawa Lions Track-and-Field Club, wheeling 1,500 metres in the heat was a breeze compared to the effort it took to get to the start line at the Terry Fox Athletic Facility.
On Wednesday morning, the 33-year-old placed 2nd in the Peachtree 10k in Atlanta, then boarded a flight back to his home base in Toronto, and finally drove to Ottawa, arriving in the wee hours of the morning.
“I’ve got a full week,” smiles Ottawa-born Cassidy, who was off to Utica, NY the morning after his race at nationals for the Boilermaker 15k on the weekend.
Cassidy showed no ill effects from the travel as he battled 3 others in the lead pack down the home stretch of the men’s 1,500-metre para wheelchair race, taking 2nd place by .32 seconds behind multi-world record holder Brent Lakatos.
“I’m definitely happy with it,” says the 3-time Paralympian whose main target is set on the Tokyo 2020 Games. “The Paralympic medal is the one that I’m missing, so that’s what I really want, and I’ll be working harder than I ever have in the next 2 years.”
The 2017 season wasn’t a career highlight for the former marathon world record holder. Without many spectacular results, Cassidy lost his national carding financial assistance, which he blames in large part on an injury that held him back for 2 months last year. But he’s come back strong in 2018, rising quickly back into the top-5 world rankings.
“I just had the best winter training of my whole career,” highlights Cassidy, who lost both legs to cancer shortly after birth. “When things are tough and there are challenges like that, there’s no reason to quit when I’m getting good numbers in training, so I’m really happy with where I’m at right now.”
Cassidy’s silver was the Lions’ third para medal of the nationals, coming on the heels of Keegan Gaunt and Shanna Boutillier’s 1-2 finish in the women’s para ambulatory 400 m on Wednesday.
The Lions’ Telvin Tavernier also stood on the podium, placing 3rd amongst Canadians (and 8th overall) in the Pan American Combined Events Cup.
Ottawa products place 8th in 5k
Drenched from head to toe after melting in the heat and humidity that hardly lessened even after sundown, Nico Pedersen and Yves Sikubwabo earned matching 8th-place finishes in the under-20 and senior men’s 5,000 m.
“It’s tough. It’s tough on the track and something you definitely have to get used to doing,” signals Pedersen, who finished in 15:47.03. “I’m happy with the time. Not a personal-best, because of the humidity, but I’m definitely happy with how I ran.”
A 29th-place finisher for Merivale High School at the OFSAA Cross-Country Running Championships this past fall, the 17-year-old Lion has made big strides under Lions/University of Ottawa coaches Helen Cooper and Garrett De Jong to carve out his place among Canada’s young elite.
“It’s an honour really,” Pedersen says of racing at the nationals. “I’m really excited to see what the future holds.”
Meanwhile, Sikubwabo kept within range of the race leaders until the final lap, eventually finishing within 15 seconds of the podium filled by Mo Ahmed, Justyn Knight and Ben Flanagan in 14:50.91.
“It’s a tactical race where whoever can sprint at the end will win. It’s not like it’s all-out where you can do a (personal-best),” Sikubwabo says of the weather’s impact, pronouncing himself “really satisfied overall” to match his 2017 nationals result.
The race was a homecoming of sorts for Sikubwabo, cheered on by many in the crowd who were allowed to line the homestretch of the track for the 5k races.
A distance runner for his native Rwanda at the 2010 World Junior Championships distance competitor in Moncton, Sikubwabo landed in Ottawa 8 years ago with essentially nothing besides his running shoes after deciding to take a bus to Canada’s capital and declare himself a refugee.
He was eventually adopted by a local family and became a popular student at Glebe Collegiate Institute. Last summer, Sikubwabo got to wear the maple leaf internationally for the first time, representing Canada at the Francophone Games in Ivory Coast.
“It was amazing,” recalls the 6th-place finisher in the men’s 5,000 m. “It was an incredible experience. I can’t even describe it. But it just makes me want to do it again.”
A back-to-back national university cross-country champion, Sikubwabo is now based in Quebec City with Université Laval.
“It’s always nice to race in Ottawa, I feel like I’m back home again,” smiles Sikubwabo, who now operates a Foundation (runningchangedmylife.ca) to help young runners in Kenya and Rwanda. “I’m always so thankful for everything that’s happened to me in Canada. My parents are always there for me and have been very supportive, and all the people in Ottawa.”
Read SportsOttawa.com’s Wednesday track nationals recap at: Past Team Canada para Lions finish just shy of medals at home track nationals