By Ottawa Sportspage, for Louis-Riel Rebelles
Picture a running coach and it’s probably someone in a track suit with a whistle, right? Well, for Louis-Riel high school track & field/cross-country program director Sébastien Lalonde, his tools of the trade are just as likely to include a lawn mower and a pair of work gloves.
Why? You see, he figures that climbing the giant Green’s Creek toboggan hill becomes more tolerable when it’s done as a team challenge, so out comes the lawn mower to clear long grass and weeds to make the path wide enough.
And leaping over logs just makes for a classic Canadian cross-country course, so out come the work gloves to haul some downed trees out of the woods into the runners’ paths (strategically placed before a muddy landing area for added entertainment, of course).
“It’s really about giving young students a fun experience, and hopefully building their enthusiasm for the sport,” smiles the Hawkesbury native, whose school recently had every Grade 7-8 student take part in their September XC meet.
A middle-distance runner during his high school days, Lalonde began his off-the-track career in 2002 with the Ottawa Lions Track-and-Field Club.
He’s now the club’s lead timing official, and has clocked all levels from elementary school kids up to the great Usain Bolt himself. Lalonde now passes his knowledge and skills on to students at Louis-Riel, who are taught to use the school’s own FinishLynx system.
Including its popular 15-year-old indoor series, Louis-Riel runs roughly 20 meets for over 7,500 athletes each year.
Lalonde holds NCCP Level 3 coaching certification for middle distance running (and Level 2 in all other athletics disciplines). But beyond his technical abilities, the University of Ottawa education grad is well known for his friendliness, and for cultivating a positive and fun team atmosphere within an individual sport.
“Coach Séb’s passion for track-and-field is unmatched, but more importantly, he cares. He cares about your individual improvement not only as an athlete, but as a person as well,” highlights Dimitri Pronko, a University of Western Ontario Mustangs football offensive lineman. The Vanier Cup champion was a thrower/sprinter while at Louis-Riel, and credits Lalonde for developing his running technique and speed in football.
The Louis-Riel track/XC program is notorious for helping athletes from many different sports backgrounds improve in their pursuits, or help them discover new talents on the track.
At the 2018 Canadian Under-20 Track-and-Field Championships, Louis-Riel counted four silver medallists who’d started out in either soccer, gymnastics or volleyball within the school’s sports-study program.
“It’s beneficial for our student-athletes because the classroom is a few feet away from the track,” Lalonde says of the world-class Dome Louis-Riel, home to North America’s only 400-metre indoor track. “I mean, how many schools are there where you can you finish your soccer practice in the middle of winter and then try out pole vaulting? We’re really blessed to have the facility and the program that we have.”
Lalonde’s athletes have won piles of medals and obtained numerous post-secondary scholarships along the way. Amongst the accolades are Louis-Riel appearances at every OFSAA XC and track provincial championships since Lalonde began teaching/coaching at the school in 2007, and placing 3rd overall in the aggregate team standings (and best out of schools that scored points for both genders) at OFSAA track 2018 – despite Louis-Riel being amongst the smaller schools for student population.
“But for me, it’s just the athletes’ progression that’s really rewarding to see as a coach,” signals Lalonde. “Regardless of their ability, just to see an athlete come in, work hard and beat their personal best every few months is wonderful.
“Another thing I like is that there aren’t any ‘gimmes’ in track and cross – you have to work for it. That’s a core value of the sport.
“Also, every lesson you learn from sports can be applied to life: work hard, never quit. And what’s crucial to being passionate and working hard is just finding something that you really like.”