Graduating Ridgemont runner lives life in the Fast lane

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Joe Fast (Photo: Dan Plouffe)

By Riley Evans

Elite-level student athletes are a special breed; they’re expected to mix sport, studying and a social life and even sometimes part-time work, but when it comes to Joe Fast, the Ridgemont High School student truly makes you question whether or not there are actually only 24 hours in a day.

Fast, 17, grew up playing a number of sports. Early in high school he wrestled, played rugby and volleyball before falling in love with track. He started out running the 800-metre before trying the 1500m, which would become his signature event. In 2018, he won gold in the OFSAA junior boys 1500m and in the 1500m at the U18 provincial championships. He even made the finals of the under-20 Canadian championships in the event that year, as a 15-year-old.

“I love running because I feel like it’s a sport where you get out of it what you put into it,” said Fast. “Obviously there’s a talent factor too, but it’s the hard work that gets you results.”

Fast’s work ethic on the track is matched, if not somehow surpassed, by his efforts outside of it. He managed to secure the highest grade point average in his class for both Grade 9 and 10, and while he was never told where he ranked in Grade 11, it was likely in the same vicinity.

“Whatever Joe does, he puts 150 per cent into it,” said Katherine Lalonde, who coached Fast at Ridgemont, but also taught him in grades 9 and 10. “When he hands something in, it’s not just good. It’s above and beyond every time.”

When asked for a story that defined Fast, Lalonde recounted a time where, the night before an OFSAA race, Fast insisted on going straight back to the hotel after dinner so he could finish a law paper before bed, rather than ask for what she believed would have been a very warranted extension.

While highly impressive in his ability to balance multiple priorities, Fast said that it hasn’t always been perfect, and he admits that he does have the propensity to overextend himself. The desire to achieve academic perfection has often kept him up into the early hours of the morning. He says the consistent lack of rest and recovery led to a dip in his running performance in 2019, where he failed to win the 1500m amongst senior boys at OFSAA.

“I think it was a big learning experience for him,” said Eleanor Fast, Joe’s mother. “He had to learn to say no to things sometimes.”

In addition to schoolwork and athletics, Fast also immersed himself into his high school community, having apparently inherited a niche for advocacy from his mother. Eleanor is the executive director of Equal Voice, an organization dedicated to electing and supporting women at all levels of political office. She, herself, also ran in the last provincial election. Her son was Ridgemont’s student council president and expressed the desire to expand the council’s role in student life, as well as use his platform to push on behalf of students at large. In 2019, he led a protest at Ridgemont against cuts to education funding imposed by the Ontario government. Looking out for others is a common theme when it comes to Fast, those who know him closely said.

“He’s always the first person in line to cheer on a teammate, or pick someone up when they’re down,” said Lalonde.

Even as COVID-19 wiped out what would likely have been his final high school season, his first thoughts were of other students who had also lost their last chance to achieve some of their goals.

“I obviously would have liked to finish my last season,” he said. “But the fact that I was already able to accomplish a lot definitely took the sting off. I honestly feel worse for people who hadn’t had the chance to go to OFSAA yet, or hadn’t been recruited.”

Fast instead turned his attention to what lies next. If all things go according to plan, he’ll be attending Princeton in the fall. True to form, Fast chose an Ivy League education over the more elite running schools that were interested in him.

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