By Dan Plouffe
With the type of elation Mathea Stevens displays when she hears the news that her coach has been chosen to receive a lifetime achievement award, you might think that she’d received the honour herself.
There was no question the 19-year-old modern pentathlete was overjoyed that John Hawes was being recognized by the Ottawa Sports Awards, and there’s no doubting the tremendous impact the Stittsville resident has had on innumerable young athletes from an involvement in the sport that covers the better part of a half-century.
“From all aspects, he’s always there to help me and take me through when I’m having a hard time,” Stevens describes, noting Hawes will offer help with school or family problems on top of his guidance in sport. “Sometimes we do shooting practices in his basement. Or he’ll feed me breakfast after swim practice if I’m hungry.”
Hawes is the owner and co-head coach of the Ravens of Carleton (ROC) swim club, and also acts as modern pentathlon national team coach. He instructs swimming, running and shooting himself, and oversees his athletes’ training with other top coaches for fencing and equestrian.
“Athletes come from all over Canada now to train with John,” notes Stevens, who did pick up a city award for herself as well – modern pentathlon athlete-of-the-year. “The amount of work, effort and enthusiasm that he continues to bring – he really deserves it.”
With a sporting career that covers over 45 years – first as an athlete who competed in the 1972 Olympics (in swimming) and the 1976 Games (in modern pentathlon) – it’s tough for Hawes to pick out specific highlights, although coaching Canadian Lyne Chornobrywy to a pentathlon world championship in 1983 certainly sticks out.
“But there’s an awful lot of enjoyment in the daily showing up to the pool and having a good time with the athletes,” explains Hawes, whose protégées have set more than 55 national and 120 provincial records. “That’s what keeps me coming back. It’s not the super highlights, it’s more the day-to-day feeling of helping at the pool and having them be successful.”
As he approaches his 60th birthday, Hawes plans to keep on contributing to the sport however he can in the future, while also enjoying the show as his son continues to rise on the national and international swimming scene.
Chosen as the city’s swimming athlete-of-the-year at the Sports Awards banquet on Wednesday, Jan. 19, 24-year-old Matt Hawes won numerous national titles in 2010, including his signature 200-metre backstroke event, to go with a 10th-place finish at a World Cup competition in Berlin.
“It’s a real journey and I’ve had a real good time watching the whole thing,” Hawes smiles. “And that’s right from the time when he was nine years old and he showed up to his first local swim meet and he took one look inside the pool and said, ‘I’m not doing that, I’m outta here!’”
Hawes says he can’t take any credit for Matt’s performance because “I was very much the parent” instead of the coach since his son moved on from the ROC club in his early teens.
“I’m quite pleased and proud of where he’s got,” adds Hawes, who felt “shocked” to receive the lifetime honour since he frequently deals with many exceptional coaches in Ottawa. “For me, it was totally unexpected, and I’m very happy for Matthew as well.”