By Dan Plouffe
Laura Amoi, Nyoka Maxwell and Hans Lafleur share piles of similarities.
They are all members of Ottawa’s big 40-athlete-strong Canada Summer Games contingent, set to compete in track-and-field at the July 28-Aug. 15 multi-sport event for young, rising Canadian athletes.
They are all members of the local CANI Athletics club, and amongst Canada’s very best, which they demonstrated on their home Terry Fox track at the July 6-9 Canadian Track-and-Field Championships in Ottawa.
And, they all had to be dragged kicking and screaming into track-and-field initially.
“No, what is that?” was Maxwell’s first reaction when approached with the idea that she might do well in track with all the speed she displayed as a football player of 6 years.
Volleyball was cool too, but not track. At least that’s what she thought at first.
“When I was in Grade 9, I was like, “OK, I want to try this out,” recalls the John McCrae Secondary School grad. “And then I was good at it. So to figure out something, you’ve got to keep doing it, right? So I kept doing it.”
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Lafleur also couldn’t be bothered to try track-and-field; the Franco-Cité high school student was having too much fun playing just about every other sport.
“When track season came along, I had pretty good jumps from basketball and volleyball, so one of the trackers took me in from – what was it, touch football practice? – and said, ‘Come high jump,’” he recalls.
Amoi, meanwhile, once dreamed of being a world-class ballerina. She wasn’t sold on track-and-field as a serious pursuit either, though it wasn’t as difficult to convince her to get out and run around a bit.
“I got into track-and-field – I want to be honest with you – because in high school, you could miss a lot of days of school,” admits the Lycée Claudel grad, now studying commerce at the University of Toronto.
But she loved long jump the moment she first tried it at the suggestion of Lotfi Khaida, who remains her coach now, 5 years later.
“It started as something really fun to do, and I kept with it,” adds Amoi.
For the CANI girls, they improved slowly. Their high school results didn’t necessarily suggest they’d be on the path to Canada Games – Maxwell missed the OFSAA 100 m final in her senior year, while Amoi was 18th and 20th in OFSAA triple and long jump at the same stage.
But they stuck with it and enjoyed swift improvements in recent years – Maxwell thanks to increased focus and attention to detail, and Amoi since starting to train 6 days a week at U of T and learning patience and persistence while dealing with injuries.
Competing against Canada’s best at the senior level at nationals, Maxwell was 5th in the women’s 200 m and Amoi 9th in long jump.
Lafleur was a bit different. The 6’1” high jumper found success quite quickly – clearing 1.95 m as a Grade 11 student – so his improvements have been more gradual in recent seasons.
“Every year, even this year, I’ve been able to increase on my height with my coach,” signals Lafleur, who decided to stay in town and study at Algonquin College instead of pursuing opportunities elsewhere. “I always had a saying: you don’t mess with what works.”
They’ve shared similar paths in their sport, and now the close clubmates are thrilled for the chance to experience Canada Games together.
“CANI is like a family,” Lafleur underlines. “It’s like having my sisters with me. They will keep me in check, I’ll keep them in check, and hopefully we will help each other out the day of competition to all come back with gold medals.”
The Canada Games features over 4,000 participants from each province and territory across 16 sports, and provides an exceptional developmental opportunity, says CANI head coach Lyndon George, whose club has sent 3 athletes to back-to-back Canada Games.
“It prepares them for the next level, which is World Champs, or Pan Am Games, or hopefully the Olympics down the road,” signals George, noting athletes have the chance to meet teammates from different parts of Ontario as well as athletes from across Canada, experience what an Olympic Village is like, and compete in front of a crowd at a big competition.
“We feel very good about representing Ottawa,” George adds. “We’ve always felt that Ottawa is a great sports community.”
A pair of Ottawa Lions Track-and-Field Club products now wearing the colours of their universities’ clubs will also race at Canada Games.
Ashbury College grad Lindsay Brandys ran under 12 seconds to place 11th in the senior women’s 100 m at nationals and missed the 200 m final by just one spot. She now competes for the University of Toronto Varsity Blues, following in the footsteps of her grandfather, a former Varsity Blues soccer player.
The University of Guelph’s Shyvonne Roxborough, who now sports Speed River track club colours, was one of the star local performers at nationals.
A soccer player once upon a time – “I was only good because I was fast,” cracks the South Carleton High School grad – Roxborough got an invite for a trial with the Lions after taking part in a school race she did only for fun.
Fast forward a few years and Roxborough is the Canadian U20 champion in the 100 m and 4×100 m, bronze medallist in the 200 m, and a member of both Team Ontario for the Canada Games and Team Canada for the July 21-23 Pan American Junior Track-and-Field Championships in Peru (where she won a 4×100 m relay bronze).
“I have more in me,” cautions the athlete who set a personal-best time of 11.68 seconds at nationals.
—with files from Charlotte van Walraven