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By Martin Cleary
The email came out of nowhere.
It was the fall of 2021 and the legendary Leslie Estwick had just returned to her volunteer coaching role with the Ottawa Lions Track and Field Club. Being the primary caregiver for her mother and the COVID-19 pandemic kept her away from the track for about 18 months.
When she opened the email from Athletics Ontario, she couldn’t believe what she was reading. The provincial body was seeking a Team Ontario head coach for the 2022 Canada Summer Games, which were scheduled for Aug. 6-21 in the Niagara region.
Estwick thought the process of hiring a head coach and coaching staff would have been completed by that time, since the Games were originally slated for the summer of 2021, but were postponed a year because of the pandemic.
But the more she read the email, the more she liked what she was reading. By the end of the email, Estwick believed she had the credentials for the head coaching role, which would be more of an administrative position rather than coaching individual athletes in the sprints, throws or jumps.
Estwick, who represented Ontario as an athlete at the 1981 Canada Summer Games in Thunder Bay in track and field’s heptathlon and high jump, attended the past three Games – 2017 in Winnipeg, 2013 in Sherbrooke, PQ., and 2009 in Summerside, P.E.I. – as an athletics event assistant coach.
“I’ve been a coach at the last three Games and I have the Games’ experience,” Estwick said in a recent phone interview. “I thought: ‘Let me try this.’ It’s more of an administrative role with no athletes to deal with.
“There are technical meetings every day (at the Games) to deal with things like entry scratches. I haven’t done this before, but I have enough experience to know what to do.”
During her 45 years of coaching with the Lions, Estwick has gained immense knowledge of athletics from many angles. She has served on Canadian mission staffs for multiple Olympic and Commonwealth Games, become a certified event official, was a national team coach in 2015, served on the Athletics Canada and Athletics Ontario board of directors and was a national team athlete from 1981-99.
As an athlete, she represented Canada at the 1990 and 1994 Commonwealth Games, the 1991 world championships and Pan Am Games and the 1989 Francophone Games.
Athletics Ontario was well aware of Estwick’s accomplishments in the sport and named her Team Ontario head coach for the Games, which come to Ontario about once every 20 years.
“I am honoured and grateful to receive this appointment,” Estwick said in an Athletics Ontario press release last fall. “I have loved my Canada Summer Games experiences as an athlete and as an assistant coach. I recognize its value in athlete development.
“I am really excited and looking forward to working with Athletics Ontario staff, coaches and managers to assemble an amazing Team O and bring an unforgettable experience to the next generation of athletes.”
Estwick vaguely remembers her days as an Ontario athlete at the 1981 Canada Summer Games. Don’t ask her how she placed in the heptathlon and high jump because she doesn’t remember. But she will tell you this.
“It was up in Thunder Bay and we had to fly up. It was a lot of fun,” Estwick recalled. “We had 28 athletes in a room together and we were put in bunk beds in a gymnasium.
“It was real social. We got to see other sports and it was my first experience in a multi-sport Games. There was a lot of running around to see other events, cheering on our team, winning points and trying to win the (Canada Summer Games) flag. We didn’t often get that in track and field.”
As Team Ontario athletics head coach, Estwick can promise the 70 track and field athletes bunk beds in a gymnasium are not part of the team’s accommodation plan. Instead, they will be staying in residence at Brock University.
Estwick has been a key behind-the-scenes figure dealing with many unexpected issues and extinguishing small fires.
The Ontario Canada Summer Games trials were scheduled to be held at the new Canada Games Park in early July, but that never materialized because work hadn’t been completed on the venue. Two weeks before the July 2-3 trials, an email was sent to all registered athletes indicating York University was the new site. That hurt as Team Ontario athletes lost a home-field-advantage opportunity by not having the trials in the new stadium.
Having the Saturday-Sunday trials on that weekend prompted another problem. The Canada Summer Games organizers wanted the Ontario team list of athletes on Friday, the day before the start of the meet. Estwick negotiated with the officials to deliver the athlete list on July 5.
Estwick also was involved in the late ordering of the team uniforms. The next step is developing a plan to send the different uniform pieces to the athletes before the team assembles in St. Catharines for the Aug. 14 pep rally.
“I’m not saying everything has gone smoothly. We have had our challenges,” said Estwick, who also has assembled a nine-member coaching staff for the able-bodied, para and Special Olympic athletes as well as developing a plan for back-ups, if athletes or coaches can’t fulfill their assignments.
Besides team meetings with Games officials and the team selection committee, Estwick also is responsible for making sure the athletes, who range from high school students to university students, follow the team rules, including no alcohol drinking, strict night curfews and making formal requests to leave the team before the end of the Games to attend university or family matters.
The Canada Games Council issued those restrictions “to make it even for everyone,” Estwick added. If an athlete breaks one of the team rules, he or she could be sent home, asked to leave the Athletes’ Village and/or have any team points negated.
She also has been frustrated dealing with equally stressed volunteers, who have been busy this summer covering multiple meets, including last weekend’s Ontario Summer Games in Mississauga.
Estwick applied for and accepted the Team Ontario head coaching position because she has loved the sport over the past six decades.
“Even when I was 12 years old, I taught gymnastics at the Y (YM-YWCA),” Estwick said. “I’ve always done that role (coaching). For me, part of it is giving back. Track and field is volunteer based. It’s a way of saying thank you to the coaches who coached me.”
10 local coaches part of Team Ontario contingent
Team Ontario will have a full contingent of coaches at the Canada Summer Games, including 10 current and former Ottawa and area coaches in six sports:
· Leslie Estwick, Nepean, athletics.
· Amanda Fader, Edwards, ON., athletics.
· Cheyanne Farquharson, Ottawa, canoe-kayak.
· Greg Kealey, Kanata, triathlon.
· Pat Lester, Carleton Place, canoe-kayak.
· Zach Quevillon, Ottawa, athletics.
· Pat Reid, Fonthill, ON., athletics.
· Scott Searle, Orleans, softball.
· Frank St-Denis, Ottawa, volleyball.
· Tracy Vaillancourt, Greely, ON., soccer.
In the two weeks leading up to the start of the Canada Summer Games, OttawaSportsPages.ca will be profiling participating local athletes. During the Aug. 6-21 Games, we’ll bring you daily reporting live from Niagara Region. Sign up to receive our free Ottawa at the Canada Summer Games Daily Newsletter to follow along!
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Martin Cleary has written about amateur sports for 50 years. A past Canadian sportswriter of the year and Ottawa Sports Awards Lifetime Achievement in Sport Media honouree, Martin retired from full-time work at the Ottawa Citizen in 2012, but continued to write a bi-weekly “High Achievers” column for the Citizen/Sun.
When the pandemic struck, Martin created the High Achievers “Stay-Safe Edition” to provide some positive news during tough times, via his Twitter account at first and now here at OttawaSportsPages.ca.
Martin can be reached by e-mail at email@example.com and on Twitter @martincleary.
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