By Martin Cleary
Little did Will Batley know when he was playing West Carleton house league soccer there was a sprinter inside him screaming to escape.
“The summer before I entered high school (West Carleton Secondary School), I played soccer and realized I was fast and able to catch up to the ball,” Batley said in a phone interview this week.
But sprinting in a designated lane over 100 or 200 metres had never crossed his mind. He never ran in his elementary school’s year-end meets and never considered track and field as a sporting option.
That was until his mother Angela and father Josh put the bug in his ear.
“My mom and dad talked with me and my mom asked me to go try it out and see what happens,” Batley, 16, added. “I was all for it, no reason not to.”
He quickly realized he should try sprinting, when he knew he didn’t have the endurance to be a distance runner and couldn’t jump.
“Getting into a new sport was different at the start,” he added. “But once I started to win and qualify for the next meet, I said: ‘Ok, let’s do it.’”
In the spring of 2022, Batley made the West Carleton track and field team and wonderful things started to happen instantly.
Without any formal sprint training, he recorded three first-place finishes in the boys’ novice category and seven top-three results out of eight high school races, spanning from the National Capital Secondary School Athletic Association west conference championships to the provincial OFSAA finals.
Every time he flew down the track, his times were faster than the previous meet.
As a Grade 10 student-athlete in the boys’ junior division this season, Batley, who had a year of coaching under his belt, zipped even faster through his lanes compared with last season and put his name in the NCSSAA and OFSAA East Regional record books.
He said he owes his parents a huge thank you for their encouragement to have him tackle a new adventure as well as truckloads of gratitude to his C.A.N.I. Athletics coach Lyndon George and his strength and conditioning coach Chris Schwarz for their technical support.
In a period of about 14 months, Batley has developed into a sprinter with a future and now the Athletics Canada radar has tracked him down.
The national sport governing body recently named its team for the North American, Central American and Caribbean (NACAC) track and field championships and Batley will run for Canada in the men’s U18 200 metres.
The Ottawa athletics community also had three others named to Canada’s team for the 2023 NACAC championships July 21-31 in San Jose, Costa Rica – Ottawa Lions Derek Strachan (men’s U18 2,000-metre steeplechase), David Adeleye (men’s U23 110-metre hurdles) and Kevin Robertson (men’s U23 3,000-metre steeplechase).
“Will possesses a high-level understanding of sprinting mechanics,” George wrote in an email interview. “He is very patient and thorough in his execution of a race plan.
“This is not normal for a 16-year-old. He is still growing so you can expect improvements through that process alone. We are being very patient with him and ensuring that he enjoys all of this.”
After four high school championships this spring from the NCSSAA west conference championships to OFSAA, Batley was undefeated in the boys’ junior 100 and 200 metres.
His times were eye-catching and records fell along the way. His goals for his second high school season were to dip under 11 seconds in the 100 metres and run faster than 22.2 seconds for the 200 metres. He has put check marks beside both.
After running a record 22.14 seconds to win the NCSSAA city 200-metre title, he excelled at the OFSAA East Regional meet with goal-shattering and record runs in both sprints. He won the 100 metres in 10.94 seconds and the 200 metres in 21.89 seconds.
During the OFSAA track and field championships, which were staged in Ottawa at the Terry Fox Athletic Facility track, he lowered his personal-best time in the 200 metres with a gold-medal run of 21.80 seconds. He also won the 100 metres in 11.02 seconds.
His 200-metre time of 21.80 seconds ranks him No. 3 on the Athletics Canada list for boys’ U18, while his 100-metre clocking of 10.94 seconds has him nationally ranked at No. 11.
“I felt this (high school) season was amazing and to compete with my training partner (Preston Schwarz of Ashbury College) was great,” Batley said.
Schwarz was only fractions of a second behind Batley in their six races this season and he had his full share of medals as well. He posted two second-place showings at both the NCSSAA championships and the East Regionals as well as a pair of thirds at OFSAA. In their combined six high school finals, Schwarz was a total of 0.24 seconds behind Batley in the 100 metres and 2.25 seconds behind him in the 200 metres.
Batley had a simple reason for his improvement in times and placings this season.
“It was my coaching from Lyndon George and Chris Schwarz. If not for them, I would not be performing the way I did,” said Batley, who repeatedly praised his coaches throughout the phone interview.
“I had a plan and I followed it through. He (George) made sure nothing went wrong. He pushes you enough to run faster, but not to injure yourself.”
Batley trains with George three to four times a week either outdoors at the Terry Fox Athletic Facility or indoors at the former Rideau High School, which has become a community hub.
When training indoors, he spends a lot of time on the TrueForm Runner, which has a curved running deck, no motor like a treadmill and the runner supplies the power to drive the belt.
“No matter how fast you go, you cannot outrun the machine,” Batley explained.
According to Samsara Fitness, the TrueForm Runner “is controlled 100 per cent by the movements and force of the athlete using it. It forces you to maintain good posture and use your core strength, hamstrings and glutes to drive the belt backwards.”
Batley feels best suited for the 200 metres.
“I’m better in the 200 metres because I’m able to keep my pace throughout. I’m able to keep my breathing in and breathing out in rhythm,” said Batley, who has noticed a significant improvement in his speed endurance this season.
“Last year, I wasn’t able to do anything. Last year, my style was awful … I moved my arms side to side. This year, I’m moving my arms forward and back for a good rhythm. Lyndon George has helped me improve a lot.”
As he molds himself into being a better sprinter, Batley is driven by the competition that surrounds him.
“They motivate me to go faster and do the best I can,” he added.
Next month, Batley will experience his first international meet at the NACAC championships to see where he stands in this part of the world.
“When I found out I was selected to represent Canada and wear the Maple Leaf, it felt amazing,” Batley recalled. “I cannot thank Lyndon George and Chris Schwarz enough to have this opportunity to represent my country.
“This is one of the biggest stages for my age (group). It will get my name out there for university.”
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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