Scottish track experience meets Sudbury youthful potential
by Randy Pascal
When it comes to off-season track and field training in Sudbury, one makes due with the limited resources on hand. Thank god for some very special local
Last June, Kurtis Wennerstrom, then of Algonquin Public School, bettered the Rainbow Board elementary senior boys triple jump record,
previously held by Ryan Taylor, extending the existing mark of 11.81 metres forward to 11.86 metres.
The fact that he accomplished this with essentially little or no coaching was nothing short of amazing. Safe to say that, at that time, Wennerstrom
would have possessed little prior knowledge of one Tom Black. Truth is that few in Sudbury likely did.
Now nearing his 60th birthday, Black moved to Canada at the age of 24, leaving his native Scotland behind. A member of the Scottish national track and
field team for some seven years, Black would set aside his passion for the jumps and the sprints, looking to start a new life, first in Toronto, and
eventually, in Sudbury, in 1990.
As his own children reached high school age a dozen to fifteen years later, Black would return to the track, recognizing a landscape far different from
the one in which he originally thrived as a youngster.
“In Scotland, it’s a lot more involved, because it’s such a smaller country, less travel, less costs,” said Black. In fact, he first began training at
the tender age of eight, the same time he would be introduced to soccer. By the time secondary school studies arrived, things were getting serious.
“When you started into high school track, that was when you either moved forward or dropped out.” In Black’s case, there was progress to be seen,
topping out with appearances at both the Commonwealth Games Trials, as well as the Olympic Trials.
Once on this side of the pond, his track and field dreams would sit idle for more than two decades. “I came here to a new life, and wasn’t able to do it
(track and field), and then got back into masters track at age forty five,” he said.
But it was through coaching that he eventually found his niche. “I was involved with Lasalle, with my kids, and through that became involved with
Track North, and then finally with the university team.”
Stepping away, for a bit, once his offspring became Lancer alumnus, Black meandered his way back in the past couple of years. That was great timing, for
young mister Wennerstrom. “When I met Kurtis, last summer, he was a young kid standing at the end of a runway, and I had my training group out here (at
Laurentian),” said Black.
“I had no idea who he was. He was interested in working with me, so his father contacted me. We worked as much as could, before the winter came.” It
would seem that even this limited exposure to proper training has paid off.
Earlier this month, Wennerstrom attended the Athletics Ontario Bantam-Midget-Junior Championships at York University, earning a silver medal in
the long jump with a leap of 5.54 metres, and placing fourth in the triple jump.
There is little doubt, in the mind of the grade nine student at Lo-Ellen Park Secondary School, that Black has him on the right track. “Last
year, when I was jumping, I was just jumping, trying to get as far as I can,” said Wennerstrom.
“Tom taught me a lot of technique. The run up, right now, is what we were focusing on most, and the second jump (of the triple jump) has improved a lot
from last year. He taught me how to push and to swing my arms and lift my knee up.”
Apparently, Black has not lost his touch one iota. “The fundamentals of training are all the same,” he said. “I’m finding now that everybody was getting
too technical, and now they seem to be going back to the old grass roots of training.”
“I will always watch a young athlete do it the way they want to do it, and from there, I can see where they need to be tweaked,” added Black. “Then we
work our way into that. Kurtis, as an example, never had a run up. You start from the base roots and work your way up.”
“I now have marks set up, I don’t count steps,” stated Wennerstrom. “It just comes naturally now, because of how many times I have run up from a certain
point that we marked down. I don’t even usually look at the board when I jump. I try and run through, and I know when to jump.”
While his results were better in the long jump than the triple jump, this time around, Wennerstrom still believes the latter is where his true strength
is found. “The triple jump was the first event I was doing (at York), I was really nervous for that one,” he noted.
“When I did the long jump, I just felt more comfortable. I wasn’t focusing on how many people were watching. I wasn’t as scared or as nervous.” And
though his new young protégée may have arrived with an impressive base of talent, Black is open to assisting anyone looking to improve.
“I’ll coach anybody, fun or serious,” he said. “You probably coach more athletes that are just having fun than the serious ones. I’ll do it for any
school.” And in spite of the challenges that face aspiring Sudbury jumpers in the winter, Black will persevere, meeting up with his athletes a few times a
week at the L.U. fieldhouse.
“Up here, we can do run ups, we can work on technical stuff, but you cannot jump,” he said. “We can put you through proper training program, but the end
result cannot happen here. There’s no sandpit.”
At least not until mid April or so, when Black and his crew head outdoors, meeting regularly at the Laurentian track. That’s where you will find him.
This local treasure has no objection to being discovered.