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Jul 11 2017 - JDLF Athlete Profile: Chris Robertson :On Having Something to Reach For

Chris Robertson: On Having Something to Reach For

 

Words by Grace Annear

 

Years ago, decathlete Chris Robertson came within a hair of representing Canada, but on qualification day, self-doubt stopped him from clenching the prize. Now, in 2017, he’s finally earned a chance to compete on an international stage.

 

Like many New Brunswickers, Chris’s sporting venture started on a pair of skates, stick in hand. In high school, a coach pointed out that, if Chris tried track and field, he could qualify for the Legion team and compete across the country. Immediately, Chris wanted to give athletics a go. Jokingly, he says, “I thought to myself: what are the events where I can most easily make the team? What are the events that no one else wants to do?”

 

So, Chris picked up a discus, and found out he could throw it pretty far. He tried hurdling, and again, realized he could run pretty quickly. Not only did he qualify for Legions, but he also discovered a love of the sport. When it came time to choose between hockey and track, the transition to athletics came easily.

 

Hooked by the team spirit and gorgeous campus, Chris enrolled at Western University. In his first year there, his all-around athleticism primed him for the decathlon. That summer, he set his sights on qualifying for the junior national team—the team headed to a PanAmerican championship.

 

That summer, he achieved the qualification points, but at the Canadian championship and team trial, he fell behind in early events. The competition came down to the final event, the 1500m race. By that point, Chris had mentally given up, and slogged through the race. When he crossed the finish line, the points total revealed that he’d finished third overall – just one spot shy of making the team. He walked away from the track, disappointed and dejected, thinking, “Now, you’ve got something to reach for.”

 

Chris went on to a successful university athletics career. While completing a BA in Kinesiology, he became a team captain at Western University, leading his team at several Canadian Interuniversity Sport Championships. “I always forgot about myself,” he says, “Sometimes to my own performance detriment. I always cared more about my teammates, my friends. I loved every minute of training and competing alongside them.”

 

Throughout university, he never stopped regretting that junior national championship. He wondered what could have happened if he’d been tougher, if he’d really given the race his best.

 

In the summer of 2016, the opportunity to test himself arose again—this time, in the shape of the World Francophone Games. He’d just moved back to New Brunswick, and trained out of the Moncton facilities, and the east coast city provided everything he needed to score 6800 points and earn his spot. 

 

“It was wonderful,” he says of his NB base. “The facilities, the gyms, the tracks, the resources -- I had everything I needed to train at my best.”

 

More than that, though, the New Brunswick coaches made all the difference. “I had excellent coaches in Steve LeBlanc and Dr. Earl Church. Between the two of them, the sheer amount of knowledge is amazing.”

 

An experienced para athlete coach, Dr. Church brought his hands-on approach to coaching Chris. “Imagine teaching a blind person how to throw a shot put. You can’t demonstrate it for them. You teach them by guiding their body, by guiding patterns of movement.”

 

“When Earl got in the circle with me, he’d grab my limbs and pull me around, physically correcting my technique. When he did that, everything in my body just sort of clicked.”

 

“I am immensely grateful to him. He’s been a huge mentor, and motivates me to become a coach one day, too.”

 

Qualifying for the World Francophone Games was on Chris’s mind the whole summer. A small meet in Moncton provided the big opportunity. The day turned out cloudy and warm. A few local decathletes competed, but a few Olympic hopefuls chasing last-minute standard drove down from Ontario to deepen the field.

 

“It was an amazing meet. Perfect conditions. Local athletes and national stars. Run Jump Throw Wheel kids sitting on the edge of the track, watching from the sidelines.”

 

As always, the ten events of the decathlon spanned two grueling days. For a sense of the enormity of the event, consider the equipment required to compete. “I have an entire bag devoted to shoes,” Chris says. “Ten pairs of spikes. That’s twenty shoes. Plus flip flops for after.”

 

“When you get to the end of two long days of competition, to race a the final event, a 1500, is absolute torture. Decathletes are not distance specialists – we’re mostly speed and power guys, and we’re not used to this kind of aerobic event. It takes a huge amount of courage to get on the line and go through with it.” 

 

“Normally, I’m thinking to myself “don’t get under your own skin -- this is gonna suck—but just push through it, just push through it.” That time around, though, I was very, very motivated. I knew I needed a specific time, a specific amount of points, because there was something big I wanted to accomplish.”

 

On the day, Chris bent over the startline with a concrete plan in mind, including specific splits. James Turner, a top national decathlete, lined up beside him, and given his speedy personal best, Chris knew he could use the competition to pull himself along.

 

“I wasn’t nervous, going in. I knew I wouldn’t make the same mistake as before. I wouldn’t let myself give up and quit.”

 

However, James started out slow and, early on, Chris passed him. “It was against my rational, but as a non-endurance athlete, I needed to get out hard and fade from the front, so to speak, if I wanted to run my fastest.” Chris focused on rhythm and led the second lap. Soon his legs weighed like concrete, and the pain set it.  James passed him with 600m to go, and from there on, Chris focused on not letting the gap grow too big. “I reminded myself of how, as a junior athlete, I didn’t try hard enough, how I didn’t make the Canadian team.” He bore down and gave the last lap everything he had.

 

He crossed the finish line, and knew from the clock he’d eclipsed the necessary time.

Immediately he collapsed into a puddle, rolling around with a big giant smile on his face.

 

“I was totally exhausted. But it was the greatest feeling.”

 

“The beauty of the decathlon is that you need to balance ten different events. There’s always something to work forward to, always a new goal to plan for, always new things to improve. I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to properly push with my legs in shotput, and I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to fully relax while running the 100m.” But, one thing’s clear, Chris Robertson knows how to never give up.

 

After fulfilling a his goal of competing at the 2017 World Francophone Games, Chris plans to continue competing as much as possible. “Whether or not keep I going in decathlon does depend on resources, and on the commitment to school.”

 

Now, Chris studies at the Canadian Academy of Osteopathy, pursuing a Master in Practice Diploma in Osteopathic Manipulative Sciences. The involved program spans four years. “Osteo is based on the body ability to heal itself, on the concept that, if someone can maintain proper structure, they can maintain proper health. The career choice is definitely inspired by my experience in sport, and the things my coaches taught me about possibilities of the human body.”

 

As always, Chris will chase the new goal with dedication and passion. “I really believe in [Osteopathy] conceptually. And I’m looking forward to a career where I can help people in their bodies.”

 

“But, I love sport, and I’ll get antsy without training and competing. I’ll always be hurdling, throwing, and jumping, every chance I get.” 

 

To follow Chris’ journey, hop over to ANB.ca, or check follow him on Facebook. 

2017-09-18 - Athlete Bio : Elizabeth MacDonald On Being A Veteran Competitor
2017-09-13 - New Brunswick Youth Cross Country Series
2017-08-30 - Athlete Profile: Naomie Maltais: On Harnessing Focus
2017-08-28 - MacPherson makes top 10
2017-08-27 - Athlete Bio : Alex Witmer: On Wanderlust, Echochambers, and Comebacks

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