Thank you Coaches / Introducing Gord

In the next series of posts, I would like to take the opportunity to tell a few more stories and thank some of the coaches who have helped shape me as a person and as an athlete.

Let’s start with my first official coach, Gord Salt.

Gord was my coach while I raced Nordic Skiing with the University of Guelph Gryphons.  My first e-mail to Gord went something like this: “Hello, my name is Stephen Kilshaw.  I’ve never skied before, but I think I’m pretty fit.  Can I ski for the Varsity Team.”  Of course I’m paraphrasing, but that must have been how it read.  Oh my goodness, I can only imagine Gord receiving this e-mail.

His response was, “Come to our first meeting in the Athletics Building, room #202.”  (I actually remember that it was room 202.)  After that meeting he told me I could do the dry land training with the team until the snow came.

I’ll always remember the first training camp we did as a team, guys sleeping on the floor in Gord’s living room, girls staying down the road.  Gord opened his home to us.  He gave us so much.  On one afternoon the weather was particularly ugly.  It was recommended, suggested, insisted, that I stay back at the house for safety reasons as my roller skiing abilities were likely a hazard to the rest of the team.  Of course, I wanted to be training with the group, but I was still so blown away to be included in the team that I was cool with it.

I was allowed to attend the second training camp which actually took place on snow.  Part way through the camp Gord took me aside and told me, “Steve, you have a big engine.  If you want to keep skiing with us you can.  You will have to be ok with being crushed by the competition for the first 2 years of racing.  You might have a chance at racing well in years 3 & 4.”  Honestly, this was music to my ears.  I was so stoked that I could keep training with the team.

Something Gord was legendary for (in my mind anyway) were his talks on goal setting.  It sounds corny, but after the talk we had as a team in first year, my vision shifted.  It was more than setting measurable goals, writing them down, and all that good stuff.  It was something about the process Gord presented.  It was how he asked us to commit.  I felt like he was there asking me to become better, encouraging me to expand my mind and allow myself to believe that something I had dreamed of would be possible.

Another famous Gord moment took place when we were in exam period.  I remember this so well.  We had just finished running hill strides on the Golf Course.  It was dark, probably late November.  Some of the athletes on the team were asking if they could miss Thursday’s practice to study for exams which began on Friday.  Gord replied, “Come to practice, fail the exam, and learn how to plan your life.”

Again, this was music.  I was looking for any excuse to attend practice, but more than that, this was a message I needed to hear.  Plan your life.  Take charge.  Figure out how to make it work.  (On a side note, our team ended up having the highest GPA of any Varsity team that year.)

A few weeks later we were in the midst of exams.  Some of us were nervous about exams & the attitude was carrying into practice.  Gord asked us to pause for a moment,  “Look guys, most of you will have at least 3 separate careers, each different from the one your studying for right now.  What you’re learning about now really won’t change your life.  Your ability to focus on practice will.”  It’s been 10 years since Gord told us this, 10 years and it still sticks out in my mind.  

Attention.  Presence.  Focus.  Focus will change your life.

I guess I should probably include the fact that Gord taught me how to ski.  That was pretty big.  So was teaching me how to train.  Over the next 4 years of training with Gord and the rest of the Nordic team I grew so much.  Not only was Gord my first real coach, he was the person who got the ball rolling.  In fact, he was the first person to even notice there was a ball.

Thank you Gord.  You changed my life.