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The heart of a runner

Friday August 8, 2014
Roxann Shapwaykeesic/Wawatay News

Gavin Jayvin Wesley of Kashechewan First Nation was among about 400 young athletes of Team Ontario that competed at the North American Indigenous Games from July 20-26. Wesley ran in several competitions and was winless before his final competition.
Submitted by Sage Laliberté

Gavin Wesley, 15, of Kashechewan finishes to earn a silver medal in the 19 and under 8km Cross Country Race in the 2014 Games.

“My calves are killing me,” said Gavin Jayvin Wesley as he sat on a bench, dusk falling on the final day of the North American Indigenous Games (NAIG) in Regina.

The Kashechewan member had just participated in the 800 metre, 1500 metre, 3000 metre, 4 x 400 metre relay and the eight-kilometre races.

It was warm in the large open courtyard where earlier hundreds of athletes practiced during all hours of the day, a natural gathering for anybody looking for a place to rest or play.

Gavin’s journey to the Games began in April, when Team Ontario coach Scott Haines called and spoke with Gavin’s father to invite the 15-year-old. He had been spotted at a OFSAA Cross Country race held in November 2013. Gavin ran a 5.20K race with Midget boys and placed 17th out of 253 runners with a time of 19:05.

Gavin started running on his own when he was 12 years old.

“I was always getting teased about my weight. At first it was really hard but fun. I started one kilometre at a time.”

By Grade 7, he had lost the weight and instead of being criticized about his weight, his peers started to notice how fast he was.

Later, at 14 years old, he was back and running at his home community of Kashechewan First Nation. He would run a five-kilometre loop around the dyke which was just dirt and rock at least five times a week, sometimes with his principal Haydn George.

He also had support from his teacher Andy Fehst who told him: “You’re fast and if you keep training you could do something with running.”

The deputy chief and band office sponsored his travel to Regina where he stayed in the University of Regina dorm rooms where he says, “It was a unique and fun experience staying with people from different parts of Ontario”.

At the Games, Gavin found out he would be running against boys four years his senior. He was placed in the 19 and under category.

“I was really nervous everyday, everyone was older than me.”

On July 23, he ran the 3,000 metre race against nine other boys.

“It was difficult running a short distance, I’m not used to such a fast pace and short distance.”

Even though he came in fifth he said, “I was very disappointed. It was my mothers birthday and I wanted to win a medal for her.”

Chaperone Michelle Legault of Sudbury said, “After the first race he went in the corner away from everyone and was crying. When I went up to him I asked him, ‘What’s the matter?’ He told me about his mother. I asked Gavin where she was and that’s when he pointed up to the sky.
Then I started crying with him.”

Gavin’s foster mother had passed away in June 2013.

Michelle’s daughter, a fellow runner, came over and gave Gavin a hug that lasted minutes. She told him he was a really good runner and that they were all proud of him.

“I was afraid of letting down my mother, my friends and everyone in my community,” he said.

Gavin’s last race was the 8000-metre cross-country run on July 26, with no medals yet, he knew this was his last chance. The time coming up to the race he had increased anxiety and was more nervous than ever. His teammates and coach told him to just do his best.

All day in his mind, Gavin recited, “I have this!”

When Gavin finally came to the starting line he said: “All my anxiety disappeared and turned into anger and I said to myself, ‘It doesn’t matter if I have to die in this race, I AM going to win a medal!”

The track is made of two four-kilometre loops that included a gruesome hill. By the second loop he knew he was going to get a medal as the two boys in front of him started to slow down, he just kept working harder than ever.

“Even though I knew I was going to medal I still pushed myself – with 800 meters or so left I was exhausted.”

A handful of teammates and chaperones ran with Gavin for the last 50 meters cheering him on to the end. He finished with both arms in the air.

“I ran and fell down once I crossed the finish line, I lay there with a smile on my face. At that moment I felt relief and I knew my mom was proud.”

Wiping away tears, he sat on the bench, satisfied in the incredible effort he put in the last few days. In that conclusion of the interview a large grey rabbit came through the university grounds and stopped beside him for a long moment before bounding away.

For the future, Gavin intends to keep training for the next NAIG. His goal is to earn a medal in each race, the 800 metre, 1500 metre, 3000 metre and the 8000 metre.

To future athletes hoping to compete in the next NAIG he says, “Go ahead and try and give it your best shot, and most importantly, have fun.”

Upon his return to Kashechewan, Gavin received a welcoming party and an honorarium from his band for a job well done.


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