There's a new track and field club in town and Shelby Jansen didn't have to think twice about joining it.
She was simply following the lead of her coaches, Kris Gaiesky and Steph Gouin, when they decided last June to break away from the Prince George Track and Field Club (PGTFC) and form their own club, Athletics North.
Lured by the promise of more practice time and a specialized approach to her training, Jansen is among a group of 23 track and field athletes who have made the choice to become charter members of the new club. She spent four seasons with the PGTFC before making the switch.
"The workouts are more according to what your specialty is," said the 15-year-old Jansen. "They train you so you focus more on your events and with PG Track it was more like a generalized workout."
In an indoor season that started Nov. 6 and ends March 26, Athletics North has been gathering for workouts three days per week at the Northern Sport Centre on Sundays and Wednesdays and at Van Bien school on Mondays. That's one more indoor session each week than the PGTFC trains. Once they can move outdoors, Athletics North practices will be five days per week, as opposed to the three-days-per week schedule offered by the PGTFC.
"When kids are in Grade 11 and 12, even Grade 10, they need to be doing more than three workouts a week, and that was the case last summer," said Gaiesky. "In order to get our athletes to nationals, we knew we had to be doing more. Our senior athletes will be doing five workouts a week, from April to August."
The clubs competed against each other for the first time two weekends ago in Kamloops at the Van Ryswyk Invitational meet and will face each other for the first time outdoors at Masich Place Stadium at the Sub-Zero meet on May 3.
Jansen, a Grade 9 student at PGSS, harbours no grudge against her former club and is convinced there's room for two track clubs in the city. She thinks it will turn into a friendly rivalry that will bring out the best in the athletes.
"I think it's going to be more competitive at the local meets when the clubs compete against each other," said Jansen. "We can compete against our friends at PG Track."
The club has doubled in size from 12 last summer to 23 now. Most of the 23 athletes in club are in the 15-17-year-old age bracket. One exception is nine-year-old Kenna MacWhinnie, who won gold in the triathlon (60m and 100m runs, and long jump) in Kamloops. Now in her second year of track, she's grown to love the 60 m hurdles and 100 m sprint, but she's also learning to like the shot put.
"I like it a lot here," MacWhinnie said. "I love my coaches. I trust my coaches. They tell me if I'm doing something wrong.
"It was my goal to win the triathlon. I'm proud of myself. It was really fun."
Jansen had a stellar weekend at the indoor meet in Kamloops, finishing first in the 200m, second in the 300 m and third in the 60 m sprint. She finished fifth in the 300-metre distance at the Legion national youth championships last summer in Langley and hopes to pushing for a medal at the 2014 Legion meet, in Langley again, Aug. 15-17.
"I'm pretty confident this year and I'm going to train to excel at nationals," said Jansen. "I'm hoping to make Team B.C. this year."
Carlee Campbell, a triple jumper/ high jumper, said it was a no-brainer to follow Gouin to Athletics North after one year of working together in the PGTFC. Campbell, 16, moved to Prince George from Kamloops in 2012.
"It's much better for me because Steph is a jumping coach and that's what I specialize in," said Campbell. "We're kind of like a family in this club, I feel we're closer together."
Gouin, a graduate of the University of Windsor, was with the PGTFC for four years before she and Gaiesky decided their philosophical differences left them no choice but to break away. They knew that would ruffle a few feathers but saw no alternative.
"We're just trying to grow the sport, because over the past few years the numbers have been declining," said Gaiesky, 23, a longtime PGTFC athlete who specialized in racewalking.
"If we all can have the common goal of promoting track and helping the athletes, we'll be fine."
Six of the eight Prince George-area athletes who competed in the Legion meet last year were from the Athletics North club, including Jansen, Campbell, Lauren Matheson, Emma Floris (Vanderhoof), Omar Medina and Ryan Gaiesky.
Gouin, 38, is a teacher at D.P. Todd secondary school. She she has a great relationship with newly-hired PGTFC head coach Bill Masich and his family and doesn't see that changing as a result of the split.
"To get the results we needed to qualify for Langley, they needed more time on the track, and unfortunately the other track club wasn't providing the time needed for those athletes to train," said Gouin.
"Some of those kids have been training with the other club for years, so they all know one another. Even when they went to Kamloops we were still cheering them on and we were still helping the other athletes. They're all friends and they go to the same high schools, you have to support one another."
Athletic North is still awaiting sanctioning from BC Athletics to receive its official club designation.
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