By: Karen Karnis
As volunteer president of Athletics Alberta, Tim Berrett was elected to represent the interests of Athletics Canada’s provincial branches on the National Team Committee (NTC). In a nutshell, this committee is responsible for selection criteria and standards for national team events and athlete carding. In addition, the NTC is working on evaluating the national team coaching system post-2012 Olympics. Berrett says, “In my contributions, I always try to have the best interest of the current crop of athletes at heart – trying to ensure that they are treated fairly and with respect.”
Berrett is an extremely appropriate person for these tasks, considering he has represented Canada at numerous national and international competitions, including nine IAAF Athletics World Championships – a record equaled only by two others in the world – and five consecutive Olympic Games, beginning in Barcelona in 1992. His sport is race walking, most commonly the 20K and 50K, with a few track events for good measure.
Think about that for a moment: five Olympic Games, at four years apart…equals an incredibly long and amazing athletic career! It all began in England, when his high school coach told the running team that they must either help out at a local race walking event, or participate in it. After finishing 3rd overall in the 3K, Berrett went on to place 11th at the English schools championships a few months later.
Despite several more successes, Berrett says he didn’t consider competing internationally until after he had moved to Canada to pursue a Master’s degree at Queen’s University in 1987. “It took 5 more years of consistent training until I achieved the athlete’s ultimate dream of competing in the Olympics for Canada,” says Berrett. “But even that hung in the balance until the 11th hour as my citizenship application had to be expedited in order for me to be named to the team.”
As a race walker, Berrett encountered a lot of the same challenges as any runner. The biggest one, he says, is “maintaining focus during the long, lonely hours of training for an event that lasts 3 ¾ hours.” Just like in running, it takes years to develop a race walking career, and there isn’t a whole lot of money in it. Berrett says, “I was fortunate to have been supported during my career by Mizuno, who supplied me with high quality training and racing shoes and apparel. In covering up to 8,000km annually in training, I used to go through about 10-12 pairs of shoes every year, so Mizuno’s assistance was not insignificant. I was also ‘carded’ by Sport Canada and received a monthly stipend to help pay the bills.”
Other factors contributing to his success include his coach, John Fitzgerald, a support system of massage therapists, physiotherapists and chiropractors, staying injury free for the most part, and indoor facilities that allowed him to train through the harsh Alberta winters. Most importantly, however, Berrett says “I would not have been able to continue my career without the ongoing emotional and financial support of my wife, Tara. Without her backing, it would have been impossible for me to continue to train and compete at the highest level in my sport.”
Now that he’s retired from competition, Berrett continues to contribute to the world of Athletics. In addition to his involvement with Athletics Alberta and the NTC, he organizes a program called AthletiKids, a twice-weekly before-school program for elementary school kids. It is a modified version of Athletics Canada’s Run, Jump, Throw program. “I do this because I believe that the importance of physical fitness is often overlooked despite a mandated 30 minute daily activity in Alberta schools, and because I would like to provide an opportunity for youngsters to get exposed to the sport that has given me so much,” says Berrett. He adds, “The ultimate goal is to fine-tune the program to make it easily delivered by the non-expert instructor in schools across Alberta and beyond.”
Berrett also enjoys running for 45 minutes to an hour daily with Ozzie, his Portuguese Waterdog.
Q & A with Tim Berrett:
What is your favourite anecdote from your competitive career?
My training environment was not always what one might consider to be ‘ideal’. On a monthly basis, my coach and I would arrange to meet in person – alternating between Edmonton (where I was based) and Saskatchewan (where he lives) to work on technique. In the spring of 1993, it was my turn to make the trek to northern Saskatchewan just prior to competing at the World Cup of Race Walking that was to be held in Monterrey, Mexico. On arrival in Stanley Mission past midnight, after having driven 9 hours from Edmonton, I didn’t notice that there were no paved roads in the town. When I woke up the next morning and saw that the only roads were of the dirt variety, which (given the impending spring thaw) had turned to thick mud, I asked my coach where I was going to train for the next couple of days. As usual, he had a plan…even though the town did not have a treadmill, or a gym larger than a volleyball court. He drove me to a lake just outside town & informed m that this was to be our training venue. I looked for the path around the lake that did not exist. John checked the thickness and traction of the ice & deemed it safe enough to mark out a 500m course for me to walk countless laps around, while he kept a watchful eye from the middle of the lake. Over the next couple of days, that was the only place for me to train, but the workouts were good. So good, that I went on to have one of my best ever performances at the World Cup two weeks later (finishing 5th). Other athletes from around the world wondered what my secret training had been leading up to my breakthrough international performance. I simply told them that I’d been walking on water (remember that this was the days before underwater treadmills)!
What are your favourite Mizuno products?
All of them!
Shoes: While I was competing, I would use lightweight racing shoes such as Wave Ronin and Wave Musha for both training and racing. I also trained in lightweight trainers such as the Wave Precision and Wave Elixir. Now that I am doing more running, I enjoy the additional spring afforded by the Wave Inspire, and the traction on the trails provided by the Wave Ascend.
Outerwear: In winter, I rarely run without my Breath Thermo gloves and toque, as well as my Breath Thermo pants. On windy days, I enjoy the lightweight protection from the wind provided by the Cabrakan jacket.
Performance clothing: In summer, I’ll usually wear lightweight tee-shirts, such as the Aero, and fast-drying shorts like the Ascend. In the winter, I’ll use a Breath Thermo mock turtle long-sleeved tee-shirt on cooler days, or, on very cold days, a Breath Thermo Stretch Crew.