If any university system within Canada produces a top ten Olympian, that’s impressive in and of itself. If it does so on limited resources, all the while contending at major national meets, it’s enviable. It’s also an indication of the intangibles that make for a successful program.
Alex Cyr, a graduate of St. Francis Xavier’s Human Kinetics program and current graduate student at the University of Windsor, makes an attempt to capture and explain those intangibles in his book Runners of the Nish. The project originated in Alex’s fourth year at St FX. “My coach Bernie Chisholm knew that I wrote, so he called me into his office and said that he’d like to have someone chronicle the season that year,” Alex explains.
That year, Chisholm was approaching retirement with Eric Gillis, the aforementioned top ten Olympian, coming into the Head Coach position.
A native of Prince Edward Island, Alex says that St. FX, “seemed to me like a running Mecca with a lot of history and a lot of successful current and former athletes within the town.” While towns of comparable size in the region–Antigonish has has a population of 5,000–focussed on hockey, Alex also found it interesting and impressive that Chisolm’s program had a longevity and consistently “made noise in the provincial scene and beyond.”
That culture that Chisholm fostered within a relatively small program is what Alex wanted to capture beyond the training process.
“We are confined in a lot of ways,” Alex says, “the biggest being that we don’t even have an indoor track. But because of that, we have a willingness to work hard and cherish the resources we do have, which includes great support from one another and an extensive trail system.” The result is an emphasis on high mileage cross country style training that Alex describes as “the embodiment of blue collar running.”
Alex admits there’s a slight bias in that unlike authors like Chris Lear, who was one degree removed from the University of Colorado team when he wrote Running with the Buffaloes, Alex is telling the story from within. Nonetheless, Alex stands by his sentiment that there’s no better place for an undergraduate to pursue Cross Country in Canada than St. FX.
The book is less a historical account, but rather in the style of Lear’s classic, an attempt to capture that culture that has made the relatively small and limited program successful. “There’s a great camaraderie,” Alex says. “You see that in Antigonish when and the culture is important with the closeness of the team and the coaches. As a varsity athlete it’s incredibly inviting culture.”
To learn more about this book and to purchase a copy, visit runnersofthenish.com.