It was an injury that would become a blessing in disguise, both for Darren Jermyn, as well as a good number of local middle-distance runners.
Competing in his fifth and final year of university eligibility back at the turn of the millennium, while completing his masters in business administration at Laurentian University, Jermyn could sense a change coming.
“My body was saying, ‘that’s enough’ — I needed a break, but I wanted to stay involved,” the long-time Sudbury resident said after a recent Track North practice.
At the tender age of 27, Jermyn made the move from athlete to coach, teaming with friend and mentor Dick Moss.
The change marked the next step in a lifelong career spent in and around the track, one which dates back to his days as an elementary school student in New Sudbury. Attending Cyril Varney Public School, Jermyn was introduced to track and field through now retired teacher John Roberts, a tireless supporter of local athletics. “He was all about just getting out and enjoying it,” Jermyn noted.
It was a natural progression as the talented teen hooked up with high school coach Peter Hocking at Lasalle Secondary. “We had a group of friends and we all did it (cross-country and track), and we had success, both individually and as a team,” Jermyn said.
Clearly bitten by the track bug, Jermyn attended the University of Western Ontario from 1991 to 1995, capturing a provincial bronze medal in the 1,500-metre during his final year.
That, along with a 19th place finish at cross-country nationals while representing the Voyageurs in the fall of 1999, remain the highlights of his career as a competitive runner.
Steering clear of reminiscing about these very special memories presents one of the biggest challenges in transitioning from athlete to coach. “You really have to make an effort limiting stories about yourself,” he said, with a laugh. “Keep it focused on the athletes, and don’t put any huge expectations on younger athletes.”
It’s a mindset that is among a staple of ideologies that mark the Track North experience, one which continues to produce top-end athletes competing at the national and international levels.
“In high school, you will run the gamut of kids who train from as little as once a year to kids who train five or six days a week,” Jermyn said.
And so began our discussion of whether natural raw athletic ability supercedes boatloads of training in producing elite athletes, a topic on which Jermyn is clearly well-versed.
“Some kids who don’t train at all can get by on natural talent alone at the local city level. It rarely carries over beyond that, particularly in the distance races.”
A middle-distance and long-distance runner while competing, it comes as little surprise that Jermyn migrated to this area of familiarity when it came to providing guidance to aspiring track stars.
With the likes of Ross Proudfoot, Jeremy Cooper, Sebastian Diebel, Chantry Cargill and Joe Burke included in his current training group, Jermyn is understandably pleased with the current state of the Track North team.
“It goes in cycles, but the group of high school boys I’m coaching right now is probably the deepest group we’ve ever had.”
Spend just a few minutes with the well-spoken physiotherapist and one finds everything quickly put into context. “For starters, it’s all about keeping it fun. Once they get the bug, then we can train more seriously.”
Both Moss and Jermyn share the approach that runners should be trained for the long haul, that more is not better when it comes to kids. Talk to any athlete who has had the pleasure of gleaning just the slightest amount of track information from the Moss and Jermyn tandem, and their stories will tell the tale.
“He’s everything that track and field is all about,”Jermyn said of his athletic partner in crime. “It’s a learning environment all the time around Dick — and he makes it fun.”
Both Moss and his protégée are constantly kept updated from Track North alumni who have moved on, whether it comes from the Pennsylvania success of Villanova runner Kaitlyn Tallman or the ongoing Olympic hopes of Confederation graduate Andrew Ellerton.
And they share one remaining critical philosophy — never train hurt. It’s a template that has lead Jermyn, quite literally, to where he is today. And it’s one that continues to pay dividends for countless young athletes in Greater Sudbury and beyond.
Randy Pascal is the voice of Eastlink Sports and the founder of SudburySports.com.