"I actually really enjoyed the social element of running - the results were a bonus."
But what an impressive string of results there were to look back upon, as Ryan Bradshaw returned to the days of his high-school cross-country/track career that produced no less than six OFSAA medals from 1993 to 1998.
Perhaps most impressive in the stretch that featured two teams medals and four individual podium finishes, including three in cross country alone, might be the fact that in the 21 years since Bradshaw graduated from Lo-Ellen Park Secondary School, SDSSAA representatives have a grand total of two medals from OFSAA cross-country to show for their collective efforts (Calum Passi – Bronze – Midget Boys – 2017; Devon Kershaw).
Now 41 years of age and having recently welcomed the addition of a son (Bryce) to the family fold, Bradshaw may have been as unassuming an OFSAA champion as the city has ever produced.
"I didn't even realize that I was very good, truthfully," stated the long-time GTA resident, thinking back to his very first appearance at provincials. "I had figured that winning around Sudbury was OK, but that I would get destroyed in southern Ontario. My parents didn't come to OFSAA my first year."
Born and raised in Sudbury, Bradshaw would wander his way into the high-school cross-country scene, more by virtue of friendships with the likes of Tom Salmoni, Jake Rukholm and the Kalviainen twins. "I don't even remember placing in the top ten in elementary races, maybe even the top twenty," said Bradshaw.
"But we had maybe six or seven close friends in grade nine at Lo-Ellen, so all of our training exercises were just a lot of fun. We had an element of competition between each other, but honestly, our training workouts during the week felt like more of a hangout session. I joined because I wanted to meet people."
So it was that Bradshaw attended his inaugural OFSAA race in the fall of 1993, having finished second to Joel Lavigne (Lasalle) at the cities midget boys' race. "I always went into those races nervous, which I think is pretty common," said Bradshaw. "All I remember was Terry's advice (coach Terry Moss), to focus on people around me and get into my own groove."
The game plan worked - for the most part.
"I was leading going into the final stretch," Bradshaw recalled. "I wasn't a good sprinter - never had the speed, still don't have any kind of speed. Two guys passed me. I just couldn't close it out, but it was a pretty cool experience."
It was also enough to convince his older sister Kelly that it was time to up the ante.
"She knew that I needed to be trained better," he said. "By the time I had finished my cross-country season, I was working with Dick (Moss)."
If his first OFSAA appearance was something of a blur, the same could not be said for the sequel. Because of a late birth date, Bradshaw maintained his midget status as he took to the trails in his grade ten year. He would claim first place at the pre-OFSAA race in Ancaster, besting a field almost 500 strong a few weeks before provincials.
"I think I was probably even a little more nervous my second year, just because people were talking about me," he suggested. "I guess that I knew that I had somewhat of a shot, but at the same time, you just never know."
What he did know, without a shadow of a doubt, was exactly how he wanted to tackle the course.
"We raced the escarpment," Bradshaw noted. "There was a really steep hill, a real game changer because it was towards the end of the race. Any time there was a hill on the course, it helped me out. I wanted to surge at the bottom of the hill, if I was feeling good."
Better still, Bradshaw was feeling great.
"It turned out that I opened up about a 40 second gap by the time I emerged at the top of the hill."
With his parents on hand, the northern Ontario harrier would earn gold.
And while his on-going battle with asthma, as well as the emergence of a very talented competitor from Sault Ste Marie (Matt Hayman - the pair finished one/two at OFSAA in grade 12) would mean that he would not repeat his individual gold medal performance, Bradshaw continued to enjoy success, right through to his time with the Laurentian Voyageurs cross-country team.
Unfortunately, following his sophomore season at L.U., the program was folded.
"That was kind of a nail in the coffin for the progress of my running career," said the graduate of the Sports Administration program.
Still prone to lacing 'em up and enjoying a recreational run - "I'll throw some music on and go out and clear my head" - Bradshaw remains the same social athlete that he always has been. "Some of the other runners that I knew really closely, people like Lisa Ouellet and others, they really had a drive to be top, top athletes."
That's just not Ryan Bradshaw.
Even his selection of music, a running accompaniment that he picked up maybe a decade ago, is fully consistent with the approach of a somewhat more laid-back elite level athlete. "I still have one of those old matchbox iPod shuffle things, whatever they are called, that I don't even know how to re-program," he laughed.
"Some people really like upbeat stuff, but I just want cool, relaxing tunes - sort of campfire music. I've always found that if you can shut your brain off, the pain (of running) kind of goes away anyways, and that's really what you're looking for."
At least, that's exactly what Ryan Bradshaw was looking for.