“I always dreamt of going to the Olympics? Who doesn't?”
The rhetorical questions asked by Renee-Ann (Wilson) Saumure might not be nearly as far-fetched as one might first imagine. Yes, this is all while acknowledging the 49 year old long-time resident of Valley East and mother of two did not truthfully come particularly close to even garnering a glimpse of the pinnacle of athleticism.
As a fairly elite all-around athlete attending Ecole Secondaire Hanmer in the late 1980s, there was no obvious pathway to see where the javelin might take her. Introduced to the sport by her father (Bob), a high-school physical educator in Rayside, Wilson was provided with a fundamental base of knowledge - sort of a Javelin Throwing 101, if you will.
“I will always be grateful to my dad for giving me the opportunity to try it,” she said. “With dad being at a school, he had the luxury of bringing home a javelin. The first time that I threw it, I threw it like a baseball and almost hit myself. Dad gave me the basics of what he knew, so a little technique.”
“I really didn’t have any other coaches, other than my dad.”
Wilson recalls competing in the javelin in grade nine, making the first of five straight appearances that year at OFSAA. As a second year midget in 1987, she would claim silver at the provincial championship, adding a bronze a year later. Along the way, the middle child of three also qualified for the 100m dash at OFSAA in either grade nine or ten.
“My PB was like 13 seconds or so,” she said. “You get blown out of the water (at OFSAA) and say never again.” Still, the javelin and 100m dash is quite the rare one-two punch for any single athlete when it comes to competing with the very best high-schoolers in Ontario.
That inability to be competitive at the OFSAA level clearly wasn’t the case for the javelin. Yet Wilson was not snatched up by a local track club, or perhaps a coach from a competing secondary school, someone with enough of a throwing background to understand that a NOSSA record toss of some 37 metres in grade ten might actually be a prelude to some latent potential.
Her story stands in stark contrast to that of her daughter, Ariane Saumure, a multi-sport talent who played an average of 21 minutes a game as a freshman guard with the Western Mustangs basketball team in 2019-2020. Entering high-school, the young sharp shooter was already discussing post-secondary options. That wasn’t the case a generation ago, at least not for her mother, whose OFSAA experience would bear very little resemblance to many of the SDSSAA medal winners from the past twenty years.
“I was never approached by a club team, a coach,” recalled Wilson. “We had a teacher rep who would drive us to OFSAA, but he wasn’t a coach.”
Perhaps it was because Wilson was also enjoying a certain level of success on the basketball court as well, cracking the lineup of the University of Ottawa Gee Gees in her first year of post secondary studies in the nation’s capital. Perhaps it was simply a bi-product of competing in the javelin.
“I had no close friends who were track athletes,” she said. “I remember a few of the better athletes from other schools, but it’s not like we had a kinship. Nobody knew me - and throwing was not as glamorous as compared to being a sprinter or a jumper.”
Wilson is quick to note that although she might deal with the occasional fleeting thought of her potential, looking back, it’s a long way from terming it as regrets. It was simply the reality of life at that time. “I was like 15 years old - I don’t think that you are that self-aware at that age,” said Wilson.
“I don’t remember ever thinking that if I take this seriously, I could go far.”
Maybe she could have, maybe not. The fact that she still smiles and laughs as she shares her memories is wonderfully enlightening. “I remember getting pamphlets in the mail from American universities,” she recalled. Unfortunately, at the very forefront of the pamphlets were pictures of typical NCAA women’s throwing teams.
"My first thought was, I don’t want to look like that,” she stated. “That’s what your young mind thinks.”
Like most, her memories are most vivid of those truly special moments, including the day that she obliterated her previous personal best, tossing the javelin roughly five metres further than she ever had before to establish a new mark at NOSSA. “We were in the Sault - it was very cold, so cold that day, and raining and miserable,” Wilson recalled.
“Definitely not ideal conditions for track. But I remember the moment I released the javelin, I remember seeing it soar. It almost felt like there was something that just got under it, but I think it was just the right release with just the right angle. Who knows - I was just so elated.”
Within a few weeks of her first OFSAA medal, Renee-Ann would turn her attention to her summer pastimes, accomplished slo-pitch and softball player that she was. And once into the fall, it was back to another year of school sport. This was the background that she and her husband Gilles would draw upon as they navigated the very busy athletic schedules of both Ariane and her brother, Samuel two decades or so later.
“There were pressures of early sport specialization, but I’m a physiotherapist and I’ve done some research, just to try and make sure that we were doing right by our kids,” said Wilson. “We struggled with that. I’ve always felt that all of the sports help - and I know for myself, I liked the change.”
“I can remember thinking that thank god basketball is over so that now we get to start volleyball. I think I would get bored; that’s just my personality. I don’t think that I would have enjoyed early sport specialization.”
In many ways, for her, there was no reason to specialize, early on. “I was always strong, sort of naturally muscular,” said Wilson. “I think that’s just genetics.” She could throw and run and play pretty much any sport that she wanted.
Ironically, despite her success with the javelin, the remaining throwing disciplines did not necessarily come easy. “I tried both the discus and the shot put, but I was never as good with either of those two,” she said. “I don’t know why - maybe just never got the hang of it.”
“That’s a good question on why the javelin fit. It may have just been because the outcome was better. That may have been the driver.”
It wasn’t as though Renee-Ann Wilson was going to overthink it. She’s more of a go with the flow individual, thankful for all that she accomplished and self-confident enough to navigate the memories of her journey with ease.
“I kind of think that I was good at a lot of things but not great at one - and I’m proud of that.”