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The pride of Ross Proudfoot - and a legacy like few others
2021-07-21
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Ross Proudfoot will surely go down as one of the greatest distance runners that Sudbury has ever produced.

Along with the likes of Ray Paulins and a few others, and keeping in mind that acclaimed marathoner Ron Wallingford moved to Sudbury after much of his competitive running was done, Proudfoot’s place among an elite handful of locals is unquestioned.

Unfortunately, given the very nature of the sport, questions of some sort always persist.

“That’s one of the biggest detriments to running – there are just so many what ifs,” Proudfoot acknowledged recently, now a few years removed from a string of injuries that derailed his quite legitimate Olympic berth bid.

First garnering attention as a top-end elementary runner at Jessie Hamilton Public School, the now 29 year-old graduate of Guelph University did not rush his way to prominence, in spite of the fact that he was located smack dab in the middle of the cross-country / track and field factory that is Lo-Ellen Park Secondary School.

“In grade nine, even in grade ten, I didn’t know if I even wanted to join the cross-country team, because fall was kind of hockey season,” he said. “I think for everybody who runs, it takes a while to really get into it. It’s a pretty head strong committed sport.”

A pair of fifth place finishes in the midget boys’ 1500m/3000m OFSAA tandem clearly served notice of some latent potential. Proudfoot might not yet have been sold, but the likes of Darren Jermyn, Dick Moss and Colin Ward certainly were.

“Grade 10, for me, was kind of still that time where I wanted to embrace all of the sports that high-school has to offer,” suggested the young man who would garner no less than 19 CIS / U Sports medals (ten team, nine individual) over the course of his five year career as a Gryphon.

“Track North did a really good job of easing me into it.”

“By the end of grade 12, medalling at OFSAA, I was starting to rise in the field and came in (to university) really aggressively that year. If it had been just me doing it, there’s no way I would have been putting in the work that some of the people down south were doing.”

“That last year of high school kind of vaulted me right in as one of the top competitors at junior nationals the next year.”

To this day, one of his favourite memories remains with the Western Invitational in his freshman year, pretty much the very first OUA race in which he competed. “There were guys coming up from the States who could run a 29 flat (for 10 km), and I had never even done a 10km before,” said Proudfoot.

“I had maybe five weeks of training at Guelph coming off a pretty good summer track season. Everyone told me to relax and stay in the middle of the pack – but I was feeling good and I kept feeling good.” The messaging, from the coaches, was suddenly subject to a mid-race 180. Time to relax would have to come later.

“All of the coaches who were telling me that the race really didn’t matter were suddenly really yelling at me,” said Proudfoot. A come from behind first place finish would be one of far too many to count over the years, his dominance reaching an absolute crescendo during his final year at Guelph (2014-2015).

In an era that is noted as among the deepest that Canadian men’s university distance running has ever witnessed, the Sudbury native posted a completely undefeated campaign on the track.

Claiming gold at the CIS cross-country championships in November (2014) in St John’s, Proudfoot would double down at the national indoor finals, winning the 1500m and 3000m and being named as the Canadian University Male Athlete of the Year – across all sports.

“If you look at it, it seems like those were the golden years, but really, those were the years where my body kept it together in spite of the kind of training that I was putting up,” suggested the two-time national open men’s cross country champ (2015/2016). “We had an ultra competitive group, everybody would work super hard.”

No surprise that this would lead to his most aggressive shot at the Olympics, but also a period when holding said body together would become increasingly more challenging. “You really have to kind of monitor how hard you are going every day,” he said. “Mileage is one thing, but a lot of it comes down to what kind of stress you are imposing on your body, how hard you are going.”

“I like to be competitive in every race.”

For Ross Proudfoot, even on a global scale, these words rang especially true.

In 2013, he would reach the 1500m final at the World University Games in Russia. In the summer of 2015, Proudfoot would record a fifth place finish in the 5000m final of the Summer Universiade (FISU Games) in Gwangju (South Korea), running in near forty degree heat.

Just five days later, flying from Asia to Europe, he established a personal best time of 13:29.32 at the same distance in Belgium, less than five seconds off the 2016 Rio Olympic standard. “I know I had the talent to be an Olympic team member – but injuries really took their toll in the last three years.”

None more so than a nasty battle with sciatica, the beginning of the end, if you will. “I have so much respect for those who make the long haul to the Olympics,” Proudfoot stressed. “But you have to look at the opportunity cost in life.”

Armed with an undergraduate degree in Human Kinetics, the Toronto resident who has spent the past four years with GlaxoSmithKline has morphed in quite nicely some of the work accomplished through his masters in Human Health & Nutritional Science.

“I’m really liking the commercial business side of science, strategic planning and things like that,” he said. “More of a strategic role is where I see myself.”

During the pandemic, Proudfoot was among a group of former Track North athletes who lent their wisdom, on-line, to those still pounding their way through the mileage. Though there is little way to avoid the mind flowing to the valleys of alternate realities based on altered training programs, the soon-to-be-married ultra proud northerner is moving on, confident he did the best he could with the knowledge at his disposal at the time.

“You have to try and figure out what works for your own body,” Proudfoot explained. “You have to kind of judge your own taper when it comes to in-season races and stuff like that. I think the biggest mistake runners make is pushing through, not reading that stuff correctly.”

With an Olympic berth as the ultimate goal, that is hardly the easiest read to make – even for one of the greatest university distance runners ever.

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