By now, most casual sports fans in Sudbury are aware that Olympic gold medal winner Robert Esmie has returned home.
Certainly, anyone who attended a Sudbury Five outing last season, where Esmie was doing his utmost to gather the forces in support of the home town team, could easily vouch for his whereabouts.
Yet it is clearly at a different stage of his life that the 46 year old member of the Canadian Sports Hall of Fame Esmie will celebrate his 47th birthday on Friday makes roots, for a second time, in Northern Ontario.
His story, early in life, is a well-documented one: born in Jamaica, Esmie and family relocated to Sudbury just as he was entering grade five. Dad was working at Inco, mom was a nurse, and I was living with my grandma (in Jamaica) at the time, he harkened back. I left Jamaica in April, it was like 26 degrees (celcius), and when I landed here, I think it was minus 26.
Clearly, his sense of humour and ability to share stories energized with a true zest for life have never left his side. Few could have predicted his rise to athletic fame from his humble beginnings. I never really knew much about athletics back then (in Jamaica), said Esmie. We were busy on the farm, chasing chickens and goats.
And it was a mile or two miles from there to get to school, and you didn't want to be late. Safe to say that the talkative youngster was somewhat fleet of foot, by necessity, in his youth. A rapid rise to the pinnacle of the Canadian track scene ensued, with Esmie garnering notoriety during his time at Lasalle Secondary, and beyond.
The spotlight intensified rapidly in the months and years leading up to the performance that will always stand as one of the crowning moments in Canadian Summer Olympic history, as Esmie teamed with Glenroy Gilbert, Bruny Surin and Donovan Bailey to capture the 4 X 100m relay in the biggest of stages in Atlanta in 1996.
Just seven short years later, the glow of the spotlight had diminished. At the time, there was more money going out than coming in, recalled Esmie. I thought let's shut it down. But I think one of the difficulties for people coming from amateur sports is the transition back into the business world.
For me, I was lucky and fortunate to have great sponsors here in Sudbury. This really helped me to make my dreams happen, very quickly. But when you move away from that, and you have to go get a regular job, that's a blow.
Working with Level IV track and field coach Mike Murray in the latter days of his racing career, Esmie had settled himself in Vancouver. And while his name and fame certainly helped open some doors, initially, the bronze medal winner at the 1996 World Indoor Championships (60m dash) tapped far more into his street smarts in carving out the next phase of his life.
In British Columbia, I am far more well-known as a business person than an athlete, said Esmie. My academic business concept came from my own experience, as an athlete, trying to find ways to fund my training.
In fact, chat with Esmie, even for an hour or so, and it becomes apparent that there are some critical core personal values that lie beneath the brash and brazen facade that was often unfurled in the ultra-competitive setting that is sprint racing. Family, faith, and a belief in how one interacts with other people rise to the forefront time and time again, as conversations with Esmie flow easily from minutes to hours.
That was the foundation upon which he would build when he was offered one of his first business opportunities with the ultra-successful Forzani Group and their Sportchek franchises in 2004 or so. I wanted to focus on customer service, at a high level, like they had never seen before, and that should help me grow the business, he said.
That it did.
Esmie was moved over to a national management training team, sliding back to the store setting a few years later, when he was all but ready to return to Sudbury, in 2010. I don't like to commute, I don't like to spend two hours in traffic, and I definitely don't like the 11:00 p.m. retail type of hours, he admitted. I would rather do more of the things that I love.
A last minute offer, one which seemed to tick off all the required boxes, came out of nowhere. From 2010 through to 2018, his search for a better life balance would lead to a combined effort, working full time with Kintec Footwear and Orthodics, while at the same time dabbling in the coaching ranks, sharing information that he had gathered from every available stop along the way.
I hadn't planned to get into coaching, said Esmie. When I was working at Kintec, everyone around me was a doctor. I said that doesn't look right, so they said they would make me an honourary doctor, the Doctor of Speed.
And with that, AirBlastoff Need for Speed was born. Partially by necessity, partially by sincere interest, Esmie had gathered a lot of knowledge over the years, dating right back to his roots. In Jamaica, for instance, we've always believed in a system that suggests that if you have strong tendons, you don't need big muscles. You want your muscles to be supple.
The main core of my program is from a track and field base, that's the main core, Esmie added. If I'm doing individual or specialized training, then I'm looking at what are the muscle groups, what are the angles, what are the positions they are going to be in, and training those for that environment.
All sports require speed.
This is the package that Esmie now offers, as concerns over the health of his mother, Mavis, accounted for part of the motivation in moving back to Sudbury some 16 months ago. Along with his girlfriend, Saneath Chhun, and their daughter (Janelle Chhun) and son (Nehemiah Esmie), the family is immersing itself in the local sports community.
In the mind of Robert Esmie, this is exactly where he belongs.