With a lifetime of volunteerism to his credit, Dan Welch is not likely to steer you wrong.
And in the eyes of many folks involved with the Northern Water Sports Centre (NWSC), that makes him pretty darn invaluable.
Born in Chapleau but blessed with strong family ties to Sudbury, Welch drifted quite naturally to a highly active lifestyle. His father was both a long-distance runner and boxer, an all-around athlete in his high-school days, and Dan only partially inherited the paternal genetics.
“I was never a great athlete,” stated the second eldest of six kids in the family. “Everything I did, I had to work at.” That said, he did do everything. Football, basketball, track, swimming, volleyball, ski, and a propensity for the great outdoors were all part of the mix.
If Welch is now gifted with a wonderful ability to ensure that even in the toughest of conditions, dragon boats under his guidance maintain a straight, steady path, the same could not be said of his pursuit of academia and career, both of which meandered their way, with twists and turns throughout his young adulthood.
A checkered history, in the words of Welch himself.
Which was not a bad thing, not a bad thing at all, as it opened the doors to some pretty incredible life adventures. Working for the province in the downtown core of Sudbury, about a decade or so removed from his high-school days at Lasalle Secondary, Welch would almost stumble upon the lifetime friendships that emanated from the Sudbury Masters Running Club.
“One of the guys that I had played football with had put on some weight and wanted to run,” recalled Welch. “He knew about this group of guys that ran at the Sudbury Arena. I went to the arena, Dick never showed up, but I ran there for 35 years.”
What started as simply a chance to build a little physical activity into his daily routine would culminate with no less than five marathon performances for Welch, including the prestigious Boston Marathon in 2011. “The group of fellows that were there were really welcoming and encouraging,” he said. “It was a real de-stresser for work, and it kept me fit.”
As had been his nature, even dating back to his time at Lasalle, Welch would do far more than just compete. In the blink of an eye, he was a race day volunteer mainstay at countless events in Sudbury, helping to launch what has become the highly successful Sudbury Masters Ramsey Tour, a fundraiser that has, over time, contributed tens of thousands of dollars to post-secondary varsity cross-country runners at both Cambrian and Laurentian.
“Because running kept me fit, I could ski, both cross-country and downhill, and I played pick up basketball, and quit in my sixties,” suggested the 72 year-old athlete. Though the bulk of his involvement in water sports would occur largely over the course of the past two decades, Welch was hardly starting from scratch.
“As a kid, my dad taught me to paddle,” he said. “We were always gone fishing, canoeing, doing something. I was about 55 when the dragon boat stuff started happening.”
Referring to it as “dragon boat stuff” might not quite do justice to the level of involvement Welch would enjoy on the water. “I was retiring, so I started paddling in the (Sudbury Dragon Boat) Festival,” he said. “I wanted a little more than a community team, so I started a competitive team with the canoe club.”
His interest grew quickly, as he attended festivals across the province, striking up conversations with fellow paddlers. “Someone suggested I try out for the national over 50 team,” said Welch. “I was 58 and I wanted to stay fit and I wanted to travel, so this was a perfect fit for me.”
Surviving the rigorous testing and training of this team, the proud Sudburian would remain a stalwart with a team that navigated their way as an undefeated entry through four sets of world championships. “We never lost a heat, never lost a race.”
Though his paddling abilities got him a spot on the team, it was not where Welch would ultimately make his mark. “We were in Australia, in Penrith,” he recounted. “They had mountains at one end of the course, and when winds would come over, you would get whitecaps on the course. The person who was steering for us could not handle the boat.”
“I had steered all the time in Sudbury, and Lake Ramsey was great training with whitecaps,” Welch added. “You can go out on Ramsey Lake, as calm as can be, and be in the middle of the lake and the wind comes up. You've got to be able to handle the boat.”
In the process, an international steersman was born.
In fact, with not a lick of race experience, as steersman, in the more challenging 2000m event that involves sharp turns around buoys, Welch would lead his crew to victory. “I learned a lot of strategy really quickly in the 2000 metre,” he confessed. “A steersman can make a world of difference, not so much in the straight races, but definitely in the 2000m.”
It was quite the balancing act for Welch in those first few years following the Y2K scare.
Sitting at times as member of the board of directors of the Northern Water Sports Centre, the Sudbury Canoe Club and the Sudbury Dragon Boat Festival, Welch was also able to squeeze in a few years as head coach of the SCC sprint kayak crew.
He speaks glowingly of the work that was done to bring the NWSC to life, the end product that he adores. “I'm so proud of this building,” said Welch. “It's a beautiful facility. When I joined the canoe club, way back when, there were 60 members, and that was it. Now there's over 500 members. It's family friendly – we've changed the culture of the club.”
Stop by for a visit, some time.
It's not like Dan Welch will steer you wrong.