Larry Steinke (BA ‘94), the architect and head coach of the University of Lethbridge Pronghorns track and field team, has cultivated a program of excellence over the past 15-plus years, and while the team continues to pile up medals at Canada West and Canadian Interuniversity Sport (CIS) championships, his focus is squarely on maximizing the opportunities of his athletes well beyond their years in Pronghorn blue and gold.
“From the very beginning, I wanted to establish a program that was sought after by athletes but not every athlete. I wanted to sift out those people who would make a good fit with the program,” says Steinke, who took over the track program in 1998. “I want athletes who have loftier goals than just CIS. A lot of schools are only worried about maximizing their athletes for the four years that they are in school. We’re a little different here because I look at each athlete from a long-term approach.”
Those who buy into the philosophy understand the big picture mentality. They also have to look no further than a few lockers away – at Olympians Jim Steacy (BASc '09) and Heather Steacy – to get a sense of the success it reaps.
“I still have Jim’s autograph up on my wall at home,” says Peter Millman, who came to the U of L from Truro, N.S.
A second-year Pronghorn who won Canada West gold medals in both the weight throw and shot put, Millman saw the U of L as his only destination from the time he first started working with Steinke on a training trip to Lethbridge when he was in Grade 10.
“Meeting Jim and having the opportunity to throw with an Olympian when I was in Grade 10 was one of the coolest things ever,” he says. “There were offers for me to go to different places but they were never entertained; it was always going to be Lethbridge.”
Now recognized as a throwing power, the U of L is truly a destination school for the country’s elite throwers. Kayla Gallagher, another Truro product, just won her second consecutive CIS gold medal in weight throw and is one of 10 track athletes who have come to the U of L from outside of Alberta.
All the while, Steinke is now beginning to see golden results outside of the throwing disciplines, noting that success really does breed success.
“That is our challenge now, to try and move away from just the throws to create a culture of excellence across all of the event groups,” he says.
Aaron Hernandez, from Coaldale, Alta., is one of those success stories after he won the CIS gold medal in triple jump and was named CIS Rookie of the Year. He’s won early in his career but understands his ultimate goal is years away.
“For any track and field athlete, their ultimate is to compete in the Olympics and that’s something I hope to see one day,” says Hernandez, who works with jump coach Jaime Thomas (BSc '04).
Hernandez, along with Gallagher, Millman and the rest of the Horns team get the Steinke program, knowing full well that the greatest rewards will come long after they have completed school.
“They all have bright futures internationally and that’s why I wanted to work with them,” says Steinke. “We are about longer-term development. It’s whether the athlete has the wherewithal to stick it out for that long. I see that mentality in this group.”
Something that bodes well for their futures, in any path they choose.
This story appears in the Spring 2014 edition of SAM magazine. For a look at the full version in a flipbook format, follow this link.