He last competed for the University of Lethbridge seven years ago, and yet when it came time for Jim Steacy to announce his retirement from athletics, there was no question as to where the event would take place.
“This is my second home. Outside of my actual house, this is where I spent most of my life,” says Steacy, the most decorated U of L Pronghorn athlete in history.
Undefeated in five years of competition at both the Canada West and Canadian Interuniversity Sport (CIS) levels, Steacy’s accomplishments in the throwing circle (both weight and hammer throw) are their own story. He still owns the furthest weight throw in CIS history and for good measure added three Canada West and CIS shot put titles to his name too. Beyond the U of L, Steacy went to two Olympic Games (2008 Beijing and 2012 London), travelled to six continents and represented Canada 17 times in international competitions. The highlight was winning a Commonwealth Games gold medal in 2014 as the Canadian team’s captain.
After setting down the hammer for the final time and reflecting on a 17-year career, Steacy fondly motions to the now retired throwing field affectionately referred to as the Boneyard.
“That’s where I broke the national record, where the best throw of my life happened,” he says. “I spent so many hours and thousands of throws in that circle and knowing that it’s never going to happen again is kind of strange to think about.”
Ever mindful of his station as more than a Pronghorn athlete but a brand ambassador, this announcement was less about Steacy and more about recognizing those in his life who helped him achieve his unprecedented success. He thanked them all, from head track coach Larry Steinke, to family and friends, his wife Brittany, athletic directors, teammates and training partners.
“It’s family to me,” he says of the U of L community. “I was fortunate to compete for all five of my eligibility years as a U of L athlete and it’s thanks to people like Larry and the other coaches on campus who have built a culture by bringing in quality athletes and quality people to be part of the Pronghorn program.”
Two major influences were absent from the announcement ceremony. His sister Heather is training to compete in hammer at the Rio Olympics in August (her second Olympic appearance), while his mother Debby Steacy passed away in April 2014.
“The last couple of days, a lot of thoughts went to how much mom believed in all three of us (Jim, Sean and Heather), and really all the Pronghorn athletes, she looked out for everybody in the Pronghorn community. There’s not very many people who went through Pronghorn track and field who haven’t been touched by her love for the sport and for athletics,” says Steacy. “Personally, it sucks not having her here today. All the hours she spent supporting all three of us, from driving us back and forth to helping us overcome injuries, to celebrating successes and dealing with upsets, all that, it’s tough not having her here but I’m so glad both my dad and my brother were here, along with my wife and my extended family. As long as that’s always there, that’s all I can ask for.”
And while the medals and achievements garner the most interest from outside observers, it was the time away from the spotlight that is dearest to Steacy’s heart.
“To see that old hallway by the weight room, and thinking about all the hours we spent as a team down there, bonding, building friendships, training toward common goals. It’s neat to think how many tremendous people have set foot in these facilities in the last 20 to 30 years and how fortunate I am to call them teammates and friends,” he says.
Steinke, who recognized Steacy’s formidable talent as a young teen and convinced him that he could reach international prominence without ever leaving home, says the Horns culture revolved around his exploits.
“You can’t say enough about what Jim’s career has done, not just for track and field at the University but all of the sports,” says Steinke. “There was a camaraderie when he was at the University that wasn’t there previously across all sports because he gave people a focal point, a role model. He showed that in a relatively small place like Lethbridge you can still do the things you want to do at an international level.”
His legacy extends beyond the University, as he will go down as the country’s greatest hammer thrower ever.
“As far as hammer throwing in the country itself, he was at the forefront of showing what can be done,” says Steinke. “We hadn’t had an Olympic finalist in hammer throw since 1924 until Jim and then really his whole family came along. I think we’re seeing the legacy of that impact today as Canada is now one of the stronger nations in women’s hammer.”
Steacy’s impact on the U of L continues today. Current Pronghorn thrower Peter Millman, now a two-time CIS shot put champion and the first Pronghorn since Steacy to win the CIS Athlete of the Year award for field events, has consistently said that Steacy’s success lured him to the U of L from his hometown of Truro, Nova Scotia.
It would not be surprising to see Steacy back with the Horns in the future, as a mentor and possibly coach.
“I’ve had the opportunity to do some coaching with different schools in the city and it’s a blast. I love working with kids and I love teaching what I know about my sport and other events in track and field,” he says. “After a few years off of being a competitive athlete, I’d love to get involved in coaching. Right now, I need a break away from it, just to reset and put things in perspective.”
That perspective will reflect a career that achieved excellence at every level, and yet Steacy’s greatest success might just be the humility with which he competed – the true essence of a Pronghorn student-athlete.
2003 – Pan Amserican Junior Championship hammer throw gold medalist
2004 – North American, Central American and Caribbean Championship hammer throw gold medalist
2007 – Pan American Games hammer throw gold medalist
2008 – Set current Canadian record in hammer throw of 79.13 metres, May 2008
2008 – Placed 12th at Olympic Games (Beijing)
2014 – Commonwealth Games hammer throw gold medalist
2003, 2004, 2005, 2007 and 2009 – Undefeated in Canada West and CIS competition in the 35lb weight throw event. Currently holds CIS record of 24.08 metres
14-time Canadian National Hammer Throw Champion