For the past six weeks, Wilson and CDS teammate, Lauren Neil ’22, trained twice a week on Hawksworth Track. On the alternate days, Wilson completed the workouts he was given. As training progressed there was no doubt in my mind that he was capable of running 1 to 2 seconds faster than he did at OFSAA. This kind of time would make him competitive at the Pan Am Games and most likely place him on the podium at Junior Nationals.
On Sunday, July 14th Wilson competed at the Ontario Championships as a prelude to the Pan Am games. Unfortunately, his race did not go as planned. However, we made some adjustments, and Wilson bounced back and had one of his best practices the following Tuesday.
Team Canada arrived in San Jose early afternoon on Wednesday, July 17th. There was some talk about a team practice that afternoon at the track, but instead it was scheduled for the next morning. Wilson and his roommate Lee decided to take the initiative to go for a run and complete a modified warm-up around the hotel, as they wanted to shake out the stiffness from travelling.
The next morning, Team Canada met at the stadium (capacity 35,000) at 9:00 am for their first practice. After taking some photos with his teammates, Wilson began his warm-up. He was focussed and ready for a good training session. On the second to last hurdle of the final drill, Wilson heard a “pop” in his knee. I asked him a few questions and then decided that it would be best if he saw the team therapist before continuing his workout. The therapist did a quick assessment and said that although Wilson’s knee was structurally strong, she advised that we shut down practice. We were all hopeful that with some rest and ice, he would bounce back.
The games began on Friday, July 19th. There was a lot of hype as one of the fastest high school sprinters was racing. Matthew Boling from Texas would end up running a 10.11 in the final. We did not practice on Friday as Wilson was told to meet with the therapist for an assessment in the evening. As we walked to the warm-up area, Wilson told me that he had to sprint for the bus earlier that day and did not feel any pain. This was great news!
Both team therapists told him to complete his warm-up and then come back for his assessment. Upon returning from his run, Wilson gave me the thumbs up as he dropped off his jacket before proceeding with his dynamic warm-up. Once again, there was hope!
During the final assessment, Wilson acknowledged that his knee felt good while running, but every time he did any hurdle type movement there was pain – not a good sign. The therapists performed a few more tests and then gave their recommendation, “We advise that you not compete, but the final decision is up to you and your coach.” We were both stunned as we left the warm-up area to find a place to discuss the situation. We both knew what the right decision was. There was definitely an issue with Wilson’s knee, most likely the meniscus. Due to the fact that there was pain when performing trail leg movements, there was no way we were going to jeopardize Wilson’s rookie year at Western University and his future opportunities to run for Canada by running this race. We somberly walked back to give the therapist and sprint and hurdle coach of Team Canada our decision. No words can really explain the disappointment that I felt for Wilson as this was a bitter end to an amazing track season.
On Saturday, we were all there to cheer on Wilson’s roommate Lee in the 400mH. In fact, Wilson went to the warm-up area to make sure that he had enough hurdles to warm-up with, as other teammates complained of certain teams monopolizing the hurdles the day before. There is no doubt that it was very hard for Wilson to watch others warming up for the event he was planning to run in, but he put aside his feelings to help another teammate. This is the kind of selfless act that will make him such an asset to the Western Track team.
As heat #1 came to the track, the names of the competitors were displayed on the screen. There it was, W. O’Neill in lane 1. Our hearts sank as the reality of the situation hit us once again. So, we watched Alison Dos Santos from Brazil win heat #1 in a very comfortable time. In the final he would go on to run the fastest time in the world as a U20 in the 400mH. In fact, his time would have placed him 7th at the 2016 Rio Olympics.
As I have said many times to my athletes, we cannot control what happens to us, but we can control how we respond. It would be hard to find an athlete who has not had to overcome some adversity in their athletic career. I am so proud of the way that Wilson handled this frustrating injury. Instead of wallowing in self-pity, he decided to make the most of his first Pan Am experience. He embraced the opportunity to cheer on his fellow teammates (Canada’s best U20 track athletes), develop new friendships, be inspired by the many incredible performances, and set a goal of making the U20 World Junior Team next summer.
Wilson has shown great courage and resilience in the past when he has faced setbacks and this experience at the U20 Pan Am games was no different. Although he did not run, he is only the second CDS track athlete to ever make a National team. Ruthann (Gairdner) Attia '00 was the first to represent Canada, competing in the 400mh and 4x4 as a Junior on the U20 team her graduating year.
As William Arthur Ward said, “adversity causes some men to break; others to break records.” I have no doubt that this is the first of many National teams for Wilson and that he will have a stellar track career at Western. It has been an absolute joy to work with him over these past four years, and I wish him all the best.
Ms. Steadman (Steady)