Head coach Eric Gillis reflects on lost season
by Corey LeBlanc
A lost Atlantic University Sport (AUS) season isn't going to slow down student-athletes with the StFX cross country program.
Although head coach Eric Gillis describes learning about the cancellation of the 2020 campaign – due to the ongoing Covid-19 global pandemic – as a "low point" for his athletes, the Antigonish native says the X-Women and X-Men quickly focused on making the best of a situation that is out of anyone's control.
"We are ready to make the best of the opportunities that we have this fall," the three-time Canadian Olympian adds.
As a way of summing up the attitude of his student-athletes, Gillis remembers an email he received from one of the X-Women shortly after the announcement this season would be shelved.
Although she started her message by calling the situation 'upsetting,' she swiftly turned her focus to pledging that she planned to work towards being the 'best athlete I can be.'
Gillis adds everyone with the program is fixed on "making the most of things."
After six months or so of mainly solo training, he notes his runners are "extra anxious" to reunite with their teammates.
Although an athlete can achieve a "good rhythm" training alone, Gillis notes the importance of the team component to "reaching another level."
"You make each other better," he explains, adding training – and improving – is "easier when you are challenged by others."
Although everyone with the program "loves running" at any opportunity – even on their own – competing together helps the student-athletes "unite as a group."
As for how they can reach those goals this fall, Gillis said – at the time of the Sept. 8 interview – "I don't have all the answers [right now]."
"It is a big carrot to take away," he concedes of the lost opportunity for the X-Women and X-Men to vie for a conference crown.
With that in mind, Gillis stresses the significance of discovering another "competitive outlet."
He explains the program hopes to stage "some type of distance race" on their home StFX track, a facility he describes as "fabulous."
"There are still some hurdles to clear," Gillis says, when it comes to that possibility.
He notes Athletics Nova Scotia has been hosting similar events, which "bodes well" for something happening on the Antigonish campus.
Gillis says there also may be a chance – in smaller groups – for the X-Women and X-Men to tackle the Antigonish Highland Games' five-mile road race course.
"It would be a test of endurance," he adds of that option.
Gillis notes another "high priority" for the program is fashioning a blueprint to deal with similar circumstances.
"But, hopefully, we will never have to use it again," he adds.
Gillis says, no matter what direction the program takes, the well-being of the student-athletes is the top priority for the program.
"We want it to be safe and enjoyable," he adds.
Gillis agrees he hopes to tap into his athletic experience as he helps his student-athletes navigate these unprecedented times.
"Whether or not we have that carrot – a chance at an AUS title – I want to instill [in them] that it is memorable, but also a small percentage of the total experience," he says.
Gillis adds "showing up daily," and concentrating on improving as an athlete, is probably the "most enjoyable" aspect of his experiences.
"I want them to learn how to enjoy and appreciate that process," he says.