Interview #10 - Stuart McGregor

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Stuart McGregor interview by Steve Weiler, Friday, May 8th, 2020

Steve Weiler: Hey Stuart, tell me something nice!

Stuart McGregor: Hey Steve, Something nice...

Well, I got into running for simple reasons. I had a brother 4 years older than me who was a dominant runner himself. I loved watching him obliterate his opponents. I also had 2 elementary school teachers who valued fitness and sports. They co-coached young students to excellence. I was just a grade 3 students when I learned the value of preparation and real training in order to pursue a goal. These 2 teachers had such a lasting impression on me that I followed my passion for running, ran internationaly for over 10 years, and became a teacher. I have recently started my own training business working with high calibre athletes across multiple sports. I not only train their athleticm, but I build into their psyche and help them learn the importance of goal-setting, dealing with pressure, and performning when it matters.

I feel that I have been so blessed to have such incredible people build into my life as a person, then athlete. I am trying to do my best to do the same as I give back to young athletes.

During this pandemic, I purposefully shut down as to not profit duing this terrible time. It has been such a joy to have so many athletes and parents reach out to me for guidance on how to proceed and we've designed training plans and been strategic building goals together. A true honor and joy for me.

SW: Awesome, we’ll you’ve covered the entry into the sport. Let’s jump ahead to where I met you; can you talk a bit about your collegiate years?

SM: Sure. I ran at Western for 4 years. I ran the 600m/1000m, and the 4x 800m. It was there that I met many running friends that I still have today. I medalled every year in the 4x800m at provinicals and once at nationals. I really enjoyed the team dynamic. Travelling all over the province and country was a lot of fun. At the same time, it was somewhat of a struggle. The university system is very heavy.. It felt like we were travelling every weekend. I am the type of person who likes to pursue a goal that is months or weeks away. With racing evey weekend, it was sometimes diffiiclut to come down off one weekend of racing, only to gear up and do it all again the next weekend. All that to say, I understand the process. I just operate a little differently. That is why I felt like I often performed much better in the summers, when you can really target the most important races and strategically prepare for them.

For teachers college, I studied one year at the University of Windsor. Although I was only there for one year, I leaned so much through the coaching style, positivity, and family atmosphere, that was created by Dennis Fairall and Garry Malloy. I was so grateful to be a national champion with them in 2004.

SW: Can you give us an overview on your vision, paralympic category, and negotiating open competition.

SM: At 12 years old I was diagnosed with Retinitis Pigmentosa. In short, it gives me very constricted tunnel vision and night blindness. When I was 12 I had somewhere in the range or 15-20 degrees, and currently I have approximately a 4 degree visual field. To help put in perspective, imagine looking at a protractor that ranges 180 degrees. I see just that very tight 4 degrees straight ahead. You could probably better imagine it by looking through a paper towel roll. Looking back on my life as a young kid, I take such pride that I competed alongside the country's best provincially and nationally, despite having less than 90% vision of my competitors. Races like the 800m & 1500m were difficult in tight packs. I've had my share of crashes.

With the central vision I still have, I can see quite well and am thankful for it. I am a teacher, coach, trainer, and I am still running many many miles

SW: Speaking of important races, you're a 3-time Paralympian! Can you provide some highlights from Atlanta, Sydney, and Athens?

SM: In Atlanta, I was just 17 years old. It was my first international experience. I was mesmorized by the crowds, the stadiums, the national uniforms of other countries. As a competitor, I was nervous. Competing in the 1500 with little knowledge of my competition made my stomach turn. Thankfully I had recently competed in very tough races. Junior Nationals, National Legions, OFSAA. I was blessed to have Ray Elrick - my long time coach prepare me for this.

If you can remember back to the Atlanta Games, the training facility was a good 25 minute bus ride from the training facility to Olympic Stadium. Bus drivers were getting lost. I had never experienced anything ike this before. I had to warm-up a good 2 hours before competition. I had to travel with only my competitiors on a bus for 25 minutes. Then complete my warm-up under the Olympic Stadium where there was about a 40m straight away with Mondo laid down. Anyway, as a kid, I was nervous.

The race hightlgiht... The gun went off and 2 Kenyans took it out fast. I went through 400m fast, but I was in last place. We went through 800m, and I was still in last place, but in touch. I was happy with my running. We came around the next 300m, and I was 2nd last at the bell. From there I knew I was running my best and I could sense the field tiring. I hammered the next 200m and went my the field, some Aussies, the World Record holder from France, and some other runners. Over the last 150m the eventual winner from Spain was just too far away, but I had the last lap of my life and finished with a sliver, on a very humid, rainy night in Atlanta.

I chalk this performance up, to preparation that my coach had me ready for. I was in great shape, and with Ray's teaching, there was never a good excuse not to go for it. He had me mentally ready to go!

SW: You later transitioned from middle distance running to the marathon; how did that come about?

SM: Towards the latter stages of my career, I already had 2 children. My son Will was becoming his own athlete and a very good hockey player. I started noticing that I was rescheduling my workouts more and more often because I just could not miss his practices and games. I informally retired from track and I was totally fine with the decsion. After awhile, I realized that I simply didn't feel enough like myself. I missed the feeling of being in great shape. I missed having my own goals. Because I wasn't really doing anything, I think it took its toll mentally on me. I knew that I didn't want to go back to regular track workouts, but I wanted to run. I always had it in the back of my mind that I'd love to run the Boston Marathon someday. I vividly remember when Meb K won and was so inspired by his win. So, I gave it a shot. I went more or less on my own knowledge and got back into decent shape. On a chance night on my birthday, I ran into my old friend Matt Daley. He was also a Western Alum. He was from Ottawa as well. Anyway, he came over to talk to me. After a few minutes, we of course started talking about running and I told him my plan. Since that conversation, Matt has been my coach for Ottawa, which qualified me for Boston. We ran the Boston Marathon together - he guided the 2nd half of it with me. He also coached me through my marathon PB last year in Philadephia. Having such a close friend who is so selfless, yet ruthless in the workouts he gives me, was and is exactly what I need! Matt is also a highly accomplished Ironman Triathlete.

SW: That's great you reconnected with Matt and it's been so successful. Have any other members of your family gotten into running?

SM: Absolutely. My son Will (12) and my daughter Ellie. They have both set records and are amazing runners. During the pandemic, I run 5 x week with them along with my other training. Will is a hockey player at heart, but loves running and working out. He is a natural leader as a runner and hates following anyone. He's got that PRE mentality! Ellie is a beautful runner. It is her main sport. Last year as a 10 year old, she ran 22:18 for 5k in her very first 5k - a the Army Run which is a very slow & hilly course. She also blasted a 31.00 200m. I can't wait to see what she does in a few year if she wants to. They have been such a joy to coach and experience the love of running with.

SW: Do you have any favourite memories that you’d like to share before we get into the Finishing Kick?

SM: I remember at World Championships in Spain going after the world record in the 800m in my category (T13). I remember on a day that was about 37 - 40 degrees, stepping to the line and being determined to go for it. I took the race over at 200m and split very quick - 54 or so. I lead the entire race, but in the last 30m, a runner from Tunisia, and a Kiwi, went by me. I was devasted. All 3 of us broke the world record off of my work. To this day, that is my proudest race. I did everything I could, I ran to win.

SW: Alright, favourite running route?

SM: In Ottawa - the Rideau River Bike path, but my absolute favourite is running on the cottage dirt roads in La Peche, Quebec.

SW: Favourite race distance?

SM: Was the 800m by far. Now, the Marathon

SW: Thanks for the extensive favourite band list, that was fun to work through. Now for complete the song lyrics:
1. Won't you give me two minutes please? Just let me
a) have a nice time with my friends
b) cover my eyes
c) skip the youth

SM: drawing a blank...

SW: B, it was Frightened Rabbit; I snuck the song title in as an incorrect c response. This should be a little easier:
2. When I left your house this morning
a) it was to go for a run
b) it was a little after nine
c) the stars were still out

SM: It was a little after nine!

SW: 3. We're half awake in a
a) fake empire
b) cake empire
c) lake of fire

SM: fake empire

SW: And final question, what is the most valuable kind of ship?

SM: Friendships - so many that are made through this wonderful running and sporting community.

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