Olympic ‘Western Hub’ breaks ground at Saanich’s PISE

Athletics Canada will have priority access to track, as construction of $1 million 400-metre project begins

Minister of Social Development and Social Innovation Michele Stilwell

Minister of Social Development and Social Innovation Michele Stilwell

Finally, a track to call their own.

Athletics Canada will have priority access to the new community track at Pacific Institute of Sports Excellence, as construction of the $1 million 400-metre project begins this month.

The four-lane loop, sanctioned by the International Association of Athletics Federations, circles the Alex Campbell turf field and gives Athletics Canada a centralized base for its Western Hub. While it was previously a regional location using several facilities, the Western Hub at PISE is now a one-stop shop where the athletes can run combined workouts on a variety of surfaces, perform weight training and have access to the high performance amenities – coaching, physiotherapy, ice baths and more.

“Right now, I either run at UVic (Centennial Stadium) or at Oak Bay High (Jack Wallace), but both tracks are so busy, it’s great to have a track of our own,” said 2012 Olympian Hilary Stellingwerff. The Royal Oak resident came from Ontario prior to the London Games and was in attendance, with 11-month-old son Theo, at PISE’s official groundbreaking on Thursday (May 28).

“I’ll be here a lot. This is a perfect setup with the track being so close to the Centennial Trail and a network of trails that must be up to 100 kilometres,” Stellingwerff said.

The 1,500m specialist is geared to represent Canada at the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, and will be regularly switching from spikes to sneakers by using the track and also taking advantage of the 1,100m loop around neighbouring Layritz Park.

The new track at PISE also boasts the unique training hill. Its rubberized surface will offer athletes a rare chance to wear spikes on an incline and decline, where they can work on sprinting form and overspeed, respectively.

Western Hub coach Heather Hennigar credited PISE for allowing Athletics Canada to offer key input on the track’s design. They’ll soon learn if Canada’s top male steeplechase runner, Matt Hughes, will also be taking advantage of the PISE track surface.

“There’s a few design elements we have yet to hear back about, the steeplechase is one of them, but all in all, we’re just so grateful to have priority track access and have a say on the design,” Hennigar said.

When finished, the PISE track will be made of an estimated 6,410 recycled tires obtained through Tire Stewardship B.C. There will be multiple surfaces with inner lanes designed to accommodate runners, and a hybrid outer lane for wheelchairs. The training hill likely will have a slightly softer surface to offer added grip.

“I’ll be on this track. I spend a lot of time in Victoria now,” said Michele Stilwell, gold-medalist Paralympian and B.C. Minister of Social Development and Social Innovation.

Stilwell presented an additional $150,000 towards the $1-million track campaign, bringing it to 80 per cent of funding. That’s in addition to the province’s $100,000 of seed money provided one year ago.

PISE carries a long-term goal of enhancing accessibility and becoming a designated National Paralympic Training Centre.

“The new track will provide a tremendous benefit to our community of Greater Victoria and will be accessible to individuals of all ages and abilities, enhancing both health and excellence. We are so grateful to the Government of British Columbia for this new major contribution,” said Robert Bettauer, CEO of PISE. The final $200,000 of yet-to-be raised money will cover the cost of a jumps area for athletics.

The track should be open by September, and will be open to all users.

PISE and running instructor Marilyn Arsenault, a successful latecomer to the sport, continue to build the running group they launched in January.

“The goal was to create a group of people who use the track and the trails nearby,” said the coach who created Mindful Strides, with a focus on running technique. Arsenault personalizes the coaching to let runners know how much they should be running and to build their fitness.

“They are of all levels and you know what, being here and seeing the (elites), it’s good for everyone. Really, the pros don’t mind being recognized for what they do, and it goes both ways, they just want to be part of the community, so this will be a great space,” Arsenault said.

reporter@saanichnews.com

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