Janet Christ coaches young athletes.
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For Janet Christ, running is about fun, fitness and friends

When Janet Christ was growing up in North Battleford, she was touched by the big and small ways that teachers and other community members created opportunities for her to chase her athletic goals.

So when she graduated from the University of Saskatchewan with undergraduate degrees in education and physical education, the first thing she wanted to do was give back. She accepted an invitation to help coach the Huskies cross country team and “I instantly loved it,” Christ recalls. “I loved everything about it. The season of coaching the Huskies was very fulfilling.”

Christ, now 65, never lost that love of coaching. She spent 40 years coaching high school cross country and track before retiring from the classroom two years ago. Now she coaches exclusively with Saskatoon Track and Field Club.

“I’m excited about all of it,” she says. ” I focus on each individual, where they start and where they might go. I want the athletes to get the most out of themselves, to push their limits and understand that pushing their limits is OK.”

Janet Christ races in Edmonton in 1978.
Janet Christ (far left) races in Edmonton in 1978.

Christ started running “with a bit of oomph” when she was in grade 8 at an all-girl’s school in North Battleford. “I don’t know why I choose to run cross country in particular, but I knew I loved the feeling I had when I ran,” she says. She competed in cross country, track, basketball, volleyball and badminton for the remainder of high school and had such a successful running career that, when she moved to Saskatoon to attend the University of Saskatchewan, track and cross country coach Lyle Sanderson did his best to recruit her to the team. Christ ran Huskies cross country for two weeks — and attended early tryouts for the basketball team — but ultimately took her first year off from sport to focus on academics and adjust to university life.

By her second year of university, Christ had switched programs from engineering to education and played junior basketball (Pupettes). The following year, she joined the cross country and track teams where she was a core member of both teams for three years.

After graduating, Christ helped coach Huskies cross country for a season and enjoyed the experience so much that she also started coaching with STFC. One year later, she began teaching and soon found herself at Nutana Collegiate where she taught mathematics and physical education while also coaching cross country and track and leading the canoe club. “I had to make a decision about where I was going to lay my hat because it was too much for me trying to teach and coach at school and coach at the club,” Christ recalls. She opted to focus on the school programs and stepped away from STFC.

Janet Christ says that in her four-plus decades of coaching youth cross country and track, Christ says she has learned as much or more from her athletes as they have from her.
Janet Christ says that in her four-plus decades of coaching youth cross country and track, Christ says she has learned as much or more from her athletes as they have from her.

As a coach, Christ became adept at developing six-to-seven week programs not only to get athletes fit, but to help them fall in love with sport and feeling part of a team. “Fun, fitness and friends are a really big focus for me. If you’re not having fun getting fit and making friends, why are you doing it?” Christ says.

“I really believe in building a team. Support from the team is important and the athletes build such good relationships with each other. The social aspect is of prime importance. It brings them to the sport and it makes them want to continue to be there encouraging and supporting each other.”

Christ spent nearly eight years at Nutana and another nine years at Mount Royal Collegiate before heading back to university herself at the age of 42 to pursue a Masters in Education Curriculum at the U of S. She found herself once again on the Huskies cross country and track teams.

Janet Christ (centre) loves the bonds and friendships that keep athletes loving the sport of track and field.
Janet Christ (centre) loves the bonds and friendships that keep athletes loving the sport of track and field.

“You had to fill in your birth date and their electronic devices only went as far back as 1975,” Christ recalls. She thought it was fitting that the last two digits were a palindrome for when she had been born (1957) so she simply selected 1975 as her birth year. “We left it like that,” she says. “I still can’t believe I did that.”

After completing her Masters, Christ spent the remainder of her teaching career at Walter Murray Collegiate before retiring two years ago. She resumed coaching with STFC in 2020 when school sports were disrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic.

In her four-plus decades of coaching youth cross country and track, Christ says she has learned as much or more from her athletes as they have from her.

“They push me as a coach to really learn a craft and to be open minded,” she says. “I do not say I have a program but rather I work from a conceptual framework. You can say, ‘This is what we did last year,’ but the athletes are in a different place and therefore I need to change their training sessions and reflect deeply on where they are going and what they need to get there. So the training evolves as the athletes develop.”

Janet Christ constantly adapts the programs of young athletes to meet them where they're at.
Janet Christ constantly adapts the programs of young athletes to meet them where they’re at.

Her time coaching has also given her a unique vantage point to witness how the sport has changed over time. She has watched as endurance coaching has moved away from emphasizing long, slow distance running in favour of lower, higher quality mileage. She has seen increased focus on running technique (taught through drills), as well as nutrition and hydration. Athletes have embraced new technologies like GPS watches that track many aspects of their training sessions and there have been new advances in running and racing shoes.

What has not changed are the bonds and friendships that keep athletes loving moving. It is one of the aspects of sport that Christ loves most about working with young, developing athletes.

“Where will I go and what will I enjoy the most in the next five years is difficult to say,” she says. “But I do know that I want to continue to contribute to the development of endurance running athletes in the province.”