RossAnn Edwards coaches the Riversdale Athletics club.
Share:

Looking back on 60 years of Riversdale Athletics

RossAnn Edwards has been part of the Riversdale Athletics family for over 50 years.

She joined the club as a teenager in 1969, competing in the sprints as well as the long jump and triple jump. Edwards left the club in university after suffering a knee injury that ended her track career, but returned in 2000 when her eldest daughter wanted to give track a try.

“I think it took me about two practices to say to the coach at that time: Do you need help?” Edwards recalls. She soon became assistant coach and was named head coach of the club in 2016.

As Riversdale Athletics Club celebrates its 60th anniversary this fall, Edwards speaks to the Brainsport Times about how the club has changed and what its future looks like.

For those looking to join the festivities, past and present members of Riversdale Athletics Club are invited to an evening of music, stories and dance on Fri. Nov. 3 at 7 p.m. at Sutherland Hall. Tickets cost $20. To get yours, email Graham Fast or Tabetha Mason at vp.riversdaleathletics@gmail.com and tbthmsn@gmail.com. Riversdale Alumni are also invited to contact Mason if you have pictures you would like to have included in a Riversdale photo album.

The Riversdale Athletics Club U18 girls compete on the track.
The Riversdale Athletics Club U18 girls compete on the track.

Brainsport Times: What was Riversdale Athletics Club like when you were a teenager?

RossAnn Edwards: Training was so different back then. We ran outside at the cinder track at Mount Royal Collegiate and indoors we ran at the old teacher’s college on Idylwyld Drive. It was just wood floors and somebody had made wooden banked corners. The last year I ran with Riversdale, we were running in the underground parking lot of Midtown Plaza. So things have come a long way.

Brainsport Times: Tell me more about the changes you’ve seen over the past five decades when it comes to Riversdale and the sport of track and field in Saskatchewan.

RE: Certainly the facilities (have changed). Now we have a newly surfaced indoor track and we have the Gordie Howe track outdoors, which has one of the best surfaces. Going from training in an underground parking lot to a beautiful track has certainly been a big change.

Opportunities for athletes are different. I went to a meet in Winnipeg when I was a midget athlete and that was huge. Now, as a Riversdale club-supported coach, I take athletes to Youth Nationals, I take athletes to Junior Nationals, Senior Nationals. Last year I took six athletes to the Simplot Games in Pocatello, Idaho, which is one of the biggest indoor high school track meets in the States. In 2019, I took 19 athletes to Kenya to a running camp. So we go to a lot of different places now looking for opportunities for our athletes. The travel was not the same and the opportunities were not the same back then.

I think I was one of the first coaches in Saskatoon to take athletes to cross country nationals as a club trip in around 2007, and now it’s a yearly thing for our club. There’s an availability to go places that athletes have now. And if they have trouble affording them, we certainly try to help out with club fundraising and finding sponsorship etc., for them.

The Riversdale Athletics Club on a trip to Kenya in 2019.
The Riversdale Athletics Club on a trip to Kenya in 2019.

I would also say that coach training has really changed for the better. You used to have technical coach development, but now you have Safe Sport and Respect in Sport courses so athletes are safe in their training emotionally, physically and psychologically. Every coach is encouraged to take a Making Ethical Decisions course. There are racism in sports courses, there are girls and women in sport courses, there are mental health in sports courses. So there are so many more opportunities for coaches to become educated in how to better coach and that’s huge. It’s the whole athlete we’re looking at. Even though that word has been used for a long time, I think we’re much closer to that now.

We’re also, I think, much more focused on evidence-based coaching and training. So it’s not just training until it hurts. We’re very careful, we’re smarter about training. We involve more sports science and medicine and ancillary services.

Brainsport Times: Outside of coaching you work as a psychologist. How have you seen approaches to mental health in sport change over time?

RE: We pay attention to it now. I think athletes are much more willing to go to coaches and talk to them. And coaches, hopefully we’re more approachable to talk to about issues an athlete is having.

It’s about creating the right environment where we learn to be more inclusive of each other. I coach middle distance and cross country groups and I say: “If there’s anything that you see that you don’t feel comfortable with or that you feel is not inclusive, please come and tell me. Or if you don’t feel comfortable talking to me, talk to this person.” I just want to make sure that no one is afraid to say something.

Members of the Riversdale Athletics Club after a 2019 meet.
Members of the Riversdale Athletics Club after a 2019 meet.

Brainsport Times: What is your fondest memory of Riversdale Athletics Club?

RE: Honestly some of my fondest memories — and they keep occurring — are when we have somebody come to our club and they don’t aspire necessarily to go to Nationals, they’re coming more because they want to get in shape or they want to be part of a group. And you have to teach them from square one how to run sometimes. When I see them improve, and so proud of what they have done, it’s just so exciting. I would have to say, from recreational to higher performing athletes, when individuals set and meet their goals — or when they fall short and yet grow from the situation — or when they learn something which makes them even more determined, I feel great about coaching.

Brainsport Times: What excites you the most for the future of the club?

RE: We continue to attract board members and coaches and athletes that fit into our philosophy, which is really about inclusion, being a better person and athlete and doing your best. It’s not about numbers — it’s about the quality of what we’re providing at the club. We now have board members that were athletes and now they’re becoming involved and they have maintained the same philosophy.

I get emails from people all the time saying: “That was one of the best times in my life.” And I want that to be part of what we’re continuing to offer people.

The Riversdale Athletics Club U16 boys compete on the track.
The Riversdale Athletics Club U16 boys compete on the track.

Brainsport Times: What else do you want people to know?

RE: We will continue to offer a Riversdale culture that is athlete centered with quality coaching and family oriented. We’re often referred to as family. Athletes say that, parents say that, that they feel part of a family, they feel a sense of belonging. I see us continuing to produce high-performing athletes in addition to providing opportunities for athletes that have more recreational goals. The Riversdale culture is distinct and it continues to be our legacy.

This interview has been edited and condensed.