The River East Kodiaks aren’t just fast runners and high jumpers — they also have a way with words.
The boys track team at the North Kildonan school was selected to represent Manitoba at the National Nike Grand Prix track meet in Toronto, in large part because of essays that each of the athletes wrote detailing why they deserved to compete against schools from across Canada.
Coach Danielle Fontaine said the Kodiaks — most of whom are in Grade 12 and have been training together for three years — wrote about their desire to challenge themselves, to bond with each other in a different environment and to experience a first-class event.
The essays paid off. Each member of the team was treated "like an Olympian" from May 10 to 13, as the Kodiaks finished third overall in the boys’ competition.
"We didn’t know what to expect," Fontaine said. "We were hoping to do really well and I think we did."
Leading the way for River East at the University of Toronto stadium was Alhaji Mansaray, who won gold medals in the high jump, long jump and 100-metres, and, along with three teammates, won the 4X100-metre relay.
"It was great," said the Grade 12 student from North Kildonan, who didn’t start taking track seriously until Grade 10. "I never go to competitions thinking I’m the best. I usually go thinking I’ll try my best and see what happens."
Also cracking the podium for the Kodiaks was Josh Dyck, who won bronze in the 800-metres.
Fontaine said many of the athletes either set new personal bests, or came very close.
"The track meet itself was the best-run meet I’ve ever experienced," she said. "They had results up on the Jumbotron immediately after the race and video on the Jumbotron. The medals were presented right after the events, there was lots of chanting and cheering, lots of energy."
The team came home a much more tightly-knit unit than when it left.
"The team worked together very well," said Mansaray, who will join the University of Manitoba track team in the fall. "We don’t usually hang out that much, but in those four days we actually supported each other, and that’s why some people got personal bests. We’re all talking at school and stuff now. We’re way closer than we were before."
The Kodiaks didn’t just treat each other well during their weekend in the Big Smoke. Their support for all the athletes and generally friendly demeanour earned them the title of most sportsmanlike team.
"I was proud of how they conducted themselves," Fontaine said.
With the provincial outdoor championship meet looming, Fontaine and the Kodiaks are hoping their experiences in Toronto will carry them to victory.
"It gives me a lot of confidence," Mansaray said. "I just went to a national meet and beat people from other provinces. There’s still great competition here, but I just feel better about myself now."