Mr. Track and Field
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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 07/09/2019 (1185 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
It’s been said the true measure of a runner isn’t in time, but rather the effort it took along the way.
James ‘Jim’ Daly only spent about 10 years racing track and field, but it was enough to make him fall in love with the sport. He dedicated the rest of his life to helping young track athletes from across Manitoba strive for their own personal bests.
Dubbed “Mr. Track and Field” by friends and family, Jim never met a track athlete he didn’t like, no matter their level of talent. His commitment to track and field went far beyond the results of any meet.
Daly died on May 16 at the age of 92.
He began influencing the sport in the 1940s, when he was a teenager. During his time as a runner, he broke multiple provincial records, but, something was missing. At the time, there was a lack of organization in track and field. So instead of sitting idly by, Jim and a couple of friends decided they would help develop the sport, hold track meets and coach. He started the University of Manitoba’s track and field club in 1949 while working at his insurance business.
“He quit running and became the ultimate coach. He was the coach of everybody who wanted to learn something about track and field. He was passionate about it and was noted for his track and field involvement,” said Dave Drybough, who was coached by Jim in the mid-1950s to ’60s and became a lifelong friend.
The friends met at a Thanksgiving road race in 1954. Dave was a young runner, while Jim was 28 — about nine years Dave’s senior and newly married to his wife, Barbara. Jim and Barb had only been married a week and were on their honeymoon, but Jim insisted they cut it short so they could attend the road race.
That’s just how Jim was. If there was an opportunity to help an athlete develop their skills, he took it.
“My dad could make friends with anybody and everybody. He had a true gift of gab,” said Robin Flynn, one of his four children. “He just loved any opportunity to help people be their best, even if it was us.”
When Robin was a kid, Jim would time how fast she could run from their house to the corner and back. If she beat her time, she’d get a quarter, a hefty amount in the ’60s.
“Took me a few years to figure out that I could start off the year slow, to guarantee a faster time,” Robin said.
As his kids grew up, so did Jim’s involvement in track and field. During his 65-year coaching tenure, he was named national chairman of track and field for the Amateur Athletic Union of Canada, he coached the 1964 Canadian Olympic track team in Tokyo and was a part of a group of businessmen who convinced Stephen Juba, Winnipeg’s mayor, to apply as host city for the 1967 Pan Am Games.
Once the Games were awarded to Winnipeg, Jim was named executive director of the event. The Games were quite the spectacle; it was the first time they were being hosted by Canada, which brought people to Winnipeg from near and far. In the end, Jim helped produce a mightily successful Pan Am Games, where Canada came away second in the medal count, only being beaten by the U.S.
Following the Games, he joined the University of Manitoba’s faculty of education full time, as assistant to the director of physical education, while continuing his role as track coach. He retired in 1996, 47 years after he started coaching there.
Jim coached hundreds of athletes, including Eric “Ken” Money, a high jumper who went on to become an astronaut for the Canadian Space Agency and author six topics for the World Book Encyclopedia.
In 2015, the U of M recognized Jim’s years of hard work by naming the indoor fieldhouse after him. The James Daly Fieldhouse, which Jim pushed the university to raise money for, was built in 1981. He was instrumental in not only rooting for the track to be built, but also in developing the indoor track program.
Following his retirement from the U of M in 1996, Jim began coaching track at Fort Richmond Collegiate. The school didn’t have a track program at the time and his grandson, David Flynn, was just starting Grade 10 there.
Jim had six grandchildren, but only two of them lived in Winnipeg. The bond between Jim and David grew during David’s high school years. Summers were spent out at Jim’s cottage in Victoria Beach, where they enjoyed golfing together and eating pancakes.
Jim began coaching at the school because of his grandson, but he continued to volunteer there long after David graduated. He only left a few years ago, while he was in his late ’80s, after 15 years of developing the school’s track program.
Victoria Beach was a special place where Jim’s friendship with Dave Drybough grew as well. Once they were both retired, Jim and Dave would spend many summer nights out at the lake. Dave and his wife would host dinner parties at their cabin one night, while Jim and Barb would host later in the week.
“He was a worse golfer than I am, and I’m terrible. We also played tennis together though, we were both pretty OK at that,” said Dave.
If so desired, donations can be made to a scholarship fund, which Jim had set up under his name, for aspiring track and field athletes at the University of Manitoba.
Updated on Monday, September 9, 2019 3:06 PM CDT: Adds pictures.