Like virtually all sprinters, past and present, Brandt Fralick and Keefer Joyce share a common bond.
For both the local coach and his teenaged
protege, there is no experience more liberating
than exploding out of the starting blocks, unleashing the body’s raw energy and power, and ultimately reaching speeds few human beings will ever attain.
“We love the grind and we love the speed,” said Fralick, a former national-class sprinter in the 100 and 200 metres. “You go out there to cut loose, you go out there to break away from the cage and all the chains that the world puts down on you.
“When we pull out the fire from inside ourselves, and when we cut loose and get to top speed, it’s pure freedom. Freedom from doubt, and freedom from limitations. It’s like nothing else.”
It’s that sense of unbridled freedom the 17-year-old Keefer Joyce reaches for every time he takes to the track.
Yet, it’s more than those fleeting moments of exhilaration that the Kelowna Secondary School student seeks from running.
Joyce also has some ambitious long term-goals, dreams of one day standing alongside Canada’s and the world’s elite sprinters.
And with Fralick, a velocity coach in Kelowna, providing both psychological guidance and technical advice, Joyce looks to be on the right track.
He is already the top-ranked sprinter in B.C. in the under-19 category, and is No. 3 in all of Canada as a 17-year-old.
Joyce began making waves on the national scene in 2007 when he won a gold medal at the Hershey Track and Field Championships in Pennsylvania.
A year later, he won a pair of silver medals in the 100 and 200 at the Canadian Legion championships.
Among his wins in 2010 was the gold medal in the 100 metres at the B.C. Athletics Championships.
Then last weekend in Winnipeg, Joyce set new personal bests in the 100 (10.93 seconds) and 200 (22.33) at the Canadian junior championships, competing against sprinters as much as two years his senior.
There is little question Joyce is an athlete on the rise and, while he knows the road will be long with many twists and turns, he sees no point in setting his goals low.
“My big goal is making the 2016 Olympics,” said Joyce.
“Since I’ve been doing track, what I want to accomplish is to be on the world stage, run with the Usain Bolts, the Tyson Gays and Asafa Powells of the world.
“To run with sprinters of that quality would be a great accomplishment.”
And Brandt Fralick plans to do everything in his power to help Joyce arrive at his ultimate goal.
For one thing, Joyce can always look to his coach for plenty of emotional inspiration.
Fralick, 24, himself was once an up-and-comer on the national scene, and at 18 was a member of Canada’s sprinting team. He still holds the Okanagan Valley record for the 100 metres at 10.31 seconds.
But in 2005, a serious car accident changed the course of Fralick’s life.
Struck by an impaired driver, Fralick suffered multiple injuries, including damage to his pelvis, neck, back and hips.
He continued to run, including a training stint with Ben Johnson in 2006, but never quite returned to form.
The pain from the accident continued to worsen until January 2008 when Fralick underwent surgery to remove the better part of two discs from his back.
He lost nearly two inches in height and was told by doctors he would never run again or walk without a limp.
Fralick defied all the odds and the naysayers by qualifying for the 2008 Canada Summer Games.
He didn’t win but reached the finals, posting a time of 10.7 seconds.
“It’s hard to live through what he has,” said Joyce.
“What I learn from Brandt is that the sky’s the limit. Anything is possible. He inspires me a lot and I take it with me every day.”
The Canada Games would turn out be Fralick’s final race and from that point on, he would immerse himself in his new calling—coaching. And athletes like Keefer Joyce are benefitting.
“I feel like I was meant to go on to something a little different so I could come back and help and teach other people the things I’ve been blessed to learn,” said Fralick, who has apprenticed under Canadian sprint coach Mike Murray.
“I never got fulfilled as an athlete, but found another fulfillment and that comes from working with athletes every day.
“It’s world’s greatest job. I demand 130 per cent but they get the same in return.”
Fralick recently returned from an eight-day visit to Jamaica where he honed his instructional skills, working extensively with sprinting coaches in the Caribbean nation.
With the vast majority of the fastest times in the 100 metres run in the world this year by Jamaicans, it’s clear that coaching methods in that country are evolving quicker than in the rest of the world.
Fralick is passing that knowledge on to his students.
“In (Jamaica) they spend a lot of time on rhythm and flow, not in the weight room,” said Fralick who runs Nitro Velocity, a coaching program in Kelowna.
“They don’t believe in bulk, it’s power-strength-flow combination. It was only a matter of time before people bought into this program. It’s the way to go.”
Still, Joyce’s advancement and evolution as a runner can’t come exclusively from the teachings and experiences of his coach.
Fralick said a sprinter requires a large degree of inner strength, mental focus and, as much as anything, a measure of patience to run with the best—qualities he says Joyce has in multitudes.
“Keefer has a unique gift of not panicking. It’s not about dominating at the high school level, it’s about peaking at the right time and he knows that, honing his skills when the time comes. It’s his ability to maintain his composure and focus as an athlete. This is a three-year plan, he can’t win every race right now.
“Going from the bottom of the mountain to the top overnight isn’t realistic, he understands that, that’s why he’s so successful. This journey is a thousand miles long and he’s got to take every single step if he’s going to get there.”
What Joyce is also beginning to understand is the level of dedication and commitment that’s required to become an elite athlete.
“What you put in is what you get out of it,” said Joyce. “You put 75 per cent into it, that’s what your running is going to be like. You put 110 per cent in and you can compete with the big dogs. I try and stick by that.”
Fralick said another key aspect of ascending through the sprinting ranks is the ability of the athlete to remain relatively healthy.
Because of the intense and explosive nature of the event, injuries are a common concern.
It’s how those injuries are managed and maintained that makes all the difference.
“It’s like a race car, any time you redline your car, something can eventually go, so we spend a lot of time with our therapists and our team of strength coaches to make sure that Keefer’s body is fine tuned all the time,” said Fralick.
“As he’s growing and he’s developing…injuries, if they come, are little tweaks and not anything that we’re going to be taking time off, whereas a lot of athletes neglect their bodies, let tweaks build up until eventually they blow something. We just don’t take chances.”
So with all the framework and pieces in place, it seems entirely feasible that only time and experience sit between Keefer Joyce and a productive and fulfilling sprinting career.
And while there are no guarantees of ultimate success, you won’t hear a single shred of doubt coming from Brandt Fralick.
“We have a thing around here we say and it’s that we dream of waking,” he said.
“We live the dream, we don’t dream and hope one day it’s going to happen. We’re living the dream right now.
“When the day comes when Keefer is up on the podium and he’s got the gold medal around his neck at the Olympics, you’re not going to be seeing a tear in my eye because I’m happy, you’re going to be seeing it because we know we’ve done it. There’s only more places to go and the ride is over.
“Up until then everyday is a fulfillment and an enjoyment, we just do it because we love it.”
Keefer Joyce is competing this weekend at the B.C. youth championships in Coquitlam.
This September, he’ll travel to the Isle of Man, Great Britain as a member of Team Canada for the Commonwealth Youth Games.