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Beaver Mines athlete brings home gold

Thursday, 24 August 2017. Posted in Shootin' the Breeze

Beaver Mines athlete brings home gold
Mathias Gelber holds up the Alberta flag after winning a gold medal in the 2,000-metre race at the National Legion Track and Field Championships on Aug. 12.   Photos by Tobias Gelber

Beaver Mines athlete brings home gold

By Tyler Ryan

Mathias Gelber was 14 when he competed in the 1,200- and 2,000-metre races at the Legion National Youth Track and Field championships for the first time last August.

“Everything was overwhelming,” he says. “It’s nationals and I’m the youngest one here and everybody’s fast.”

Mathias was nervous going into the races and says he “didn’t end up running the greatest.”

His best performance was a 10th-place finish in the 2,000-metre race.

After this first taste of national competition, Mathias knew he wanted to go back and was determined to improve his abilities.

With help from strength-building coach Bart Ujack of Calgary, and coach Ritch Braun with the Passtrack club in Crowsnest Pass, Mathias buckled down and trained rigorously for the 2017 national championships.

“A normal week would have me training 13 to 14 times,” Mathias says. His regimen pushed him to work out at least twice a day by swimming and alternating between running or biking.

He also devoted time to being mentored by Ritch.

If there were volleyball or basketball competitions on the weekends, Mathias played to get additional training.

If there were no tournaments, he would swim and run one day and bike and run the next to fulfil his weekly training regimen.

To qualify for nationals, Mathias competed in a sanctioned Royal Canadian Legion event in Calgary five weeks beforehand.

“To race in Legions, you have to meet a certain standard,” he says. “To get on a team to race in Legions, you have to meet an even faster standard.”

Mathias needed to run 2,000 metres in under six minutes 30 seconds. To earn a spot on Team Alberta, he needed to finish in less than 5:56. He clinched his spot by posting a time of 5:54.  

Mathias says he was much more comfortable returning to the national championships, which were held in Brandon from Aug. 11 to 13.  

There were 33 athletes on Team Alberta.

“I got to know every single one of them on the team and we all became pretty good friends,” he says. “We had one of the most sportsmanlike, most polite, and the nicest team out there.”

Mathias’s first event was the 2,000-metre race on Aug. 12. The night before, he “started mentally preparing, envisioning, and thinking about the race.” He was monitoring his hydration and food intake, as well as going to bed earlier.

An hour before race time, Mathias was warming up and getting himself into the zone.

“I was telling myself, ‘It will hurt but you’ll be able to push through it. You can kick, you know you can.’ I was just trying to psyche myself up for it.”

Walking onto the track, he was nervous and recognized some of the racers from the previous year, like Joe Fast. Joe had clocked in at two seconds faster than Mathias’s personal best and was seeded in first place.

“I knew it was going to be a hard race,” Mathias says. “I was not at all going into that race thinking that I was going to win.”

As he positioned himself at the starting line, he felt ready and told himself, “Just give it your best shot.”

“At that point I didn’t really care how I did — it’s going to be the best I can do so it doesn’t matter if I don’t get a medal,” he says.

“And then the gun went.”

Mathias was the first to cross the finish line, with a time of five minutes 43.43 seconds, netting a gold medal.

Joe Fast, who outpaced Mathias in 2016, finished second with a time of 5:47.64. In third place was Dakota Goguen, another athlete who beat Mathias last year. Dakota was timed at 5:51.55.

Later that afternoon, Mathias competed in the 1,600-metre sprint medley. He was joined by three Team Alberta athletes: Jared Howse, Ryan Wright and Mason Sartain.

Jared ran the first 400 metres, Ryan and Mason each sprinted 200 and Mathias closed out the remaining 800.

“Going in, I knew our relay team was definitely the second-best one there,” Mathias says, adding that the Ontario team was “stacked” with two athletes who had broken national records for their respective events.  

From the start, the Ontario athletes proved they were a force to be reckoned with. When Mathias was passed the baton, Ontario had a 200-metre lead while Alberta was in third place.

“I was yelling across the track to my buddy Mason, who was running the last 200 metres,” he says. “I was just yelling ‘Go, go, go!’ and I was thinking, ‘He’s got to get here if I have any chance of catching [first place].’ ”

When Mason reached Mathias with the baton, the Beaver Mines athlete kicked into overdrive and pulled Team Alberta into a thrilling second-place finish.

“I ran a pretty quick 800 and ended up coming within 50 metres of the Ontario dude, but it wasn’t close enough,” he says.

Mathias also ran a four-by-400-metre relay with older runners, and the team finished fourth.

His final race was another four-by-100 relay, but this team was disqualified due to a fumbled baton pass.

“Between the guys in the second and third leg, they dropped it and then the wrong person picked it up,” Mathias says.

This was his last major competition of the year. Inspired by gold and silver wins, Mathias has his eye on racing at the national level again next year.

He enters Grade 10 next month at St. Michael’s School in Pincher Creek and plans to join the cross-country team. He also plans to compete at provincials in October.

Aware that next year’s competition will be even tougher — with a move into the senior age category and longer running distances — he’s determined to improve his speed.

For example, next year he will be running 3,000 metres instead of 2,000.

“I’m looking to get a bunch of experience there and basically scope out the competition again,” he says. “It’s going to be a learning year.”

For middle school students thinking about getting into track and field, Mathias suggests joining the school track club and also checking out Passtrak.

Passtrak coach Ritch Braun “is an ocean of expertise,” he says. “He’s coached the Olympic relay team, so he knows his stuff.”

Mathias also has advice for anyone else interested in running.

“If you want to do distance, just get some running shoes, put them on and go for an hour jog every day.”

20170812 Contributed by Mathias Gelber 1 Tobias Gelber
Mathias Gelber is just about to cross the finish line in the 2,000-metre race at the National Legion Track and Field Championships. He ran the race in five minutes 43.43 seconds.

Read more in this week’s online edition here.
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From the August 23, 2017 print edition of Shootin’ the Breeze.
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