By Raymond Bernard
Special to the ObserverA great athlete not only excels at his or her sport but redefines it for himself and others who follow. Fort Erie has such an athlete and his name is Adam Woehl, a Grade 10 student at Greater Fort Erie Secondary School.
It’s not surprising that Adam is known around the province by athletes and coaches alike as an elite runner and yet remains a virtual unknown in the Niagara region.
Niagara has become a hotbed for elite runners across the province due to the exceptional track clubs within Niagara. These club runners are showcased frequently in the media for all their amazing accomplishments.
This is where Adam’s story differs from all the rest of Niagara’s elite runners. Adam’s rise in track and field and cross-country was not done within the provincial club environment but his tale is storybook.
Adam came home after his Grade 6 DSBN cross-country championship race disappointed with his 46th place finish. Wanting to improve, Adam convinced his parents to reach out to a volunteer coach who had just arrived in town and was coaching at Stevensville Public School.
Adam and his parents met with the coach and a plan was put in place to help him improve. The next year was the toughest for Adam as his coach diagnosed a poor stride quality and efficiency as the root problem. What made matters worse, Adam was forced to wear a pair of “pool noodle” prostheses on his arms while he trained.
In Grade 7, Adam set his goal of finishing in the top 20 at DSBN’s cross country championships and shocked himself by placing fifth. Encouraged by his performance, Adam trained over the winter and was excited to apply his newfound abilities to the upcoming track season. Continuing in his “pool noodles” arm gear, Adam’s stride quality and efficiency steadily improved. Adam’s real test would be in the 1500m at the DSBN track championships where he would encounter his first major competition against club runners. Adam didn’t disappoint pushing the club athletes right down to the last stride and claimed the bronze medal as his result.
People had started to take notice of this scrawny kid from Stevensville and of the effortless stride he commanded. The following year, the pool noodles were shed and Adam cruised to a silver at the DSBN cross-country championships. The following spring at the DSBN track championships Adam finished out of the medals due to a nagging lower-body injury.
Undaunted, Adam recovered and set his sight on the upcoming high school season of cross-country. At the high school level. the top performances are dominated by club athletes and it’s difficult to break into the province’s top 20 without the training a club provides.
Still, an unknown, Adam broke into the top 20 at OFSAA cross-country with a 16th place finish in a field of 293 runners.
Now established as a provincial class cross-country runner, athletes and coaches alike take notice, but they can’t pin down Adam’s true abilities as he has no club-related race results to review.
The following spring everyone would get a taste of the wrath of Adam. At the Southern OFSAA Regional track championships, Adam is in tough with a very good field of club runners. The 1500m – not his strength – would be the fuel to his success. With 50m to go and running in third, Adam was run over from behind and went down. He recovered quickly to earn fifth place which wasn’t good enough to qualify for OFSAA.
The next day, Adam stunned the field and won the 3000m in dramatic fashion, coming from 9th place to lead the last lap.
Adam would go on to place 13th as a Grade 10 at the OFSAA cross country championships, cementing his name amongst the province’s elite runners. Adam has since joined Athletic’s Niagara track club as the next step in his running development.
All his accomplishments on the field pale in comparison to his work with others who aspire to athletic greatness. Adam is helping the next generation of Fort Erie runners by coaching and pacing young runners through their intervals. He has become an inspiration, role model and mentor to the runners at Stevensville Public School and is single handily changing the landscape of competitive running in Fort Erie.