It’s ironic that at a time where in-person meetings have been all but replaced by video conferences as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, it was the personal touch that sold Rori Denness-Lamont on her next coach.
When the 20-year-old White Rock resident was sorting through offers and inquiries from universities who were interested in having her join their track-and-field rosters, Denness-Lamont – who is one of Canada’s top young javelin throwers – noticed that in many cases, coaches only asked a few basic, quick questions.
Only one – California State University Long Beach throws coach Cory Loebl – spent time asking Denness-Lamont questions about herself and what her goals and hopes were as she prepared to leap into NCAA Div. 1 competition.
“I spoke to a lot of schools, a lot of different coaches, but he just stuck out to me,” said Denness-Lamont, who took this past year off school but previously spent her first year after high school at Simon Fraser University.
“He’s just a super caring guy, who wasn’t just looking out for his sport or team, but for me as well. He was always telling me, ‘Hey, I think you’ll like this about our school,’ or saying that I should make sure to live on campus because he thought I’d meet some great people that way. He just really resonated with me.
“A lot of other coaches were just like, ‘Hey what (distance) are you throwing? OK, cool.’”
Another perk of choosing Long Beach, she said, was that Loebl is a well-respected javelin coach, which she noted is hard to find – even at the U.S. university level.
“It’s hard to find a javelin-specific coach because a lot of coaches specialize in the shot put, hammer throw and the discus – all those throws are kind of all related. But javelin has just a completely different technical base than the other throws, so it’s hard to find someone who is coaching the other three but also knows javelin.”
Denness-Lamont, who did not compete in javelin while at SFU because the pandemic wiped out the season, admitted that the recruiting process was “definitely weird” in a world in which in-person campus visits were not feasible as a result of border closures and quarantine rules.
However, the longtime Ocean Athletics member – she first joined the South Surrey track club when she was nine – was able to make the most of it, and through Zoom calls with coaches, as well as online campus tours, said she’s still comfortable committing to a place she’s never physically been.
“I’ve never been to California, but I had the Zoom calls, saw the campus, and I’ve watched YouTube videos that the school created so (recruits) can see the athletic facilities. It’s a new way to go about recruiting, but I saw a fair bit and I’m just really excited,” she said.
Making the most of an odd, pandemic-created situation is nothing new for Denness-Lamont, who said over the past year she’s been training with her old SFU coach, Bradley Graham, in a makeshift gym on a sports field at Maple Ridge Secondary.
With indoor gyms closed for much of last year, Denness-Lamont trained out of a shipping container, she said.
“He completely turned it into a gym with a weight room and everything,” she explained. “I’ve been lucky to still be able to train through all of all this.”
Denness-Lamont – who says she “played every sport under the sun” until discovering javelin at 11 years old – is quick to heap praise upon two other coaches – Ocean Athletics founding members Maureen and Ted de St. Croix.
“They’ve been some of my biggest supporters – them and my mom. Throughout this entire thing, since I was nine years old, they’ve always pushed me to be my best and really supported me and looked out for me,” she said.
“They’re amazing, and have always been so kind to me.”
In April, she competed in her first meet since high school – “So my first meet in about a year and a half,” – and this week is in Montreal, where she’s competing at Canadian Olympic trials alongside some of the best throwers in the country.
She said she’s using the event as a learning experience, with an eye towards competing for a spot on Canada’s Olympic team in 2024. While that goal will wait a few years, she is instead focusing on preparing herself for the top division of the NCAA – something she has long dreamed about.
“It was always one of my goals, to compete in the NCAA at a Div. 1 school,” she said. “It’s just such a different atmosphere (in the United States) when it comes to sports. It’s everything I wanted coming out of high school.”