Thursday, March 5, 2015 9:06:39 EST PM
By Morris Dalla Costa, The London Free Press
Canadian decathlete and Montcalm Secondary School graduate Damian Warner answers questions from students as he is joined by coaches Dennis Nielsen, left, and coach Gar Leyshon at the Highbury Avenue high school in London, Ontario on Thursday March 5, 2015. Warner won a bronze medal at the 2013 World Championships in Moscow and a gold medal at the 2014 Commonwealth Games in Glasgow. CRAIG GLOVER/The London Free Press/QMI Agency
Whoever put together the blueprint that combined exceptional athlete with exceptional person got it spot on with Damian Warner.
The 25-year Olympic decathlete is putting together an impressive resume. Some of the London native’s highlights include first in the 2011 and 2012 Canadian championships; fifth place in the 2012 Olympic Games with a personal best of 8,442 points; Commonwealth Games gold; and third at the 2013 IAAF world championships.
Coming up for Warner this year are the Pan-Am Games in Toronto/Hamilton and the world championships. Next year it’s Rio and the Summer Olympics.
What the resume doesn’t say, though, is what kind of person Warner is. It takes no more than a five-minute conversation with him to recognize that Warner scores a gold medal for being personable and gracious.
“He’s just a great person. He’s so grounded,” said Gar Leyshon, his coach of 10 years. “I have two sons but I look at him as a third son.”
Warner returned to his high school Thursday where Leyshon is a coach, to speak to Montcalm students about his life and what it takes to be successful.
With Warner bursting on the scene at the Olympics, it was easy to believe that he found overnight success.
That idea caused both Warner and Leyshon to laugh. Warner worked years to become an overnight success.
“The one thing about Damian is that he’s worked so hard to get where he is,” Leyshon said.
Warner is still several years away from what is considered the prime age for a decathlete. But things are as good as they’ve been for the young man both professionally and personally.
He trains and lives with another outstanding athlete, former pentathlete and Western University athlete of the year Jen Cotton, a wonderful person in her own right.
“Things certainly happened very fast,” Warner said. “A lot of people think that it happened overnight and at times it seems that way but it was a lot of hard work to get here.”
Warner’s appearance at Montcalm was part of an announcement about Warner’s new association with Sport Chek and Canadian Tire brands and Canadian Tire Jumpstart Ambassador. Jumpstart is a national charitable program that helps children from financially disadvantaged families get involved in sports and recreation.
He is also sponsored by Nike.
“I couldn’t be in a better place,” Warner said.
“At times you have high expectations for yourself so you want to be at the top right away,” Warner said. “But I’ve come to realize over the years that it’s a process and it takes time. You may not be at the top yet but you are making all the right moves to get there. It’s trusting in the process and staying patient.”
Warner has overcome a great deal to become the kind of example young people can look up to. It’s something that makes him feel good.
“I feel when I was in high school I would have liked to have somebody that kind of did something that I want to achieve,” he said. “If I can come back and tell some of these kids my stories, they can take something away from it then my job is done and I can feel proud in my accomplishments.
“When I was 18 there’s no way I thought I would be at the place I am now. When I was in high school I’d never left Canada yet. I used to wonder what it was like to cross the border at Windsor to go to Detroit to go play basketball games. Now I’m travelling to Korea and all these different places in the world. I couldn’t imagine being where I am now but I’m certainly liking it.”
Warner will head to California in about a week to do some training. He wants to compete at a meet in Austria then there’s the Pan Am Games.
“Going to the Pan Am Games and winning the gold would be good. Just being able to stand on the podium with my family and friends would be the ultimate goal in that competition,” he said. “Then winning the gold medal at the world championships; whatever competition I go into, winning the gold is the ultimate goal.”
Warner was so successful in the last Olympic Games that he can talk about winning a gold medal in Rio and the idea is more reality than dream. He isn’t worried about the pressure he’ll feel as a Canadian with medal expectations.
“I don’t feel too much pressure,” he said. “When I get to those big competitions, it’s a little bit easier maybe because all the work is done and you can go in there and show everyone all the hard work you have done. Go in and compete and have fun. No pressure. I will be ready.”