Natural talent will take you a long way in sports, but is it enough? Nova Scotia sprinter Adrienne Power, a 26-year-old from Halifax, recently won the 200 metre women’s title at the Canadian track and field championships and was also selected to the Olympic team.
A natural athlete with a steely determination to be the best, her success so far is not surprising. Her coach Peter Lord describes her as “one of those athletes that comes along once in a generation.”
But what is remarkable are the obstacles she has faced to get to where she is today. She trains from sub-standard facilities in Halifax, the same facilities many weekend warriors use. Given where Adrienne is in her running career, she should have long ago moved to a place with better facilities.
In spite of that, her times have improved every year for the past seven years and she doesn’t expect to peak until 2012, just in time for the Olympic Games in London, England. She recently ran a personal best 22.86 seconds in the 200 metre sprint, which is also the fourth fastest time ever run by a Canadian.
This is a testament to both her talent and her determination to improve, even though it means physically and mentally exhausting herself every day. “You have to do it until it hurts,” she says.
And she has other things to worry about besides athletics. She works 25 hours per week for the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency (ACOA) as a trade and investment officer.
Work is a necessity because, as Lord says, “You can’t make a lot of money as an athlete.” Power is in the process of putting together her athlete’s resume so that she can get funding to pay for her training and living expenses. She already has some sponsorship deals in place to cover her nutritional supplements and her apparel and footwear.
Power’s close friend and training partner Mike Bawol thinks quitting her job would be a good idea. “If she did quit her job, I think she’d be a lot more relaxed because she could devote that extra energy to training. I think she could reach even higher levels.”
Power is a mentor to Bawol. But their relationship is give and take. Mike doesn’t mince words with her. If he doesn’t think she’s doing something right, he lets her know–and he pushes her.
“I like sort of being abused a little bit,” she says in a later interview. “I like being yelled at. It makes me want to work harder.” This is where Mike comes in.
Originally from East Jeddore, a tiny fishing village on the eastern shore in Nova Scotia, Power moved away from home to attend Dalhousie University in 2000. Originally recruited to play soccer, she pursued track and field instead. By the time she graduated in 2005 with a Commerce degree, she was the Canadian Interuniversity Sport Female Athlete of the Year.
There has been pressure for Power to move elsewhere to train. Were she surrounded by top athletes and the best training facilities, it could certainly help her. But Power has a close attachment to home and couldn’t bear to be away from her family.
“I like it here,” she says. “My family’s close. I’m kind of a wimp about leaving. I’m gone all the time. In a year, I’m gone probably five and a half months.”
To compensate for the sub-standard facilities here, she spends one month every year training in Florida with other top athletes and legendary American track and field coach Brooks Johnson.
During the winter months, Power trains on the indoor track at Dalplex. It’s a very hard surface, essentially concrete with a hard rubber top, so it’s not easy on the body. It has sharp corners and the longest straightaway is only 30m long, half of what it is at a regulation 200m track. This means Power can’t hit top speed there.
“If you’re not hitting top speed, it means your body’s not getting into the position where it would be at top speed and you don’t become comfortable with top speed,” she says. “You can’t recognize top speed when you’re in a race. So when I’m in a race, I hit top speed and I’m still trying to go faster because I’m not recognizing it. If I relaxed at that top speed, I would run super fast.”
Besides the top speed conundrum, she needs to work on her start and her mental approach as well. She trains every day for about three hours, two hours devoted to running and one hour to weights, with some plyometrics thrown in.
Power’s story is inspiring. She’s a small town girl who has developed into one of the best athletes in the world, and despite the pressure, she’s done it on her own terms, by staying in Halifax and staying close to her family. “For seven years, I’ve gotten faster and I’ve done it from here,” she says.