Q&A with Alicia Bell, coach of Rye’s track and field team

In its first official year of competition, the Ryerson track and field team has managed to enlist the help of a high-profile coach.

Alicia Bell has come a long way since her days of helping out the Dalhousie Track Club. The 32-year-old track and field coach has worked with many high profile clients over the course of her career such as National Basketball Association (NBA) star Dwight Howard, Olympian Geoff Harris and even Drake’s mother. Bell has been featured in a New Balance ad campaign and joined NBA star Lebron James on his five kilometre run last summer in Toronto.  She spoke with The Ryersonian about her current position as a sprint coach for Ryerson’s track and field team, how she got her start in the industry and the team’s upcoming meet at York University. Some answers have been edited for clarity.

1. Why did you decide to come to Ryerson?

My athletes Ryan (Chong) and Willie (Lanktree), who have been training with me for about five years, went there and they both still wanted to compete.

2. Could you talk about your relationship with those members?

They are my family. I call them my “track kids” and they call me their “track mom.” We’ve been through a lot together. I used to volunteer with another club that they were part of and then I went off on my own and they wanted to stay with me.  I guess that means that I do an OK job. We have gone through injuries, national championships and have experienced a lot in our athlete-coach relationship and I am very proud of the fine men that they have become and how their track careers have progressed. In track, athletes often leave the sport too early and my goal for them is to keep them developing, gaining experience and achieving personal bests.

3. What were some of your expectations for the team and the job coming in?

I knew that it was brand new and there would be some bumps and bruises along the way. I’m glad that (cross-country coach Tim Uuksulainen) invited me to join and take over the sprints.

4. How has your experience coaching the team gone so far?

A bit difficult getting all of the athletes together at one time and finding suitable training hours and locations. Locations to train is the toughest. The club that I run trains out of the Toronto Track and Field Centre, which for some student athletes is a trek via transit to get to.

5. How do you expect your sprinters to do at the upcoming meet?

I have full faith in my athletes that have been training with me for years. I am pretty sure that it will be their best season yet. I think for a lot of the rookies new to CIS (Canadian Interuniversity Sport) track it will be an eye opener to what it takes to get to the top. It will really show them the level of competition out there but I have prepared them as best as I can with the time that we have had.

6. Have you faced any challenges in your career due to gender? I ask because I know women who work in sports sometimes are discriminated against or not taken seriously because of their gender.

Absolutely. I look way younger than I am. I sometimes get mixed up as an athlete and or talked down to like I have no experience. But I take it with a grain of salt. The sport is a male-dominated coaching field but that’s what I love about it. It’s a challenge and every year is a new journey in my coaching path. Being a female coach in the track world is empowering and I hope I motivate other young women to coach someday too.

7. What is the most challenging thing about your job?

Time. I don’t have enough hours in the day to do all the things that I do. I’m continually driving all over the city, eating on the go and fitting in my own workouts at 10 p.m.

8. What was it like working with Drake’s mom? How did you get that job?

I got referred to her through a friend. She’s the most amazing woman ever. She has a very kind heart and works very hard.

9. What’s one thing people assume about your job that’s wrong?

That I make (a lot of) money coaching. Unfortunately it is not the case. I volunteer a lot of my time and the little money I do make I put into gas to get to coaching, coaching courses, stretching courses and the experience goes right back into my athletes to help them.

10. Will you be working with the Rams next season?

If I am asked to. I would love to develop the program and see success. There’s so much potential to have something great with these sprinters and I think it would bring a lot of value to varsity sports for me to continue with the program next year.

The track and field team will be at competing in the York Open at York University this weekend.

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