By Paul Gains
One of Canada’s most successful distance running coaches Hugh Cameron passed away October 20th at the Amica Little Lake Retirement Home in Barrie, Ontario. He was 80.
He is survived by his wife of 53 years Nancy, three sons Mark, Rob and Paul and five grandchildren.
As the founder of both the Etobicoke Huskies and Newmarket Huskies track clubs, he was responsible for the development of literally hundreds of Canada’s most celebrated club runners, several of whom went on to represent this country at major international games.
David Edge earned the silver medal for Canada at the 1986 Commonwealth Games in Edinburgh running a personal best of 2:11:08. He struggles to find adequate words to describe the relationship he had with Cameron.
“I came from England and when you were in a race you were in a race not to hold hands but to win,” says Edge who also finished 6th at the 1983 Boston Marathon. “That didn’t go over too well in Toronto. I wasn’t the most liked athlete but Hugh dealt with it. He guided me. In simpler terms, I owe so much to Hugh Cameron.”
Edge also represented Canada at the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles along with another of Cameron’s charges, Sylvia Ruegger, who finished 8th in the inaugural women’s Olympic marathon. That is still the best performance by a Canadian woman in the Olympic marathon.
Prior to their departure for Los Angeles, Cameron, who was also the Olympic marathon coach for those Games, hand-delivered fliers to all the residents along the club’s favourite training circuit in Etobicoke inviting them to view their final training session. Onlookers turned out to wish the pair well.
It was a typical gesture by Cameron who never took a penny for coaching. And he never appeared to favour one athlete’s performance over another. Ruegger went on to set a national marathon record of 2:28:36 which stood for 28 years.
Although Ruegger and Edge were internationally associated with Cameron, his first successful marathoner was Mike Dyon who, in his debut at the 1977 National Capital Marathon in Ottawa, emerged victorious with a time of 2:18:05.
“I was really the guinea pig because we did a 28 mile run three weeks before Ottawa on hills along Weston road,” Dyon remembers. “We didn’t know any better. He said ‘let’s just practice.’ I think we ran 2:34 or so for the marathon and he said ‘you are ready’.
Dyon eventually won Ottawa three times, lowered his personal best to 2:14:28 and would finish 9th in the 1982 Commonwealth Games for Canada. As Cameron’s health deteriorated Dyon’s commitment to his friend and mentor never wavered. He would bring books for Cameron’s wife Nancy to read to her husband.
Born in Lethbridge, Alberta, Cameron worked for Kodak for 32 years mostly as Director of Human Resources. He helped Dyon obtain a summer job there. Moreover, the athletes were recipients of his extraordinary interpersonal skills.
Alison Wiley, who in 1983 earned the silver medal at the World Cross Country Championships and followed that up with an NCAA 3,000m title for Stanford University, sought Cameron upon her return to Toronto following graduation. She turned out to every club practice while working as a brand manager for Cadbury’s. Cameron’s support during this transitional period was strong.
‘I think he also probably sensed I was doing well in my career and moving up and he really fostered that,” Wiley reveals. “He knew me. He was helping me to be the best person I could be recognizing you were not always going to run at this intense level.
“It was an interesting phase of my life and he was right there helping to shape it. I had an amazing father – and my mum and dad were great – they provided a loving home, a supportive home but I never had those conversations with my dad. They were with Hugh Cameron. Because he could relate the athlete to the business woman outside the track.”
Wiley became emotional remembering Cameron’s kindness to her and her family when her brother, also named Hugh, suffered an accident which left him paraplegic.
“Hugh knew my brother but he never coached him,” she recalls, “ he would send him emails or call him. He would include him. Who does that? Once again such a deep thoughtful caring individual . My brother’s pain was his pain, was my pain. He reached out to people and that is really a beautiful trait.”
Among the athletes closest to Cameron was Dave Reid who remembers taking public transit to an Etobicoke Huskies workout one September night in 1975. Being a shy 12 year old, he watched the group from a distance then got on the bus and went home. After his father asked if he was going back for the next session he reluctantly agreed. From there the pair would forge an incredible relationship strengthened further when the Cameron family moved into the same neighbourhood.
Reid would go on to set a Canadian interscholastic 1,500m record of 3:45.78 when he was in high school. Under Cameron’s tutelage he continued to improve representing Canada at three world cross country championships as well as the 1983 world athletics championships in Helsinki. In 1987, Reid set a Canadian senior 1,500m record of 3:37.84.
“He was coach of the Canadian team for the 1982 world cross country championships in Rome when I was a junior,” Reid recounts. “He had gone to every single athlete’s family and asked them to write letters to the athletes so they could open them up every day when they were in Rome. It was so they would feel comfortable and relaxed. Who does that?”
Reid would spend lots of time with Cameron’s family because of their close proximity. And when Reid hung up his racing shoes he got his start in coaching alongside Cameron.
Coaching came naturally to Hugh Cameron according to his wife, Nancy, who said that besides coaching at Lakehead University in his 20’s, the seeds for a coaching career were sown much earlier. There was an oval in front of his house and he would organize races for kids.
“Hugh didn’t talk about his job at home,” she explains. “Sometimes I wish he had so I could share more in that. But I think he felt he wanted to maintain space between his job, his coaching and family.”
With a laugh she adds, ”I used to tease him that if I wasn’t also a runner he would be divorced.”
Nancy is organizing a celebration of life at Northwest Barrie United Church November 18th. In lieu of flowers, the family requests that donations be made to the Alzheimer’s Society or organization close to your heart in Hugh’s honour.