CAO’s Empowering Stories from Behind the Bench article series – Black History Month 2024
“For me, coaching is a partnership with athletes … It’s not them and me. We work together on a common goal.”
By David Grossman
When hearing her name, there are people who believe Faye Blackwood is just another average Canadian.
Those same people, when taking the time to explore through copious files and acknowledgements, will find Blackwood to be an extraordinary individual who fits the description of one of a kind.
Blackwood was impressive as an athlete, then as an awe-inspiring coach, and for years, has encouraged and motivated young people. Her motive was giving them hope and helping to achieve more than what were just dreams.
Simply put, she has used her talent, knowledge and so much more to bring out the best in others – and that includes people with physical and intellectual disabilities.
Born in Toronto, Blackwood competed for Canada on the world scene as a sprinter and hurdler. Many who have watched her ability to guide, say Blackwood is saluted as an admirable and elegant leader. Nothing short of a gift to many, she is the recipient of an explosion of praise.
Her pinnacle of success goes far beyond any personal athletic awards, citations, or medals – including a variety of Hall of Fame inductions as well as the 2018 spotlight of being added to the Toronto Sport Hall of Honour. That tribute, located at the Toronto Pan Am Sports Centre, is more of an appreciation of a select group of people for their exceptional accomplishments through sport.
Blackwood’s generosity and contribution to society is far more than mediocre. She is not one of those individuals who likes to tick boxes of achievements or brag about success in life. Those actions, many believe, are just part of human nature. For Blackwood, that kind of boasting is not in her character.
There are individuals who just do what needs to be done on a day-to-day basis – and especially as it relates to the well-being of others. That’s more like Blackwood. She has helped many set goals and then glow with praise when they accomplish what was thought to be near impossible.
With Blackwood, there is no spectacle. No ego or celebrity notoriety. No boom of fame.
There is no mystery either. She has a comfortable streak that thrives on life’s joys and challenges.
For the past 30 years, Blackwood has been devoting time to what many know and understand to be far greater than personal accolades. Her attention has been, and continues to be, helping individuals with disabilities and developmental barriers try to achieve goals.
No, Blackwood is not just another Canadian. Try portraying her as someone who cares quite a bit more than others.
Back in those younger years when she was focussed on the Commonwealth Games and trained indoors at Variety Village (that’s the Toronto facility that “empowers children with disabilities to be seen, participate, and feel included”), Blackwood saw an opportunity to make an impact other than on the competitive track.
It was as a coach.
“There were physical education instructors coaching kids and I wanted to be one of them,” recalled Blackwood. “I have always said that sport is a way of life – for life. If I can help someone through sport, that’s great.
“And for a younger athlete, I explain to them that it’s never about winning – but achieving and trying to help others to be the best they can. I learned that pushing yourself through sport is transferable in so many other ways.”
As a youngster, Blackwood was spotted by a coach who was impressed at her talent. His name was Thian “Sy” Mah, a Canadian long-distance runner who was listed in the Guinness book of world records for competing in the most lifetime marathons. Mah also went on to teach at the University of Toledo. He passed away in 1988, at the age of 62, from leukemia.
It was Mah who convinced Blackwood to join an organization he had started – the North York Track Club. After graduation from Silverthorn Collegiate, where Blackwood was dominant on the high school track scene, it was off to the University of Waterloo. She earned a Bachelor of Science (Honors) degree in Kinesiology. And, yes, she found time to train, keep fit and compete.
Blackwood had also admired the American sprinter Wilma Rudolph, who overcame polio to win Olympic gold medals in the 100 and 200 metres as well as being a member of the 4×100 metres relay team at competitions in 1960 when Rome hosted the global event.
Outside the academic classroom, Blackwood had displayed her talent by winning six gold and eight silver medals in Ontario University Athletics (OUA) events. She was No. 1 in the 60 and 100-metres hurdles in the 1986 Canadian National championships.
Performing on the track was her destiny. Interest had also been rising while training at the Kitchener Waterloo Track and Field Club.
Like everyone who has ups and downs in their lives, Blackwood experienced a time she’ll never forget. It was 1984 in Winnipeg, at the Trials to select a Canadian team for the Summer Olympics. Blackwood didn’t make the cut. It was at the ninth hurdle of the race when she fell. What resulted was a broken left wrist, and personal devastation.
“It was horrible,” said Blackwood, feeling uncomfortable while recalling the episode. “You never expect something like this. It’s life, everything happens for a reason. For me, I had liked to run. It always gave me joy.”
After her university graduation, Blackwood again set her vision on competing at a major global event. This time, it was at the Commonwealth Games where she made the Canadian roster for the 1986 event in Edinburgh, Scotland.
What may have been her biggest accomplishment on the international circuit, came a year earlier with a silver medal as part of Canada’s 4 x 100-metres relay team at the Pacific Conference Games held in Berkley, Calif. Making up that foursome were Esmie Lawrence, Angela Phipps, and Carol Galloway.
You’ve likely heard the phrase “live long and prosper” from motion picture fame. That can be said about Blackwood and her role as a coach.
“For me, it was the natural thing to do,” said Blackwood. “There were youngsters, with all kinds of abilities, and I wanted to make them believe in themselves and build confidence. As a coach, I tell my athletes it’s all about patience, perseverance, believing in yourself and not giving up.”
For nine years, Blackwood was on the staff of Sport for the Disabled, now known as ParaSport Ontario. Then, it was off to Athletics Canada managing paralympic programs and for the past 20 years has been a Sport and Recreation Consultant with the Ontario Ministry of Tourism, Culture and Sport.
Blackwood was selected as a staff coach for several World Para as well as Paralympic Championship teams and was given the responsibility of working with sprinters and jumpers who had a variety of physical and intellectual disabilities.
The CAO’s series “Empowering Coaches from Behind the Bench” shines the spotlight on individuals, like Blackwood, who have exhibited strong coaching fundamentals. Blackwood’s approach to coaching, and that included trying new things, emphasized that a disability was not something that prevented people from trying to excel at the sport.
“For me, coaching is a partnership with athletes,” she said. “It’s not them and me. We work together on a common goal. I was fortunate to not only travel the world through sport, but it was me living my life, doing what I enjoy and being there to help others. Dreams are meant to be pursued.”
David Grossman is a veteran multi award-winning Journalist and Broadcaster with some of Canada’s major media, including the Toronto Star and SPORTSNET 590 THE FAN, and a Public Relations professional for 45+ years in Canadian sports and Government relations.
“I was fortunate to not only travel the world through sport, but it was me living my life, doing what I enjoy and being there to help others. Dreams are meant to be pursued.”
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