CAO’s all new Empowering Stories from Behind the Bench article series – May 2022
“Sport has the power to change lives and as coaches, we are often judged by what we say, believe and how we put that in action.”
By David Grossman
Patricia (Patti) Howes has heard it over, and over again.
Questions, comments, suggestions, and hints that either she couldn’t do something, or it was best to focus on a more achievable project, job, or interest.
No ifs, ands, or buts.
All that did, was motivate her even more.
Not one to give up, but instead strive for opportunities, Howes buckled down and used her charm and charisma going after things she enjoyed and could build on. To get some peace of mind, each time Howes just focussed on ways to prove others wrong.
“Always curious to try new things, and undaunted by naysayers, I have persevered through many challenges as a person,” said Howes. “There have been many losses along the way, but I always learned from those loses and appreciated my victories.”
Born Patricia O’Flaherty, in Montreal and raised in Sault Ste. Marie, Ont., she was a ballet dancer in her elementary and high school days. O’Flaherty would later teach that form of finesse, flare, and brilliance to youngsters.
Always artistic, she enjoys the painting of acrylics, and at one time was quite serious about becoming an artist. Creative and energetic, it was during the pandemic days of incognito, that Howes would devote time to a new hobby of wood carving.
Around the age of 19, a new beginning emerged for her. she had entered Carleton University in Ottawa. She needed something to replace dancing, keep her busy when there was time away from academic studies. She also wanted to meet new people.
What perked her interest, something she had found to be quite fascinating, was the Carleton varsity fencing club. She was fascinated by the mental and physical aspects of fencing.
Mention the sport of fencing and the average person conjures up pictures from the movie world.
The master sword fighters in Star Wars to the mysterious hero who fought to protect the poor and oppressed in the Mask of Zorro. Even the Disney film, Parent Trap has a fencing match rivalry that involves two look-a-like girls. Her favorite fencing movie is The Princess Bride, a swashbuckling classic.
For Howes, it was not about Hollywood. It became more than a passion and something that would continue to intrigue and pique her curiosity. Her artisan days became secondary, replaced by teaching and coaching, and emphasizing the fun and joy of the sport. It would be a calling that consumed her life and would benefit hundreds more along the way.
“As a university student, I wanted to do something for fitness, but had a limited budget,” said Howes, who had met and married David Howes. “There was a notice about joining the fencing club for $25.00. It was reasonable and looked interesting. I knew there would be an opportunity to learn, have some fun, and get a good physical workout.”
Curiosity would soon end. Fascination took over, followed by a form of infatuation that led to a desire to coach a sport that has been featured in every modern Olympic Games. Howes has enjoyed helping people find the path for their own success and in 1989, it happened. Her first dip into coaching through the National Coaching Certification Program (NCCP).
“My husband’s first posting was Greenwood, N.S.,”, said Howes. “He had asked, at the base gym, about building a fencing program and we were offered the free use of an old military school gym and classroom.”
Now a multi-award-winning Ontario university and competitive fencing coach, Howes was the recipient of the inaugural Hydro One Safe Play Award that was presented to a coach who practices positive, inclusive, physically, and emotionally safe sport through their leadership role. Her story is just one in a special Coaching Association of Ontario (CAO) series called “Empowering Stories from Behind the Bench”.
Howes is noticeable with her caring and unwavering approach. It’s obvious in her role as varsity head coach and program coordinator at Royal Military College (RMC) in Kingston. More than winning awards, she has stressed the safe space element, which is not just physical, but mental and emotional.
“We were in Winnipeg, I was a busy working mom, but I wanted to be a professional coach,” said Howes, who had solid coaching credentials after graduating from the National Coaching Institute High Performance Coaching program at the University of Manitoba.
“My husband saw a military job posting at work for a full-time fencing coach at RMC,” said Howes, who had solid coaching credentials after graduating from the National Coaching Institute High Performance Coaching program at the University of Manitoba. “I thought he was joking, didn’t take him seriously until I read the notice and then applied.”
With an ambition to become a Fencing Master, and having studied the disciplines in foil, epee and sabre through the NCCP, there was a glaring opportunity. If successful, Howes would have to shuffle off to the Limestone city leaving her husband, posted to Winnipeg, and their 10 and 12-year-old children. Both kids were also well settled with school and friends.
“Sometimes you just have to make important career moves and when I was offered the RMC position in 2002, I had discussed it with our family, I packed the car and a few weeks later was in Kingston running the program,” she said. “We hoped it wouldn’t be long before my husband was transferred, and in the meantime the kids would stay with him.”
Howes is the first woman Fencing Master at RMC, and along with close friend Lynn Seguin in Richmond, B.C., they are believed to be the first two females with that title in Canada. At RMC, Howes operates two campus programs and has coached teams to five Ontario University Athletics (OUA) championships in her 20 years at the school.
“I trusted my training, re-designed the RMC fencing program and continue to thoroughly enjoy the journey,” said Howes, who resides on nearby Wolfe Island. “At RMC, we have people interested in experiencing life, trying new things, and be there to serve their country. For me, I always want to do the best that I can and build good people. That’s always been my goal.”
Years of knowledge and experience, as well as a career of hard work triumphant in the sport, Howes is devoted to her students. She has put people, who had previously never fenced, on the winner’s podium.
Howes was selected to coach at several major events, ranging from the Canada Games to the Junior World championship, the Junior Pan Am Games to the FISU World University Games in Russia (2013) and Korea (2015). She was also at the international military sports organization’s World Games in Brazil (2011), Korea (2015) and China (2019)
“Sport has the power to change lives and as coaches, we are often judged by what we say, believe and how we put that in action,” she said. “If your goal is to guide athletes to try accomplish their goals, which is the job of a good coach, then it’s critical that you have to be a quality leader and earn their trust and respect.”
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.
“If your goal is to guide athletes to try accomplish their goals, then it’s critical that you have to be a quality leader and earn their trust and respect.”
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