CHARLOTTETOWN - As the coach of Prince Edward Island's first track club, Dave MacEachern didn't exactly have state-of-the-art facilities at his disposal.
The former Canadian Olympic bobsledder held workouts on an old railway bed when the weather co-operated. Cold days meant heading inside, either into the hallway of a nearby school or an abandoned flea market, where he would roll out an 80-metre long strip of rubber he'd purchased to use as a makeshift track.
Growing up on P.E.I., MacEachern knows all about overcoming odds, and his message is simple: it's what's inside that counts.
"As long as we have the right attitude and heart, you can go anywhere with track and field," triple jumper Kurt McCormack, one of MacEachern's top athletes with his club Sparta Athletics, said this week at the Canada Games.
MacEachern, 41, has been back living and raising his family in Charlottetown since his Olympic gold medal bobsled career ended in 2000.
One of his first success stories was Jared Connaughton. He started coaching the sprinter in Grade 11 with a goal of "getting him out of here," and Connaughton went on to run track at the University of Texas in Arlington where he still lives and trains. He has the No. 2 time in Canada this year in both the 100 and 200 metres, and was part of the Canadian 4x100 relay team that finished fifth last week at the world championships in Berlin.
"It was tough to get the wheels spinning here," said Connaughton, who is back in town to watch the Canada Games. "You had to be determined to run fast and put in the effort in a place that just didn't harbour the opportunities.
"I call this my jump-off point, and I always have that in the back of my head, that this is where I come from. Sprinters can get a little needy, but I'm very bare bones and that was instilled in me here."
Bare bones is an understatement. The 21-year-old McCormack, who grew up in Souris, a tiny coastal town of just over 1,200 people 80 kilometres northeast of Charlottetown, learned to triple jump on pavement because there wasn't a proper pit in P.E.I. MacEachern worked on strengthening his legs so they could take the constant jarring of landing on rock-hard asphalt.
"I think where we came from really grounded us in track and field, coming from nothing," said McCormack. "We don't take anything for granted."
But things are changing. Thanks to the Canada Games, the island has its first rubberized track, part of the $6.8-million Alumni Canada Games Place at UPEI.
Connaughton is impressed.
"I flew in this morning," Connaughton said. "You're always looking out the window to see P.E.I. from a neat perspective, and when I looked down and saw the track and saw all the stuff set up, it kind of hit home. It's come a long way."
McCormack, who competes for Dickinson State University in North Dakota, won bronze at the Canadian championships earlier this summer in Toronto. He was scheduled to compete in the Canada Games track meet later Tuesday.
MacEachern, who teamed up with Pierre Lueders to win gold in the two-man at the 1998 Nagano Olympics, retired two years later after suffering several concussions.
"I didn't really have a whole lot of desire to collect any more concussions and my children really made me think twice about Olympics and personal pursuits, so that was part of it," MacEachern said.
The lure of competing in front of a hometown crowd at the 2010 Vancouver Olympics had MacEachern considering a comeback. He had spoken with Lueders and started training seriously again, but was feeling a lot of pain in one knee. Test results showed he'd partially torn his ACL playing soccer.
"Who knows if I could have or not?" said MacEachern, who has 28 World Cup medals to his name. "I was still really strong, and I'm still pretty quick right now, definitely for my age. I think Pierre's going to win two medals. I think he's going to do awesome and I wish I was there doing it with him. I'm not, but I wish I was, mostly because of my kids (sons Seamus, 3, Declan, 8, and Conor, 10).
"I would like to do it for them, but otherwise I'm really comfortable in my skin and what I did."