Written by Jarrett Fontaine
The 1000m was one of David Boyd’s weaker events, but with 200m left, he was feeling quite comfortable in a neck-and-neck battle for first place between him and Lethbridge’s Brayden Posyluzny.
Boyd was relieved knowing that only one lap remained in the seventh and final event of the heptathlon. Having woken up from a quick replenishing nap just 30 minutes prior to the race, Boyd was exhausted.
Entering the 1000m, Boyd sat in first place in the heptathlon at the 2017 Canada West Track & Field Championships. But his lead was only 24 points. He likely had to win the race to secure the gold medal.
He smiled as he watched Posyluzny make his final push. Boyd let him run ahead 15 metres before making his own kick. He confidently pushed forward, shortening the gap quickly before passing Posyluzny just before the finish line. Boyd, who was in his fourth year at Trinity Western University, had done it. He was the 2017 Canada West champion – a reality that was far-fetched just a few months before.
Boyd knew he wanted to compete in track and field after high school, and specifically in hurdles. The problem was he had nowhere to go. He was a mediocre track athlete who hadn’t garnered interest from any universities. The Victoria native wanted to stay close to home, but, as more of a speed and power type, the University of Victoria track and field team, which only consisted of middle distance runners, wasn’t a fit. He saw TWU as an opportunity and emailed then-head coach Laurier Primeau. Boyd was accepted as a walk-on.
In his first year, Boyd trained for the 60m hurdles, but an early-season injury sidelined him until competition season. Shortly after returning to competition-form, he was encouraged to move from short-form hurdling and specialize in the 400m. He did it, but he didn’t enjoy it.
“I hated going to competitions,” says the now fifth-year Boyd. “I never had any confidence. On nights before competitions, I would lose sleep getting worked up about the difficulty of the race.”
Spartans coach Rob Pike suggests that Boyd was “running in races that weren’t really a great fit for him.”
Former teammate and current TWU assistant coach Jamie Sinclair says Boyd was viewed as a training partner and Boyd himself openly admits that he too had accepted that fact.
“I felt if I could help others and push them to do better by being a good training partner then that was where I was meant to be,” Boyd says.
Eventually he started to question what he was doing in the sport of track and field. He simply was not enjoying it. By the end of his third year, in 2016, he considered leaving the sport behind.
Before making a final decision, he decided to try one more thing and seek a new opportunity. He asked Pike if he could try the heptathlon. Pike thought it was a great idea.
“If I didn’t switch to heptathlon I probably would have quit,” Boyd says.
With the move to heptathlon, two aspects of Boyd’s life in the sport of track and field changed. First was the time commitment. The heptathlon has seven events, five of which Boyd had never competed in, and four of which were technical. He had his work cut out for him and began training 25 hours per week while maintaining a full university course load. The second thing was that his love for the sport returned. It was evident there was a little more jump in his step.
“He became empowered, determined and free,” Pike says. “He was unleashed from restriction.”
For Boyd, both time commitment and the love for the sport went hand-in-hand. The extra commitment level was easy because he loved what he was doing. He began entering competition with confidence and also found a new and previously undiscovered talent in pole vault.
Boyd only spent one season in the heptathlon – albeit one successful season which saw him win conference gold – before finding his home in the sport of pole vault.
Since competing exclusively to pole vault less than a year ago, Boyd already had great success.
Last August, he brought home a gold medal at the 2017 Canada Summer Games with a then personal record 4.80m.
This year, he has taken another substantial step forward, unofficially clearing 5.00m at a recent Spartans pole vault meet before officially breaking TWU’s pole vault record with a bronze-medal winning clearance of 4.93m at the 2018 Canada West championships. With that mark, Boyd enters this weekend’s U SPORTS championships ranked fifth overall.
“You have to be a little bit crazy to hurl yourself almost five metres through the air over a bar,” says Maxime Léveillé, who is one of six Spartan pole vaulters, four men and two women, who earned a ticket to the national championships. “David encapsulates everything good about this sport: craziness and fearlessness.”
Ever since Boyd jumped 4.60 metres last year, which was Léveillé’s personal best at the time, the two have created a friendly rivalry battling for the school pole vaulting record.
“He has made me a more balanced vaulter,” says Léveillé. “I am often meticulous in my vaults, and he has been great for reminding me that pole vaulting is very simple, just get over the bar.”
Not only does Boyd’s hard work stand out, but he is also a leader on the team. He is not afraid to be bold and has the ability to be very brutally honest.
“He always speaks the truth,” says Léveillé. “Sometimes the feedback he gives is ruthless but we often need to hear it.”
Beyond his contribution to the team’s training environment, he’s also a leader within the team when it comes to his faith.
“He stands out even among the TWU campus as a man of strong faith,” Sinclair says. “He has an unwavering integrity and commitment to faith.”
Pike adds: “He plays a huge role in unifying our body of athletes. Without him in our program, we lack that unity. I value the perseverance, and humility it takes for a person to go from a walk-on and having zero success and zero fulfillment to keep working at it and end up where he has.”
Looking back, Pike never imagined Boyd could do what he has done since moving to heptathlon.
“Not a chance,” he says when asked if he had considered Boyd a gold-medal threat at last year’s championships. “You don’t just pick up a sport and win it in the first year. But I did believe in his ability to push the limit and be competitive.”
But Pike has learned to never say never when it comes to Boyd. It’s by that token that he isn’t about to put any limits on what Boyd could accomplish at this weekend’s national championships.
Coach Pike stood near the finish line in his blue and white Spartans polo and a pair of blue jeans. A track and field schedule hung from his back pocket. Memories rushed through his mind as he watched Boyd become the Canada West heptathlon gold medallist. He thought about Boyd’s career and his season. Pike marvelled at the perseverance and humility it took for Boyd to go from being a walk-on who had found zero success and zero fulfillment, to being a conference champion.
At that moment, Pike saw Boyd’s perseverance pay off – starting as a training partner to becoming a champion.
Standing at the finish line, Pike had tears in his eyes.