West Van runner wins meaningful medal

Aidan Doherty chasing opportunities left for him by his mother

The finish of the high school senior boys cross-country running provincial championship race was quite a spectacle, with a set of twins being tracked closely by a pair of runners from West Vancouver Secondary last Saturday at Jericho Beach Park.

Zach and Tate Wyatt from Langley’s R.E. Mountain Secondary finished first and second, but for many of the race fans lining the home stretch it was the tall West Van runner trying to chase them down who made their hearts swell the most.

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Grade 12 runner Aidan Doherty won bronze in the race – only two seconds separated the top three spots – to earn his first high school provincial podium spot. The win came 18 months after Aidan’s mother Sarah, a teacher who herself loved to run, died after a battle with cancer. West Vancouver cross-country coach Colin Dignum said it was thrilling to watch Aidan win a medal in his final high school cross-country race.

“I was super excited,” says Dignum, adding that some of the coaches near him had tears in their eyes as the finish unfolded. “Obviously what Aidan has gone through has been very difficult. He has succeeded when others might have failed. It’s been very satisfying and a bit emotional watching him fulfill his potential like that. I couldn’t be happier, really.”

Aidan says his mother, who ran some marathons in her day, never pushed him or his older brothers Connor and Rowan into running, but they all ended up there eventually. Rowan, who also won provincial cross-country bronze when he was in Grade 12, now runs for Simon Fraser University, and Aidan followed the family onto the running tracks and trails of the North Shore.

When his mother got sick, Aidan’s world, including his athletic training, was thrown into disarray. When she died, however, running was one thing that allowed him some escape, said Aidan.

“It definitely kind of increased my connection with the sport. It kind of increased my knowledge of how important running is to me and how I can use it to kind of relieve stress from time to time. Kind of just get outside and go for a long run.”

When Aidan returned to West Van for his Grade 12 year and picked back up with the cross-country running team, coach Dignum saw a new determination in his runner, who has also upped his training with the North Shore’s highly regarded Hershey Harriers Athletic Club. 

“His training has had some ups and downs over the last year and a half, understandably. But I think he’s laser-focused now,” says Dignum. “This sport rewards consistency and dedication. That’s the beauty of distance running – you get out of it what you put in. If you put a lot in, you get a lot out. Aidan’s getting that right now.”

Snow started to fall as the senior boys took off for their three laps around Jericho Beach Park last Saturday, and by the third trip around Aidan and West Vancouver Grade 11 student Alexander Farlinger found themselves in a breakaway group with the Wyatt brothers.

“It was a little bit weird,” Aidan says about trying to track down the speedy twins. “One of them is slightly faster than the other one, and you don’t really know their tactics. It seems like they were alternating taking turns at the front. I don’t know if they had some special tactic or what. They seemed like nice guys, they had a strong race.”

The West Van boys had strong races too, with Alexander leading much of the way. The twins opened up a bit of daylight with about 800 metres to go, but the two Highlanders fought all the way to the line, just running out of room as they slowly narrowed the gap.

“Both the boys ran amazing races, definitely the best races of their lives up to this point,” says Dignum. “Aidan put the hammer down and went ahead of Alexander and was catching the two R.E. Mountain guys at the finish. If it had been longer, who knows? Maybe they would have caught them.”

Aidan says he was completely spent by the time he crossed the finish line.

“Right when I finished my hands were on my knees, I was pretty exhausted,” he says. “I think I had a really good race. It was pretty close there at the end, a couple of seconds separating the top four guys. It’s the big race for the cross-country season, and it was my last year doing that race because I’m graduating this year, so it was super nice to have a good result.”

Aidan will now turn his attention to the cross-country running national championships scheduled for Nov. 25 in Kingston, Ont. Aidan qualified as a member of Team B.C., and this will be his first cross-country race at the national level (he also represented Canada at the World Mountain Running Championships held last year in Italy).

Dignum is not surprised to see Aidan excel now, particularly given the running legacy that his mother has left for him and his brothers.

“I think it’s a strong motivator for him,” says Dignum. “Those boys can run. And as Pat, the dad, would say, it didn’t come from him. Certainly the mom must have had some amazing genes, because she passed them on to those kids.”

Aidan says the gift that he treasures the most from his mother is not his genes, but rather the support that she showed him and his brothers throughout their lives. 

“A big part of her life was trying to get the best opportunities for me and my brothers, trying to give us as many opportunities as possible,” he says. “She signed us up for lots of different sports and encouraged us to do whatever we wanted to do. … She was very supportive of letting us do what we wanted, making sure we had lots of different options with our life in what we wanted to do.”

And Aidan seems determined to make the most of those opportunities, now and in the future as he continues to chase his dreams.

“I know that all the opportunities she’s given me growing up, they haven’t gone away,” he says, his voice slowing, growing quieter. “I think she’d be pretty proud to know I came third on Saturday.”

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