When Jason Sawyer took to the running blocks to compete in the 800m and 1500m races at Conestogo Public School he never thought he would set a track record that would hold up for more than 26 years.
In 1984 Sawyer, a Grade 7 student at the time, competed in the 800m race clocking in a time of 2:15.1. The next year he would compete in the open 1500m distance run and set a time of 4:24.5.
Now 40, Sawyer was amazed to learn the record he set so many years ago still had not been beaten.
“I was surprised to hear that I still held the record. I knew it was a fast time but I never thought I would still have my name associated with the record after all this time,” he said.
At the time of the 1500m race Sawyer was a five-time provincial champion and won another three provincial medals later that year at Laurentian University taking home first place in the 800m, 1500m and 3000m runs.
“It wasn’t just a decent time for the county; I was actually provincial champion both indoors and outdoors that year in the 1500m race.”
Sawyer continued to race throughout high school and his midget team from St. Jerome’s Secondary School won the OFSSA cross-country title in his first year at the school.
“I continued to compete all the way up to the end of high school but genetically it just wasn’t in the cards for me to go further,” said Sawyer. “The guys I ran against in high school,
Graham Hood and Kevin Sullivan, went on to represent Canada at the Olympic Games. These were the main competitors that I was up against and they just ended up being genetically predisposed to middle distance running whereas I became a lot bigger. I was just bigger boned like my father so I had a few limitations genetically.”
Sawyer, who was 12 years old when he set his first record in the 800m, said he owes much of the credit to his coaches both at school and his running club, the Cambridge Colts.
Pat Doyle was the club’s coach and was a seasoned runner himself when he met the 12-year-old Sawyer and offered to help with his training.
“He helped guide me through the long distance runs,” said Sawyer.
Sawyer credits most of his success to his school coach and teacher Dennis Siddall, now a principal at Meadow Lane Public School in Kitchener.
“He was a real mentor. He was a marathon runner and he and I would go out for runs at lunchtime. We would go cover 15km during the 50-minute lunch break and I would end up straight back at my desk,” said Sawyer. “I was a hard working kid and I certainly loved to run and I had a really good coach.”
As his math, geography, science and phys-ed teacher at Conestogo Public for Grades 7 and 8, Siddall and Sawyer built a strong relationship and bonded over their many runs.
“I ran with the students all the time,” said Siddall. “With (Sawyer’s) competitive spirit he couldn’t beat me in Grade 5 but it didn’t take long and by Grade 6 he caught up to me and by the end of Grade 8 he was just tearing our runs apart and I would be forced to catch him. He just got really strong and was a good student and a leader in the school.”
Ten years ago Sawyer was visiting his sister, Shannon, now a teacher at Conestogo PS, when he noticed his name still attached to the records.
“I was pretty happy to see it and I asked her 10 years later if it still stood and she brought me the records and my name is still there.”
Now a financier, he shares his time between Toronto and his investment firm in Nassau in the Bahamas focusing on early-stage investments in education and clean technology.
Sawyer just had his record-setting race film converted from Beta to DVD.
“It is just fantastic to watch it on a flat screen TV on your wall in Toronto – it is pretty awesome.”
Sawyer continues to run for recreation and to keep fit.
“I have been running for my entire life. The longest period of time I have ever taken off from running since I was 10 years old was 30 days and that was when I finally quit competing and decided to take a little break. Other than that it is a part of every week. I am either riding a bike or running – it has always been a part of my life.”