The mouths of Leaside High School runners of 20 or 30 years ago would drop if they saw their coach Dave Christiani riding after his athletes – on a bike.
Christiani was so into the sport that he always ran with them, not just for himself but to improve his coaching.
He was, and is, a self-confessed running addict.
But you can only run as long as your knees hold out.
Christiani is now 63.
He is no longer a Leaside High coach, but he still trains some Leaside athletes in his role as head coach at the Central Toronto Athletic Club (CTAC), a track and cross country running club for youths he co-founded in January 2013 with fellow Leaside resident Brent Lockridge.
And now he’s sometimes on his bike with his racers. Otherwise he’s on the sideline.
He leaves behind at Leaside an outstanding legacy that started as a geography teacher.
That’s what he was for 24 years at the school. That’s where former students say he instilled in them a lifelong love of running along with a healthy sense of competition.
Meg Krawchuk remembers him always out there running with them.
“This day-to-day presence was remarkable as a commitment beyond his day job teaching. The value of hard work, discipline, and the fun of being part of a team instilled self-confidence, and provided important lessons to learn during formative high school years.”
Christiani likely wouldn’t take all the credit, simply saying “We had some outstanding athletes when I was there.”
He was so devoted to them that he resigned as head of the Social Sciences Department (when he felt retirement creeping up, about five years before the time) because it interfered too much with his coaching.
Over the years, he’s trained several Canadian champions and led athletes as head coach of Team Canada to compete on the world stage.
But, it’s not all about the hardware.
“I am just as excited for a kid who sets a personal record as I am for someone who went to world championships,” he says.
His success comes as no surprise to Krawchuk. “He had an uncanny ability to know just how hard to push you and how to do it so that you really wanted to succeed, for yourself, him, and the group.”
Running wasn’t his first love. That was football, until he realized everyone he knew wanted to be a high school football coach.
So he set his sights on something different. “I’d always been active, I had an athletic background,” he says.
He dabbled in track and field in high school and then started running recreationally, moving on to short races, then longer distances, and eventually completing some triathlons and a marathon.
As soon as his teaching career started (with eight years at Overlea Secondary School, now Marc Garneau), his work as a running coach took off.
That’s when he says he officially caught the running bug.
“You start taking courses, you get better. It was kind of like an addiction,” he says. “It fuels itself. The passion in me was always there, I just fed it.”
What’s your coaching philosophy?
It’s similar to my philosophy as a parent. I like to teach responsibility. I like to provide people with the opportunity to be responsible. You are accountable to yourself and what you do impacts how people will react to you.
What makes a good runner?
Pure discipline and commitment. There’s no entitlement in this sport. If someone else is doing the work and you’re not, you won’t get there. Good runners have that and are blessed with natural ability. That’s a rare combination.
Do you have passions outside of running?
My wife and children. We have a small wine collection and love to travel. But my coaching is my passion.
At the 2014 OFSAA Track & Field Championships, in the span of about 45 minutes, we won two gold medals. That weekend we came home with five medals. That was a memorable moment.
At Leaside High School we used to do a lot of workouts in Mt. Pleasant Cemetery. To this day I still see one of the property managers riding in a golf cart and he’ll wave to me and chat with me. One time when he saw me riding on my bike behind some runners he said, “I remember the day when you used to run with these kids.”