Photo by Chung Chow
In elementary school track and field circles, Lee Hunter is a legend.
A longtime teacher at Richmond’s A.B. Dixon, he championed many future athletes by instilling a love for sport.
The lengthy list includes two stalwarts who also honed their skills with the Richmond Kajaks: thrower Camryn Rogers and sprinter Carson Bradley.
“I started running in Grade 3 at the encouragement of (Hunter),” says Bradley who, a few months shy of graduating from R.A. McMath Secondary, recently committed to the University of Toronto where hopes to further develop his blossoming athletics career.
“At first I was not nearly the best. I simply did it because I enjoyed it.”
Over time, he started getting faster and faster and by the time he was in Grade 7 didn’t lose a single race the entire year.
Though both his parents excelled as athletes (his mom ran as a member of Manitoba’s provincial team in the 1980s and his dad was a provincial soccer player), as a young boy Bradley struggled to find a sport he liked. He tried soccer and hockey, but says they didn’t suit him well. And during his high school days he played on the junior basketball team. But he had the most fun running track so his mom encouraged him to take the next step and train with the Kajaks.
He was 10 years old.
“I competed in many events including middle distance, jumps and throws until I was 13, then I started to focus on the sprints,” he explains.
With his track hero being former Canadian Olympian Robert Esmie, who as a member of the men’s 4x100 metre relay team won gold at the 1996 Summer Olympics, Bradley soon gained an even greater appreciation for the discipline. That was further heightened when Esmie invited him to train part-time with him.
“He’s been one of biggest supporters ever since,” says Bradley. “I’m a bit of a tense person and he’s taught me how to relax and have fun.”
Bradley made a notable breakthrough running for a spot on the provincial team. He was 15 and running the 300 metres in Nanaimo. To qualify, he had to win both the race and match or better the qualifying time of 39.42 seconds.
“I had never been more determined in my life,” he recalls. “I ran the hardest I ever had, and crossed the finish line in first in 36.36 seconds. I was so elated, and I have yet to replicate the sense of euphoria I felt that day.”
Currently focused on the long sprints, which includes the 200 and 400 at which his best times are 22.43 and 49.41 respectively, Bradley would also like to try his hand at the hurdles. The 400-metre hurdles to be precise. But his priority will continue to be the sprints.
“My goal for the season is to run under 49 seconds for the 400, and my goal is to win the 400 at the B.C. high school championships and help the relay team win the 4x100. With Kajaks, I hope to do the same at the provincial jamboree.”
Those events, he hopes, will serve as a prelude for future success at the U of T, where his immediate goal will be qualifying for the U Sports national championships and, long term, to represent Canada at the Commonwealth or Pan American Games.
Reflecting on his time with the Kajaks, Bradley feels he’s been blessed.
“There’s so much I have enjoyed about Kajaks. My coaches, Byron Jack and Jackson Cheung, are truly phenomenal. There’s a real sense of community. And one of the highlights each year is the annual awards ceremony when every member of the club gets together to celebrate the amazing accomplishments of all the athletes, coaches and volunteers.”
While Bradley is winding up his high school career, his younger brother Jackson may be waiting in the wings. His focus, however, is on soccer, but he will be joining Carson on McMath’s track team in May.
“Jackson is really fast,” Carson says. “In fact, he has beaten all the records and personal bests I set when I was his age.”