© Copyright – 2013 – Athletics Illustrated

Kate Van Buskirk at the 2014 Harry Jerome Track Classic in Vancouver, BC. Photo credit: Christopher Kelsall

Kate Van Buskirk is a Canadian middle-distance runner from Toronto, Ontario. She specialises in the 1500-metre distance and has also competed well over 5,000-metres.

She was the Canadian Junior national champion in 2004 over the 800-metre distance event and in 2005 in cross-country. She finished 45th in the 2006 IAAF World Cross Country Championships. Van Buskirk placed fifth in the 800-metres at the 2005 Pan-American Junior Championships. In 2006 she was the Ontario provincial champion in the 1,500-metre distance. She also won in cross-country in 2005 and in the 800-metres in 2004. From her hometown of Brampton, she won the Brampton Amateur Athlete of the Year the same year. She is a four-time high school athlete of the year.

Van Buskirk has represented Canada internationally three times, twice at the IAAF World Cross Country Championships in 2005 and 2006 and the IAAF World Track and Field Championships that took place in Moscow, Russia in 2013 – competing in the 1500-metre distance.

Personal Bests:
1000 Metres – 2:38.76
1500 Metres  – 4:07.36
2000 Metres  – 5:40.70
5000 Metres  – 15:29.72

Christopher Kelsall: You have a banana as your profile picture.

Kate Van Buskirk: My college roommate Shelley and I stumbled across this sometime during our freshman year, and we just thought it was hilarious: Don Hertzfeldt rejected cartoons I’ve never gotten around to changing the profile pic!

CK: While on the theme of the ridiculous, I assume right at this red-hot moment in time, should anyone ask where you are from, you say, Brampton and not Toronto because of Honourable Rob Ford Mayor of Toronto’s shenanigans?

KV: I grew up in Brampton, my parents and aunt still live there, and it is a city that played an integral role in early development: I went to school there from K-12, was a member of the Bramalea Bullets track club and the Brams United Girls Soccer Club for many years, and developed great ties to my Brampton communities. However, I was also involved in organisations and events in Toronto from an early age, and have lived in Ontario’s capital for the past two years. Most of my communities are here in Toronto now, and I am a fiercely proud Torontonian.

I have been embarrassed and disturbed by what’s happening currently at City Hall, but also have to remind myself that this is what comes with living in a big, diverse city. The embattled mayor and his Ford Nation bring to light the range of beliefs and opinions that extend beyond the downtown core and must be considered if this ever-growing metropolis is to succeed economically, socially and politically. Living in the heart of a major city is going to come with its tensions and challenges, but one addiction – and scandal-ridden politician is not going to make me any less proud of all the incredible things Toronto has to offer!

CK: Apparently there are 500 pages of evidence against him. Do you think law enforcement is introducing one new issue each day? This could go on for years.

KV: I am not a member of the city council, nor do I feel that I have enough information or expertise to offer suggestions on how council should proceed with this. I do believe that the controversy surrounding Ford is stagnating the city and preventing vitally important issues from being addressed ie; infrastructure, transit and bike lanes; the proposed Line nine pipeline; ongoing issues of poverty and inequality, etc. I also believe that we have become the laughing stock of the Canadian and international communities and that this is affecting our image and worth on a global level. For these reasons, I think that Ford’s removal from office is not only appropriate but essential, however, I recognize that the current mess we’re in is unprecedented and must be dealt with responsibly and carefully.

CK: You mentioned you are currently injured, which is preventing you from running in the National Cross Country Championships on November 30th. What’s the issue?

KV: Throughout October I was dealing with some posterior tibial tendonitis that forced me to take a few weeks off running and address some underlying biomechanical issues. I made the classic mistake of not taking enough downtime after my very long track season, and have been paying for it this fall. However, I am happy to report that I am now injury-free! I have been running since the start of November, and am slowly building mileage and intensity in preparation for the indoor season. I’m bummed to be missing the Nat’l XC Champs, but don’t want to rush anything coming back from injury.

CK: What sort of kilometreage do you get yourself up to before race season?

KV: During base season (ie; now) I generally build up to about 120km (75 miles) per week, with two focussed interval sessions and a long run. My training group Athletics Toronto is a very distance-oriented team, which evolved out of the old Brooks Canada Marathon Project. As such, my coaches Hugh Cameron, Dave Reid and Eddie Raposo believe in a solid mileage and strength foundation that extends into the early racing season. Last year I was doing tempo and threshold workouts right up until the National Track League (NTL) and didn’t start doing real “speed” work until about six weeks before Canadian Nationals. I also keep my mileage pretty high during the early racing season, only cutting back to sub-70km weeks during championship season. I do as much soft-surface running as possible in order to maintain this high mileage and remain healthy. I believe that the endurance-based approach is one of the main contributing factors to my success throughout a long racing season.

CK: Ah, I wondered what happened to the Brooks Project. How long is your long run?

KV: During the base phase I’ll get up to 28-30km (18 miles) for my long run, about 15-20km of which is focused, up-tempo running (4:00/km or faster). I bring this volume down as my intensity and speed increase closer to the racing season. The long-run is an aspect of my training that I have had to learn to love. Long aerobic work is not my natural forte, and for years I dreaded the long run and the slow, grinding pain that accompanied it. Over the last two years with my endurance-oriented team, I have learned to embrace the long run and now I see it as an epic challenge that I actually enjoy trying to conquer each week!

CK: Your 5,000-metre best is right on your 1500-metre best in terms of performance level. You specialise in the 1500 – any chance you might dabble more at the longer distance to see what happens?

KV: The 5,000m was a neat little surprise last spring; I really had no intention of focussing on it or running anywhere close to what I did in my first 5,000m ever at Mt. SAC. Sometimes it’s best just to be an inexperienced rookie in an event: I didn’t really think much about splits nor have any idea of how a race of that length on the track would feel, I just worked on picking people off along the way and ran like hell. I really like the 5000m and plan to train more seriously for it in the future. For the upcoming season, however, I’ll likely be focusing on the 1500m again; while I’m really pleased with last season’s results, I know that I have a lot left to show in the 1500m and am excited to see how far I can take it. Speaking of being a rookie in an event, I have been flirting with the idea of trying my hand at the steeplechase as well….stay tuned!

CK: Have you had much practice at the steeple?

KV: No, but that’s the fun of a new event, especially one this technical. I ran the 1500m steeple a few times at our regional track meet in high school, in honour of my late coach Joe Sax, who was the Canadian steeplechase record-holder and who passed away while my dad and I were on a run with him nine years ago. The 3000m steeple at the international level is obviously a whole different game. I’m looking forward to implementing some great resources over the next few months to set me up well with the mechanics and tools for success in this event. I’m tall, strong and athletic, but I’ll need lots of guidance to translate these assets into results on the track.

CK: He passed away while you were on a run with him? Were you just 16 then? That must have had a profound effect on you.

KV: Yes, Joe was by far one of the most influential people in my life. He was incredibly selfless, but a die-hard fan of the sport and pushed his athletes to explore their potential in every possible way. His death was a tremendous loss, to me personally, to his athletes and to the running community more broadly. I have tried very hard in my own athletic pursuits to embody his passion and spirit. To represent Canada in the same event that he used to hold the Canadian record would be a tremendous honour!

CK: Obviously your long term goal is Rio. Are you going to try to qualify for the 2014 Glasgow Commonwealth Games?

KV: Absolutely! The Olympic Games are incredibly coveted, and for as long as I can remember my dream has been to become an Olympian. However, there are so many ridiculously cool opportunities for international competition and experience along the way! I learned this at the World Champs in Russia this summer, which was a mind-blowing trip by way of both athletic and world travel experience. My major goals leading up to Rio will be the World Indoor Champs and Commonwealth Games this coming year, and the World Champs and Pan Am Games (in TORONTO!!) in 2015.

CK: Did you get to see much of Moscow during your stay there?

KV: We were in Moscow for a little less than two weeks, and I got to see some pretty awesome parts of the city. Our hotel was right on the Moskva River, which provided an amazing view, especially at night. I toured around with my parents, visiting Red Square, the Kremlin, and St. Basil’s Cathedral, and attended the ballet with my teammate Nicole. It’s always hard to sightsee at major meets since you’re so focussed on preparing for competition, but if I don’t explore and enjoy the countries and cities around the world that I get to travel to, the journey is incomplete.

CK: Those ballet dancers have incredible ankle and foot strength that runners could learn to adopt the workouts of. Did that stand out for you while you watched the show?

KV: The overall strength, balance, precision, and poise of those dancers are unreal. I agree the focus on ankle, foot and lower leg strength is something that many runners could benefit from immensely, me included. I’ve dealt with many lower leg injuries/weaknesses and am always seeking ways to prevent these. What really stands out watching the ballet, however, is the unbelievable amount of work that must go into a production of that magnitude; the focus, drive, and commitment of the performers in the Russian Ballet is renowned, and I think that this is another area that Canadian track and field athletes can learn from.

CK: What are your thoughts on enculturation in Canada — do we have enough Canadian culture to promote it to newcomers to the country?

KV: This is a really interesting and pertinent question and one that’s very hard to answer succinctly! The reality is that Canada is truly a country of immigrants, and therefore our “culture” is constantly evolving and changing with each new face, language, belief system, etc; I don’t believe that there is one particular “culture” that describes or accounts for all of Canada. Of course, there are the stereotypical elements that are distinctly Canadian: hockey, beer, politeness, and snow, eh? I would add to this the values that Canada espouses on both a national and international level: LGBT rights, environmental conservation (although under the Harper government Canada’s commitment to greenhouse gas reduction has placed us abysmally near the bottom on the list of developed countries), acceptance and celebration of multiculturalism, commitment to affordable healthcare and education, and awareness of the world beyond our national borders. I believe very strongly that Canadians whose families have lived in this country for generations have just as much to learn from “newcomers” as vice versa.

CK: How do you feel about Quebec’s language laws?

KV: I think that Canada has a history of ignoring, excluding and even ostracising its French-speaking/French-cultured citizens, in Quebec and elsewhere. This has obviously led to many Quebecois feeling the need to re-establish and re-assert their distinct language and cultural heritage, as evidenced in the Quebec Referendum, the Language Laws and the most recently (and ridiculously named) Values Charter, which was amended to “The Charter affirming the values of state secularism and religious neutrality and of equality between men and women”…etc. Without actually living in Quebec — whether as a native English- or French-speaker — it is difficult for me to understand or articulate the subtleties and complexities that contribute to this debate.

However, my take on the situation is that Quebec Francophones continue to sense a deep rift between themselves and the rest of English-speaking Canada; they feel very protective of their language and culture and are desperate to reassert these; and they believe that the most effective way to do this is to enact laws which severely restrict the spaces and times in which English is permitted or accepted. When the Language Laws first came to the table, they were met with incredible backlash from Anglo and bilingual Quebecers and were amended to present a less prohibitive version of the original laws.

I think that the French language is only one–albeit significant–element in the overall makeup of Quebec culture and heritage, and that the Language Laws as they stood originally seemed to be less about celebrating Quebec French culture and more about marginalizing and silencing Anglophones, even those Anglos who are proud, long-standing Quebecers, or newcomers with much to contribute.

CK: So the west celebrates an evolving cultural landscape, while Quebec protects theirs. Anyway, the Value Charter ends with: “….providing a framework for accommodation requests”. What does that even mean?

KV: I’m not sure. Honestly, the 28-word name of the charter is so convoluted that it seems to almost intentionally mislead or confuse readers. I like and agree with your analysis, though!

CK: How many Canadian generations do the Van Buskirk’s go?

KV: According to my aunt Lynne, who is the unofficial family historian, the Van Buskirk’s have been in Canada since the 1780’s making me the ninth generation. I’ll use this as my excuse for not knowing a word of Dutch! This summer’s European racing tour actually provided my first opportunity to visit Holland; I raced a 2000m at the inaugural Flames Games in Amsterdam. I’d love to visit the motherland again someday.

CK: How was Duke University for you as an athlete and for personal growth?

KV: By way of my athletic development, Duke was an incredibly valuable experience. I have great admiration for and trust in my coaches Kevin Jermyn and Liz Wort; they did an excellent job of preparing their athletes for high-level competition while being mindful of not over-training or over-racing us. Kevin continually espoused a belief and hope that his athletes would have athletic careers beyond our year as Blue Devils and based his coaching on what would be healthy, enjoyable and sustainable for the runners. Racing in the NCAA was hugely beneficial to my post-collegiate career; the preparation, hype, nerves, and calibre of competition that I experienced at meets like Penn Relays or the NCAA Championships prepared me extremely well for international meets like the World University Games, World Championships and Francophone Games.

I really enjoyed a lot of what Duke had to offer, and was extremely grateful for the opportunity to attend such a prestigious school on a scholarship. That being said, I took issue with elements of the Duke undergrad culture, which I don’t think always created a healthy atmosphere on campus especially for young women. The Greek life (frats and sororities) is extremely visible, and there are very pervasive expectations about how students should act (dress, speak, conduct themselves) based on gender. By the end of my time at Duke, I thought that if I saw one more poster for an on-campus frat party with a “pimps and hoes” or “bosses and slutty secretaries” theme, I would lose my mind. This was just one example of the kind of daily, in-your-face sexism that was very hard to escape. Luckily, I did find a tremendous organization on campus called the Baldwin Scholars, a group of insanely bright, talented, progressive young women whose primary mandate is to promote female leadership and equality on campus and within the community. I am very grateful to have been accepted as a member of Baldwin, and for their ongoing work.

I also struggled on and off with some mental health issues–namely anxiety and depression–which compounded my inability to really enjoy my collegiate experience to the fullest. This is something that I’ve continued to work through in my years since leaving Duke, and I am always learning about myself and striving for health and happiness in my everyday life. Some people–and I think this is especially true for those of us in the public eye–shy away from discussing the struggles they face because they consider it to be revealing of a chink in their armour; a sign of weakness. But I think that we all struggle a lot more than we let on. I also believe very firmly that we as humans are amazingly strong, resourceful, resilient creatures and that our struggles and challenges are an important part of our complex make-up. I still deal with aspects of depression and anxiety from time to time, but am proud of the work I’ve done to understand these better and to equip myself with tools to make me the best athlete and person I can be. I think that ultimately, these struggles have made me stronger. I’m also eternally grateful for the kind, patient, loving people in my life who have helped through my journey to wellness.

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