By Lincoln DePradine
Yolande Jones-Grande was having an outstanding career as a Canadian athlete, winning medals at home and abroad, until something happened that she thought would have taken her out of track and field forever.
However, she was able to return to athletics; not as an active sportswoman but as a coach. Now, Jones-Grande is one of the 2023 recipients of the Petro-Canada Coaching Excellence Award.
“Receiving this award is a nod towards all the years I have spent coaching so far, especially with the lack of female coaches we have in track and field in Canada,’’ Jones-Grande told The Caribbean Camera.
Jones-Grande, who was born in St Vincent, credits her mother’s support for her track success, and remembers when they moved from Hamilton to Oshawa. It was 1980. Jones-Grande was enrolled in Grade 7 – although it was halfway through the school year – and she began running the 800-meter hurdles.
“I joined the track team to fit in and make some friends. Halfway through the year, the kids have already made friends and you are the strange new person in a predominantly white school,’’ Jones-Grande said.
“When the teacher asked who wanted to do the hurdles, I wanted to do the hurdles because only the boys were doing them; and I had a little competitive streak in me, after growing up in St Vincent & the Grenadines with all boys’’.
Jones-Grande admits she was “very good’’ at hurdles. She excelled and, within two years, she was a Canadian team member in the 100M hurdles.
She remained on the team for 12 years, capturing national junior and senior medals in the hurdles and in the 100M and 200M at championships of the Ontario Federation of School Athletic Associations (OFSAA).
In 1984, the Junior Pan American Games were held in the Bahamas. Jones-Grande was a Canada team member.
“I came home with a silver medal. This obviously ignited a passion to win more championships and make more national teams, so I can travel around the world,’’ said Jones-Grande.
“My mom, a single mother at the time, worked hard and did many trips driving me to and from Toronto International airport. Without her, I wouldn’t have done as much or had the ability to see many countries around the world as I have.’’
Jones-Grande’s travels included participation in the Commonwealth Games in Scotland, as well as at international events in Yugoslavia and Morocco.
She moved into coaching, on a volunteer basis, in 2000 with St Paul’s Catholic High school Ottawa. Jones-Grande also has had volunteer coaching stints with the Ottawa Lions.
In the mid-1990s, Jones-Grande’s life took an unexpected and unfortunate twist. “I was involved in a very bad car accident in 1994 which prematurely ended my track career. I went through a few years of depression,’’ she recalled.
“For a while, I did not want anything to do with track and field until 2001, when a friend at a high school asked if I wanted to coach the team. As soon as I started, my love for track came back.’’
Jones-Grande identifies Leewinchell Jean, who was a high school senior in 2019, as her first coaching success.
“He won the OFSAA male 400M hurdles and then made his first Canadian national team, the Pan Am U20 team, to compete in Costa Rica. A few weeks later, he returned home to take the Canadian National U20 Championships in the 400M hurdles,’’ said Jones-Grande.
“My next championship athlete was Timeo Atonfo who, in Grade 9 in 2022, won OFSAA medals in the long jump and 100M and 300M hurdles. Then, in 2023 in Grade 10, again won OFSAA medals in the long jump, 100M hurdles and triple jump; plus, national youth medalist in the triple jump at the Legion National Championship.’’
The Petro-Canada Coaching Excellence Awards, which are backed by the Coaching Association of Canada, “recognize coaches whose athletes have excelled at world championships, Olympic and Paralympic Games, and at the Special Olympics World Games. The Coaching Association of Canada and Petro-Canada honour these recipients before their peers at the annual Petro-Canada Sport Leadership Awards Gala. Recipients of the Petro-Canada Coaching Excellence Award are some of Canada’s most outstanding national team coaches. These coaches have dedicated their time and efforts to ensuring that athletes reach their potential on the international stage’’.