Life And Times Of Barrie Shepley

Most will recognize the voice straight away.  From the Golden Call in Sydney 2000 to the WTS events of today Barrie Shepley has been a part of ITU triathlon since its inception.  But, there is more to this Canadian triathlon icon than just his vocal cords.  In the first part of this two-part piece here on Trimes we take you through the early days in Barries’ dorm- room office, the pioneering steps of parenting triathlon in Canada, his coaching progression, and finally to his start in ITU triathlon media. 

Rather than re-wording the background Barrie provided us and risk losing the essence of his flair, we will let the man do the talking as he does so well, enjoy.

I was a classic Canadian boy (hockey, soccer, golf) as a youngster. I grew up in a small farm town of 2000 citizens, without a stop light or a swimming pool (go figure). I got a hole in one when I was 13 years old and still play respectable golf for a guy who only gets 3-4 rounds in a year (now due to my schedule). I played competitive hockey as a goal-tender and if I could have had my dream goal, I would have played for Canada in the Olympic Games. The only problem was there were 100 other guys better than me, and reality sinks in quickly when it comes to ice-hockey and DREAMING of a pro career. My grade school teacher was a marathon runner and while I had no talent for running, he motivated me, I ran every day at lunch to impress him. I found a love for running and continued running track and cross country in High School.

I put on my first running race as a fourteen year old. Somehow I convinced a wine-company supply 300 bottles of wine for the first 5km Race.  Instead of giving out vouchers, I gave out the bottles of wine at race registration. It was before the computerized timing chips existed, Popsicle sticks were used for your finishing placing. By the time we figured out the age group results, two-thirds of the racers had drank their bottle of wine in the hot sun and were nearly passed out. Welcome to being a race director.

I had seen the Hawaii Ironman on TV as a teenager and it motivated me to enter my first triathlon in a small town called Sarnia, Ontario Canada. My town was so small, that we didn’t even have a swimming pool. I learnt how to do side-stroke just 3 days before the race and nearly drowned in a lake amongst the waves. After the race I was hooked. I called the provincial sport offices looking for more information on where other triathlon races were located, and found out there in fact was no provincial triathlon (or national) governing body. So at 19-20 years of age, I decided to form it myself. The Ontario Association of Triathletes (OAT) was formed and I was the first president. My university residence room WAS the provincial governing body office. When you called the office hotline, you got my residence room answering machine. I was a total volunteer and every day was a great day to learn. Les McDonald was just forming Triathlon Canada and I was invited to sit on the board the first year. Being near Les McDonald, you always were learning more about the sport on the national and international level. My grandfathers both passed away when I was really young, but in many ways Les became my grand-dad. He took me around the world, introduced me to the 100 most important triathlon decision makers in the world, and really gave me many of the opportunities I have today. I owe the ITU so much for who I am, and what I have seen in the last 30 years. Les use to call it the CANADIAN MAFIA. He gave Canadians a chance to get involved in the sport on a major level before he retired from being the international president. Life is about timing, and my timing was perfect.

I became more interested in the coaching and admin side, than being a very weak, age group participant and more and more of my hours went into helping others.  After a few years, I became concerned that triathlon had 99% adults and very few teenagers. I founded with a few friends, Canada’s Kids of Steel Series (first in Ontario) and eventually moved it across Canada to virtually every province. I have been to 200 kids’ races over the years, and I still host the biggest Kids Race in Caledon every May. Fortunately for Triathlon Canada and I, Simon Whitfield had friends who were hosting a small Kids of Steel Triathlon in Sharbot Lake, Ontario. Simon went to their cottage for the weekend and did his first race (I was there helping organize it) and fortunately Simon was hooked on the sport as well. In the 20+ years since, Kirsten Sweetland, Jill Savage, Brent McMahon, Paula Findlay, Kyle Jones and Andrew Yorke all participated and got their starts in KOS Races. Thirty years from now, the thing I will be most proud of, is my association and 100% commitment to fun, safe, social, Kids of Steel Races.

While I was doing my undergraduate degree in Kinesiology at McMaster University, I was coaching triathletes every day as well as the University Cross Country & Track Teams. By the time I was in Graduate School at McMaster, I had been named the National Coach for Canada (1991-2001) and was Canada’s first Olympic coach in Sydney (where Whitfield won gold). A few years after Simon’s win, I was inducted into the Hall of Fame. I helped start C3 (Canadian Cross Training Club) Canada’s strongest triathlon club nearly 20 years ago with people like Sandra Bowden (Lori’s mom), Martin Rydlo, Leith Drury, Roy Till and a handful of amazing volunteers. We patterned the club after the many surf lifesaving clubs in Australia and New Zealand. The goal was to encourage year round (swim-bike-run-triathlon-adventure race, mountain bike-cross country ski) for all ages and to also put some extra focus on helping young athletes become world-class. Over the years athletes like Simon Whifield, Jasper Blake, Kyle Jones, Sean Bechtel and Andrew Yorke were some of the elites who we have helped develop (or support as they were progressing). The club has 200+ members and numerous Ironman medalists, age group world medalist, national champions and Boston Marathon qualifiers. The quality of the people and volunteers and supporters in C3 are second to none in the world!

Ontario’s Graham Fraser started his Ontario Triathlon Series (now known as the Subaru Tri Series). Back in the 80s, Graham had the best, biggest races in Canada and eventually after creating the North American Ironman Series, the biggest races in the world. I was at Graham’s very first Grimsby Triathlon and helped a local professional DJ do the live race announcing that first day. The next race the DJ didn’t show up, Graham asked me if I could help announce for him and 100 races later, I had become one of the recognized Canadian voices in Triathlon (note the true legend is still the GREAT STEVE KING of Penticton,BC).

To prepare for the Sydney Olympics, I moved to Victoria in 1999 (while my wife stayed home and paid the bills) and with Simon Whitfield, Mark Bates, Isabelle Turcotte Baird, Donna Phalen, Stefan Timms, Jasper Blake and some other great young athletes we formed the first National Training Center. I was living in the University of Victoria student residence as a 37 year old married man with 17 year old kids (because I couldn’t afford an apartment), and riding my mountain bike around the city. Caron (my wife) was paying all the bills to keep our company, PERSONAL BEST HEALTH & PERFORMANCE, going (along with my partner Sheldon Persad). I was the unpaid national coach, putting in 35 hours a week, and another 35 hours a week doing my pre-Olympic academic course work. It was tough and I remember being envious of the Aussies, Brits, Americans and Germans who had paid staff and million dollar budgets, while we were begging for airline tickets just to get to Japan and Brazil for qualifier races.

Caron and Barrie at Sydney Games

Day one of the Sydney Olympics was so disappointing. Carol Montgomery was expected to get a medal and instead she crashed, broke her arm and didn’t finish. Sharon Donnelly crashed and finished near the back of the field. Isabelle Turcotte Baird was the rookie on the team, and she had our best finish of the three. I went back to the athlete’s village to see Simon and my head was spinning. Instead of a medal on day one, we had bloody, crash victims and no one finishing in the top 20! Simon was very cool, and relaxed when I got back to our room in the village and the next day went out and did his magic to win the inaugural men’s race. My wife said she had never seen me cry, till they raised the flag in the medal ceremony in Sydney. I was the “ugliest” crier I have ever seen. My body was retching; it was like 20 years of volunteer emotion and passion poured out in one song. I will never forget Sydney if I live to be 100.   With triathlon over in the first two days, the next 16 days were of endless parties, celebrations, and invites to key functions. Canada only won 3 gold medals in Sydney and Simon’s victory made everyone associated with the 2000 Triathlon Team ROCK STARS for 2 weeks. It was so awesome to have my wife and her family in Sydney and we were able to celebrate it all together. My own parents were back home in Ontario watching on TV and crying as loud as I was in Sydney.

Simon and Barrie - Sydney 2000

Simon and Barrie – Sydney 2000

Because of Simon’s great personal success in Sydney, many Canadians associated with triathlon got extra recognition.  More media/tv/radio opportunities started to flow for myself. I was lucky to turn some of these opportunities into extra TV, radio, internet commentary roles for myself (for Triathlon Canada, for ITU, for Ironman and other Federations around the world). There is no question however that being a part of Les McDonald’s Canadian Mafia benefitted me. Graham Fraser gave me my Canadian start and Les McDonald cemented my International announcing career from then until now.

Stay tuned in the coming days for part two of this piece with Barrie where we talk first broadcasts, ITU growth and development, Olympic insight, Ironman ambitions and more….

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