By Melissa Verge
Albert Dell’Apa has run in cities all across North America—from Boston to Chicago to Detroit to Ottawa—but even if the roads he races on change, the steady thud of his shoes hitting the pavement has always stayed the same.
When it comes to running, preparation is key, and Dell’Apa would know: he’s a two-time All-Canadian and won bronze in the indoor Ontario University Athletics (OUA) 3,000-metre race when he was a student at York University.
After decades of lining up to race, Dell’Apa started coaching, and this year, he was named head coach of Ryerson’s cross-country and track teams to help a new generation of runners achieve success like he once did.
“I’ve always been passionate about the sport and I want to give something back to the runners here,” the 48-year-old coach said.
His passion for running started when Dell’Apa first raced competitively at 12 years old. He still remembers his first 10-kilometre race in vivid detail. During that race, he ran himself ragged and was in serious pain due to improper training.
“My lungs were burning from being in oxygen debt, and my legs were heavy and cramping,” he recalled. “It took all the energy I had just to get to the finish line.”
Despite the pain of that first race, Dell’Apa continued to run, and it grew to become a key part of his life.
“It was one of those sports that attracted me,” he said. “I knew I could do a lot of it on my own, and I liked the time out on my own on the roads training. It just became one of those things that I loved from day one.”
Dell’Apa soon improved drastically. He once placed second in the Ottawa Marathon, and fifth in the Detroit Marathon with a personal best of two hours, 24 minutes. After finishing the races, Dell’Appa would celebrate by going out for a big rack of ribs and going to sleep shortly after.
After he stopped racing competitively, Dell’Apa wanted to coach so he could continue being involved. So starting in his late twenties, Dell’Apa began helping to instruct young runners.
Now that he’s coaching, Dell’Apa doesn’t run as often as he used to, but still makes it out to the Beltline Trail, his favourite Toronto spot, to bike and run through with others.
Ben Ing, a runner Dell’Apa coaches, thinks quite highly of his mentor and his pedigree as a runner.
“Albert knows what it takes to be a competitive and successful athlete,” said Ing. “He’s been there before.”
Sylvie Antoun, another runner, says Dell’Apa is great at boosting his team’s morale.
“He knows how to fire you up and get you running faster even when you think you have nothing left to give,” she says.
Over the years, Dell’Apa’s kept the same mentality as a coach that he had as a runner: it’s important to develop a runner’s strength before their speed, which is the way he says he’ll always instruct—slow and steady.
“You have to be pretty nimble as a coach,” he says. “The biggest thing is being flexible and modifying and listening to your athletes.”
For Dell’Apa, running is a love that’s stuck with him throughout his life. Over the hundreds of kilometres he’s run, he’s always visualized the same thing in his mind: reaching the finish line as quickly as possible.
Even if coaching is a different road than the one he first ran on more than 30 years ago, the steady thud of Dell’Apa’s shoes—and of his students’—hitting the pavement remains the same.