Such is Dan: 'Heart and soul' of athletics program honoured

Dan Suchy formed the Westfields Athletics Club in 1991.

Dan Suchy formed the Westfields Athletics Club in 1991.

Dan Suchy had to give away tickets to see Petula Clark at the State Theatre to attend the 2019 Athletics NSW Annual Awards last month.

Little did he know he would become the headline act.

The Westfields Sports High School athletics supremo was awarded the special achievement award at the ceremony which recognises people who contribute to athletics, including athletes, clubs, officials and volunteers.

Suchy formed the Westfields Athletics Club in 1991 and has helped develop the likes of Australian athletes Dani Stevens, Fabrice Lapierre and John Thornell.

World champion discus thrower Stevens, nee Samuels, was there to present Suchy with his award.

Dan Suchy with Dani Stevens, nee Samuels.

Dan Suchy with Dani Stevens, nee Samuels.

"Mr Suchy is phenomenal, he is the heart and soul of the athletics program," Stevens said. "He is there every single meet. He will text me after about every meet, whether is it a Diamond League or the local Greystanes Throwers' club. I look forward to Dan's regular reports telling me about the younger kids and how well they have done. It is great to have that support I have had since I was 12-year-old."

Suchy said he was "very honoured" to receive the award.

"It was a surprise. Everyone had kept it a secret, but said I had to be there because Dani [Stevens] and some of our other Westfields athletes were being honoured," he said.

"Dani is usually interstate or overseas when this function is held and rarely attends. To have her be there was very special. She is our Dani; bred and nurtured at Westfields. She is the greatest female discus thrower in the history of athletics."

Suchy's coaching career came about in an unusual way. In 1980, a student Alana Johanson asked him to help her learn the hurdles. So he picked up a book and started learning about the sport.

By 1986, he had his first national champion in Scott Winters and formed the Westfields Athletics Club in 1991. The following year Westfields became Australia's first sports school.

Since then, they have produced more than 1000 state medallists, almost 200 national medallists, five Olympians, four Commonwealth Games champions and four World Champions.

This year is his 44th year at Westfields spanning almost six decades. When asked for a highlight of his coaching career, he nominated two.

"In 2017 when a student Yadin Ngeng became the youngest athlete in the history of NSW to win the NSW Open 200m and run the second fastest time in the world," he said.

Need for speed: Westfields Sports High School students Aleksandra Stoilova, Godwin Opoku Mensah and Shola Adeniran. Picture: Chris Lane

Need for speed: Westfields Sports High School students Aleksandra Stoilova, Godwin Opoku Mensah and Shola Adeniran. Picture: Chris Lane

"The following year another student Godwin Opoku Mensah ran the 100m in 10.62 to become the sixth fastest in the world."

On the night, Suchy spoke about the time they nearly didn't accept Commonwealth Games gold medal-winning long jumper Fabrice Lapierre Fabrice into the school because he "wasn't that good on the testing day." Lapierre recently retired with the seventh longest leap in history of 8.78 metres - the length of a stretch Hummer.

He speaks with the same passion about the current crop of athletic stars at the Fairfield West school who won 13 national titles at the recent Australian Junior Championships.

Newcomer Audrey Nadaya-Harb won the national triple jump gold and bronze in long jump, Aleks Stoilova won gold in 100m at both the Australian All Schools and Australian Junior Championships, Shola Adeniran won silver and bronze medals at nationals and Raven Pyda a bronze in the walks.

Dan Suchy (middle) at the 2019 Athletics Annual Awards. Picture: David Tarbotton

Dan Suchy (middle) at the 2019 Athletics Annual Awards. Picture: David Tarbotton

Rashid Kabba's being crowned national champion in the hurdles, 100m, 200m and long jump was a particularly source of pride for Suchy.

"Rashid is 13 and after 12 months of being defeated into second, third and fourth place and after much training matured this year with his undefeated success at the NSW Junior Championships (four gold from four events) and similarly at the Australian Little Athletics Nationals where he did the same," he said.

"His family originated from Sierra Leone and have settled in Australia. Rashid is one of six siblings all of whom are achieving great heights. They appreciate the freedom of being Australian and give everything they do in life their best. Rashid and his whole family are very special people who see Australia as a great opportunity."

So what is still driving Suchy to nurture the next crop of track and field stars?

"Westfields Sports is a family. Its founding principal Phil Tucker started it all with his concept of 'providing an environment where students can thrive on their academics and sport and never allowing one to interfere with the other' is a setting no-one can refuse to be part of. For me, Westfields is heaven," he said.