Calgary pentathlete a prodigious success

By Laura Bennett

As a fifth-year student-athlete, Joshua Riker-Fox knows a thing or two about multitasking. In fact, he does it exceptionally well. He has a job at the Calgary Winter Club, he fits in twenty training sessions per week and through it all, he has maintained a spot on the dean’s list. He competed for the Dinos in three sports­–volleyball, cross-country and track and field–and he competes on behalf of his nation in the modern pentathlon. This student of kinesiology and commerce is no ordinary fellow, but he exudes modesty beyond what one would assume to come from a Beijing-bound Olympian.

This attribute and many others could be traced to his roots in Delacour, AB, where he grew up on a farm with his parents and younger brother Joel. He began riding horses formally at the age of six and was introduced to running and swimming by his athletic parents. He competed in his first full pentathlon event at the age of thirteen.

“When I was a kid, I didn’t really think of the long-term possibilities of the sport,” says Riker-Fox of his involvement in the modern pentathalon. “I did it because it was fun, and at a young age I was exposed to horses and athletics. It wasn’t until high school that I began to think seriously about it and, when I did, I realized that there was a legitimate chance that I could take this somewhere.”

That said, Riker-Fox points out that he was bit by the “Olympic bug” at the age of five during the 1988 Olympic Winter Games in Calgary, where he was awed by the idealistic notion of athletes who gave up everything to represent their country at an international level.

“I’ve never been a huge fan of professional sports, but something about the Olympics has always had me hooked,” he says.

Riker-Fox frequently encounters questions about the nature of the modern pentathlon. A true interdisciplinary sport, it is composed of five events: a 200 metre freestyle swim, a 3000 metre cross country run, fencing, shooting and show-jumping. An Olympic sport since 1912, it was introduced by the modern Olympic games founder Pierre de Coubertin. Modelled on the original Greek military-inspired event during the Olympiads of the third century, it was created to challenge the “complete” athlete, as it still does today.

“My favourite part of the Pentathlon would have to be the riding component, because it’s where I come from,” reflects Riker-Fox. “There is something very unique about building a relationship with another living being, especially one that weighs 1200 pounds and jumps six feet high.”

Athletes meet the horse that they will work with a mere twenty minutes before competition for two reasons: to mitigate the unfair advantages that would arise if athletes could purchase their own high-end horses and to encourage excellent horsemanship skills.

As an even greater testament to his broad athleticism, Riker-Fox was a member of the Dinos volleyball team under coach Greg Ryan during his first year at the University of Calgary. After one year with the volleyball team, he understood that he had to make long-term decisions in terms of his future with athletics.

“Though I love volleyball, it took a while to realize that I couldn’t do it all,” admits Riker-Fox.

Giving up volleyball did not mean giving up membership as a Dino though. Riker-Fox has competed for the Dinos track and field and cross-country teams since 2002 and the team aspect has brought a welcome element to a sport that tends to be solitary.

“When I am surrounded by strong athletes, the standard is set very high, and I am humbled constantly be the calibre of competition on the track,” says Riker-Fox. “Excellence breeds excellence, and I am very fortunate and proud to have been a part of that.”

In terms of training adaptations, track and field coach Doug Lamont has been accommodating.

“Doug understood my situation from the beginning,” explains Riker-Fox. “That has been a tremendous benefit.”

Though he convocates with a double-degree in Jun., Riker-Fox may be back with the team soon if he goes through with his plans to complete a thesis-based MBA at the University of Calgary.

These experiences have culminated in Riker-Fox’s achievements of setting the standard as the first Canadian male ever to qualify for a World Cup final and a spot on the podium at the Pan American games in Brazil in 2007. He has recently proved himself in Cairo and Budapest and he will compete in Madrid in Apr. as a buildup to the Olympics in Aug.

“I really admire his dedication and his work ethic,” says junior national team member Melanie McCann. “He inspires everyone in his training environment, including myself.”

Every amateur athlete knows that a high level of commitment to their sport is required to achieve excellence, but few athletes are required to distribute that commitment amongst five sports. Joshua Riker-Fox is one of the few that has met the challenge and the University of Calgary community should be proud to share in a part of his success.

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