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Guelph-Humber Coach Helps Athlete Reach the Podium

Darian Silk leaning forward on a bar at a squat rack.

Darian Silk knows a thing or two about competing. The University of Guelph-Humber Kinesiology instructor competed in triathlons for many years, placing in the top three in a number of races over the course of his career. 

Now, he is passing that knowledge onto others because of both his passion for sport but more importantly because he loves working with athletes who are striving to reach greater heights. 

“It’s rare in the world that you make yourself vulnerable to failure - you’re entering a domain into which you are not sure you will succeed, and you are doing it of your own will and volition. You’re not doing it for a salary,” Silk explained. “It’s exciting when they succeed. All the emotions and desires are real.” 

In October, Silk saw one of his athletes reach the podium at the Pan Am Games in Santiago, Chile. Kelly Fitzsimmons won a bronze medal in the modern pentathlon women’s relay. She’s been working with Silk for about six years and the Pan Am Games was an intense week of competing in three different events.

A selfie of two individuals where one individual is holding a bronze medal

The modern pentathlon is a multi-sport event that sees athletes compete in fencing, swimming, horse riding, laser shooting, and running.

While Fitzsimmons competed, Silk followed her via an app and admitted it was less than ideal without being able to see her in person and really get a true sense of what was happening on the ground. 

“You are worried in an acceptably futile way," Silk explained about not being able to be at the competition. 

While he might have been far away when she competed, Fitzsimmons said Silk’s positivity and belief in her throughout their partnership, especially when things became challenging, is his greatest strength as a coach. 

“Whether it was balancing training with work or my masters, competitions that did not go as planned, or navigating training in the pandemic, Darian has always helped me stay optimistic about my athletic goals," Fitzsimmons said. “It truly helps to work with people who believe in your progress and abilities and are willing to have honest talks when they are needed.” 

Fitzsimmons had hoped to qualify in the individual event for the 2024 Summer Olympics in Paris while in Chile but will have to compete in several World Cup events this year to get her spot at the Summer Games.  

She has put the work in for years which for months on end entails fencing three to four times a week, running five to six times a week, swimming four times a week, weight training twice a week and ensuring she is riding a horse at least once a week as a competition gets closer.  

While Silk has given her a lot of advice over the years, one piece of advice always sticks with her. She was set to compete in the 2021 World Cup which followed the pandemic where she had no access to training facilities during the lead up to the competition. Silk kept his advice simple: 

“He said, ‘Make your space and play your own game. ‘I often think about this advice because it reminds me that we are in charge of the energy and intention we bring to our own performance no matter what is happening around us – and in the moments of authentic play are when we find our own flow,” Fitzsimmons said. 

You don’t have to have Olympic aspirations to work with Silk as he coaches many athletes looking to achieve a first in their respective sport.

He points to an athlete who he has worked with for a long time who did her first Ironman at 68. When she started, she couldn’t put her face in the water and now she is competing in 16-hour races.

While all the athletes he coaches are different, he does sometimes find advice that applies to many of them. He often tells them – if you miss a workout, let it go.

“Just let it go. People who are interested in doing endurance sports like to get everything done. If it’s on the schedule you get it done. You don’t say no. You don’t make excuses - you make it happen,” Silk said.

Now the focus shifts for Silk and Fitzsimmons to Paris 2024 and how to create the best chance to get her there.