Desmond Dickie lived his cycling dream
April 19, 2018
Desmond Dickie, whose passion for cycling was ignited in Trinidad & Tobago before coming to Canada where he became one of this country’s most successful coaches, passed away in his Brampton home last week after a lengthy illness.
He was 72.
Dickie coached several of Canada’s top riders, including Steve Bauer, who won the first medal – silver – in road cycling for Canada at the 1984 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles and Curt Harnett who he successfully encouraged to become a sprinter.
Harnett, who was appointed to the Order of Canada in January, competed in four Olympics, winning three medals.
“A journey that started over 37 years ago with a simple handshake has come to an end,” said Harnett who was inducted into the Canadian Sports Hall of Fame in 2005. “I want to thank Des for teaching me how to eat over-cooked liver and onions with proper pepper sauce, how to use our ‘nine lives’ to the fullest and how to apply Tudor Bompa’s ‘Periodization Training for Sports’ to suit our needs. While life got in the way and we didn’t see other much in recent years, the journeys, memories and stories we shared from our humble beginnings live with me every day.”
As a 16-year-old, Dickie -- the uncle of former T & T president Anthony Carmona – rode for his birth country prior to coming to Canada five decades ago to further his studies.
Former Guyana sprinter Raymond “Chinny” Lee Own met Dickie for the first time when they raced in a meet in the only English-speaking South American country in the early 1960s.
“He came with his brother Ramon and they were representing the Madonna Wheelers Club,” recounted Lee Own who migrated in 1968. “When I saw him again in Canada, he was well on his way to becoming a top coach. Des was very well respected in the cycling community.”
Dickie, the 11th of 12 siblings, also represented Canada before a badly broken leg ended his racing career.
While recovering from the injury, former Ontario Cycling Association chair and coach Claudio Ponte asked him to assist with training his riders that included Bauer.
A provincial coach for eight years, Dickie was Canada’s assistant national track coach for four years before serving as head coach from 1984 to 1993. He was also T & T’s coach for a year in 1995-96, a United States head sprint coach and a member of the Chinese coaching team for three years before returning to work with the T & T Cycling Federation.
American Andy Sparks, who is a three-time Olympic head coach, was a beneficiary of his coaching.
“Des had a tireless love for cycling and a drive to help anyone, especially developing riders,” said Sparks who is a two-time winner of the USA Cycling Coach of the Year award for his outstanding leadership and coaching excellence. “He believed in me and put me in a position to achieve success, especially off the bike. Everything I have achieved in coaching is owed to Des believing in me and providing those early opportunities. Every coach has his or her strengths and weaknesses, but coach Des had an impact on more athletes in more nations than any other coach of his era. He really cared.”
Seven-time American cycling champion Dotsie Bausch also profited from Dickie’s expertise and wisdom.
“He was the first person that believed in me from the federation,” she said. “He called me ‘Dusty’. I am not sure why or if he even knew that wasn’t my name, but I never corrected him because it was endearing and I kind of liked it…At the Pan Am Games in Venezuela (1983), I was in the gold medal final in the individual time trial and the girl on the other side false started. He told me it was on purpose to shake my confidence. I had no idea why someone would do that, but he did. He gave me strength and helped me build that grit I carried with me all the way to the Olympics. He touched lives far and wide more than many of us could ever fathom.”
Dickie also worked with T & T cyclist Gene ‘Geronimo’ Samuel, who captured a gold medal in the 1,000-metre time trial at the 1991 Pan Am Games in Havana, Cuba.
Samuel, a three-time twin-island republic Sportsman of the Year and four-time Olympian, lived with Dickie and his family for a few months each year from 1982 to 1986.
“They welcomed me into their home and I spent about four months annually training with him,” he said. “It was because of Des that I was able to become a Pan Am champion in Colombia in 1984 and qualify for the Olympics that summer in Los Angeles. We prepared for the Olympics on the roads of Brampton with him on his motorcycle. He was responsible for me finishing fourth in the Los Angeles Games and making it to the 1985 World championships in Italy (he was fifth in the one kilometre event in 1:06.16). He was very generous, soft-spoken and someone who did a lot for many riders.”
Former Guyanese cyclist Wayne Henry, who migrated in 1976, met Dickie about 35 years ago.
“He was not just my cycling coach and mentor, but a dear friend of mine and my family,” said Henry who lives close to Dickie's home. “He inspired me in many ways. This was a gentleman who helped you if he recognized you had some talent and you were coachable. He was very patient. He told you what you had to do, why you had to do it and how hard you would have to work. It wasn’t easy to get to the standard he wanted you to be at. We spent many good times together and he touched a lot of lives.”
Two-time Canadian champion Eon D’Ornellas said Dickie was always willing to share his knowledge.
“It didn’t matter that he wasn’t your coach,” the Guyanese-born four-time Olympian said. “He was very supportive of riders.”
An engineer with Canadian National Railway for 18 years before becoming a full-time coach, Dickie – a former International Cycling Union Olympic Solidarity coaching instructor -- was acquitted in an Ontario court in 1996 on three charges of sexual assault and one of sexual exploitation against female riders.
He successfully sued Cycling Canada that had terminated his contract without pay.
Dickie’s body was cremated hours after his death and a funeral service took place on April 18.
His wife of 49 years, Lynda, children Tanya and Cory and grandchildren Patrick and Brodi survive him.
“Dad lived his dream which was cycling,” said his daughter. “Even though he was on the road a lot, he ensured that he spent quality time with us when he was at home. He loved his family, he loved to cook and he loved to grow tomatoes and hot peppers. We will miss him.”