NOT many people would give up their job to coach junior sport but that’s what Marilyn Pearson did, and since she made the life-changing decision she’s been on “the ride of her life”.
Pearson has mentored dozens of Kurrajong-Bilpin Little Athletics Centre competitors and has coached 15 to represent Australia at world championships and Commonwealth Games level.
The club was formed in 1980 and Pearson has been the club coach since 1988.
“I started off as an age manager then we had a group of people who were interested in coaching. I began coaching walks and distance events but at that stage I didn’t have any qualifications,” Pearson said.
“As the athletes started getting better and achieving more I thought I should take it further and that’s when I did my first coaching certificate.
“I had no intention of coaching, I was a nurse, but I gave up nursing to coach. I had a really talented group of kids and I could see that they were going to go further.”
Pearson’s mentor in the early days was Yvonne Melene, who coached Olympians Jane Saville, Nathan Deakes and Luke Adams.
And it was her who instilled the confidence in Pearson to go all the way with her most talented athletes.
“Once the kids started getting towards that world juniors level I asked her if she wouldn’t mind taking on some of them and she said ‘don’t be an idiot, go do your next level of coaching and go on the ride with them’,” Pearson said.
“I did that and it’s been the ride of my life.”
Since then Pearson has coached at the Western Sydney Academy of Sport, NSW Institute of Sport and was the Australian team coach at the World Junior Championships in Italy in 2004.
She has been named Hawkesbury Coach of the Year twice, NSW Athletics Coach of the Year on two occasions, bagged two Hawkesbury Sports Medals (2003, 2009) and was awarded an Australian Sports Medal for coaching in 2000.
So what makes her tick?
“I found it fascinating,” she said.
“How to develop the kids in all the different events was interesting, along with all the biomechanics and sports science involved. It was all new to me in those days.
“Patience is the biggest thing. A big part of being a successful coach is recognising a child has the ability then guiding them into the right event.”
Her latest world-class athlete, Ian Dewhurst, is just weeks away from lining up in the 400m hurdles at the Glasgow Commonwealth Games. “I have a great deal of pride and affection for Ian because I’ve coached him since he was nine and I’ve seen him grow up,” Pearson said.
“At the moment 400-metre hurdles is obviously my favourite, but I have a young walker going to world juniors this year.”
So who’s the best she’s coached?
It’s hard to separate 15 world-class athletes, but Pearson said she could tell “within a year or so” if she had a world beater on her hands.
“In ability, probably one of the best athletes I coached was Laura Johnson who went to two world juniors and a World Youth Games,” Pearson said.
“She would have medalled in the World Youth Juniors but came down with measles.
“David Byrne was another standout athlete. What he did in little athletics was fantastic. He was the first little athletics athlete to break two minutes for the 800 metres.
“It’s very exciting when one comes along but they’re great to be around and I wouldn’t have coached them if they weren’t.
“It’s also a big responsibility too because if you make a mistake it’s their whole season down the drain.”
But the greatest satisfaction wasn’t always seeing an athlete she prepared succeed at the world level.
“We had a few kids who had a few issues and were in trouble at school and athletics gave them a more structured environment and a sense of worth,” Pearson said.