18 May 2019
Special recognition for Dan Suchy – ‘heart and soul of the athletics program’
A new category introduced at the 2019 Athletics Annual Awards held last week in Sydney was the special achievement award. One of the inaugural winners was Dan Suchy for his outstanding work with the Westsfields Schools athletics program and the Westfields Athletics Club which has helped develop Dani Stevens, Fabrice Lapierre and John Thornell.
It was special to see Dani Stevens, the finest athlete to emerge from the program, speak so fondly about Dan Suchy on the night.
“Mr Suchy is phenomenal, he is the heart and soul of the athletics program,” said Stevens. “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. It is fantastic to see him win this award tonight.”
Stevens also revealed if not for the encouragement of her coach Denis Knowles and Dan Suchy, she may not have pursued athletics.
“I first went to Westfields Sports High for basketball, but I was approach by my coach (Denis Knowles) and Dan Suchy to still be involved in athletics and come along to training if I wanted too and it wasn’t until year 10 when I made the World Youth Championships team when I was approached to swap over to the athletics program to get some really focused training.”
Dan Suchy started coaching in the early ‘80s and was a teacher at Westfields High School. In 1991 the school had become the first sports high school in Australia, under the revolutionary principal Phil Tucker. Dan Suchy was the logical head of athletics and over the next nearly three decades they fostered some of the finest athletes in Australia. An athletics club was also established in 1991.
The line-up of athletics talent that progressed through the programs was stunning. World champions, Dani Stevens and Fabrice Lapierre headed the lists. Adding to an incredibly strong list of long jump records was John Thornell who competed at two world juniors and the 2006 Commonwealth Games.
Hurdler Hayley Cameron who ran in a relay at the world championships, joined Olympian ad Commonwealth Games hammer thrower Karyne Di Marco. There were more field eventers, 81m javelin thrower Matt Outzen and Glasgow Commonwealth Games competitor Christie Baker. There were dozens more junior internationals including Kurt Jenner (YOG), Naomi Bligh, Yadin Ngeng, Willy Wicks and Greg Newton.
The program also engaged a quality line-up of coaches, with Dani’s own coach, Denis Knowles, still one of the current coaches on staff. Sadly, three of their best have passed away in the last 12 months. The late Fred O’Connor guided the amazing line-up of long jumpers, Ron White was another jumps coach with the club and recently passed away, as did great NSW walks coach Yvonne Melene.
With great support from hard working club secretary Janet Stickler, the program was able to fund these coaches to support their athletes at national and international championships.
The way the program helped develop athletes was never more evident in a revelation Dan Suchy explained on the night.
“We nearly didn’t accept Fabrice into the school. He wasn’t that good on the testing day. It was borderline - he just got in.”
The graduated athletes continue to remain connected to the school and program.
“Dani Stevens has been at every presentation night except when she is unavailable, overseas etc. Fabrice comes back, John comes back. It is special,” said Suchy
In return the school remembers its stars.
“We have named one of our sports houses after Dani Stevens.”
Today the program is just as vibrant, one of the many current stars is Australian under-15 100m champion Aleksandra Stoilova. Dan also recognised his current group of coaches including Brett Mathieson and Sharon Dickson. They look certain to add more to their over 1000 NSW state titles in all age groups.
David Tarbotton for Athletics NSW
Image: Dan Suchy, Dani Stevens and his supporters. (images courtesy David Tarbotton)