By Mark Janzen
Slow, smooth brushstrokes. Every single swath of pigment – seemingly uniquely vibrant while at the same time subtly muted – is meticulously calculated. Every movement is a product of fastidious rehearsal. Nothing is jarring. Even the corners are perfectly curved. The expression draws the viewer in like few others.
When Trinity Western’s Nathan George settles into the starting blocks, he is the artist. When the gun sounds, his creative process begins.
“It’s a piece of art,” says longtime club and university teammate James Linde when asked to describe George’s running style.
Fellow teammate Nick Ayin boasts like a proud parent. “It’s beautiful.”
On the track, the fifth-year George is suave personified. The Canadian 400m champion doesn’t run. He glides.
“When the stage is at his highest, Nathan is at his best,” says Linde, who has competed alongside George for years, with both the Coquitlam Cheetahs and the Spartans.
At the 2016 U SPORTS championship, the TWU star was as hungry to win a race as he has ever been. Finishing second the two previous national championships was all the motivation he needed. In 33.52, he captured the Spartans men’s program’s first ever gold medal with the third fastest 300m time in U SPORTS championship history.
“That’s probably my favourite race ever,” George says, recalling the mid-March competition at York University in Toronto. “When I’m in a zone, I don’t think too much. That one felt like a 200m. I just went full out and held on.”
Four months later, the Coquitlam, B.C. product duplicated his result at the Canadian Olympic trials, when he captured the national title in the 400m with a personal best time of 45.94. George had long been on the Canadian track and field map, but after earning both national titles, he solidified what everyone in his inner circle already knew – he kid can run with the very best. George has represented Canada in international competitions in five of the last six years, including the 2015 Pan American Games in Toronto. However, his results tell only a truncated story to the masses. The picture he paints on the track presents a slightly more robust tale. But there’s more.
Linde and Ayin sit side-by-side in a muted room. The small space with basic décor takes on the personality of the guests. On this day, complimentary drapes decorate the walls with gushes about George. His two biggest fans are his two best friends.
“Some of my biggest highlights in track and field are watching him race,” says Linde, who recently posted a TWU record-equaling 60m time of 6.88 to finish fifth at the 2017 U SPORTS championship. “I’ll never forget watching him win Olympic trials.”
The duo know George better than almost anyone on the planet. They knew him well before he was a national champion.
“He wasn’t an overnight star,” says Linde, who toiled in relatively slow heats alongside George when they were young teenagers. “He’s worked for everything.”
As a young kid, George loved to race.
“I’ve always wanted to be the fastest kid,” he says. “I fell in love with it early. Even before I started track, I wanted to be the fastest.”
Early on, he just wasn’t that quick.
“It was discouraging at first, but it inspired me to keep going,” George says.
Single-minded and motivated, George never quit. Instead, he became efficient. He learned and he listened. “No one works harder than Nathan,” Linde says. In 2010, he moved his focus to the 400m. Finishing second at the BC championships that year proved to himself that he could indeed one day be “the fastest.” The following year, he represented Canada at the IAAF World Youth Championships and in doing so became a mainstay on his country’s national scene.
Quietly and humbly, he continued to work, getting faster and gaining confidence with each passing race and each passing season.
“He eats, sleeps and breathes track and field,” Ayin said. “Over the years he has developed that mental edge that a lot of people don’t have, which definitely plays into competition.”
For good reason, George believes he can win most races he enters, but there isn’t an ounce of arrogance in him. Rather, he’s the quiet guy who is a bit of a mystery to many, but, at the same time, the person everyone wants to get to know.
“He’s probably the nicest person I’ve ever met,” Linde says, echoing the sentiment of anyone who has met the man. “I don’t think he’s ever disliked a person and everyone loves him.”
Ayin says: “He’s happy and he’s carefree and that’s what makes Nathan who he is and we love that about him.”
When asked to describe George’s personality, the reaction from Ayin, Linde and TWU track and field coach Rob Pike is the same. They pause for a brief second and then burst out in laughter. There’s no doubt, George has his quirks. He’s curious and isn’t afraid to ask seemingly simple questions. His low-voiced queries often illicit laughter from friends.
“He’s a pure kid,” Pike says. “He’s almost naïve, but he’s just pure. He’s not malicious or conniving. He’s salt of the earth.”
Recently George capped his university career by finishing fourth in the 300m in an incredibly competitive field at the U SPORTS championships. Now, he’ll turn his agenda towards representing Canada this summer – both in the individual 400m and with the 4x400m relay team. He’ll aim to qualify for the IAAF World Championships. All the while, he’ll be taking one designed and deliberate step after another towards his ultimate goal – the Olympic Games.
“He has complete faith in his ability and I don’t think anyone could tell him differently,” Linde says. “He’s not fazed by anything. He has his eyes set on the Olympics and everything he does is towards that. With that work ethic and that mindset, I don’t think anything is going to stop him.”
George, who has bloodlines that hail from Trinidad, Barbados and Jamaica, is certainly driven by the Olympic rings – something he just missed out on last summer – but on race day, it’s more than that.
“Making people proud motivates me – like my family, my friends, my girlfriend, my teammates and my school.”
For George, that next brush stroke is always about ultimately taking his art form to the world’s biggest stage