For a guy quickly becoming famous for his running, Cam Levins is sure doing a lot of sitting.
His untouched cheeseburger is getting cold too as the 23-year-old signs autograph after autograph for the seemingly never-ending line-up of friends and supporters.
It’s Friday night and they’re all packed into the Black Creek Hall to see the 23-year-old who recently claimed two NCAA track and field titles in the 5,000- and 10,000-metre events.
“It’s incredible to see everyone. Thank-you for being here,” Levins says later in the evening when he finally has a chance to get up to address the crowd.
It’s certainly a partisan audience and Levins is a worthy local hero as he prepares for the formality of the Canadian track and field finals to be topped off with the Olympic Games.
“I’ll bet my house he will hold the Canadian records…he’s the Steve Nash of running,” says Mark Cryderman of Campbell River, an avid runner, in comparing Levins to the Victoria-born basketball player.
The Levins’ star is rising fast, propelled by a finishing sprinters’ kick that has the track world abuzz.
“To people who know running, (sprinting is) phenomenally difficult to do at the end of a 1,500-metre run, never mind 5,000 or 10,000 metres,” points out John May of the Comox Valley Cougars Track and Field Club.
The “Levins’ Kick” was in full display June 6, at the NCAA track and field championships in Des Moines, Iowa, during the 10,000-metre final.
More than 3,000 kilometres away, at G.P. Vanier Secondary in Courtenay, Levins’ fans watched the race on the big screen.
It was the annual sports awards night at Vanier and, ironically, athletic director Larry Street was about to present Levins’ parents, Gus and Barb, with a plaque, honouring their son into the school’s hall of fame.
With just two laps remaining in the race, May turned up the sound and everyone turned their attention to the race as Levins burst from the pack and sprinted ahead of everyone to win the title for Southern Utah University.
“It was amazing,” says Street, recalling how everyone was hooting and roaring as Levins raced to victory. Two days later, the Levins’ kick dominated again as he captured the 5,000-metre event.
As the fans at Vanier celebrated, someone pointed out a misprint on Levins’ plaque; the years he had attended were incorrect. But the mistake was serendipitous.
“It worked out great. Now I get to give it to him personally,” says Street, clutching the revised plaque. He later tells the audience, “I coached Cam in Grade 9 basketball…Cam made a great decision!”
Basketball would never be the sport for Levins, who now stands 5’10” and weighs about 140. Street remembers the day Levins, then in Grade 10, came to him and asked about the Vanier record for the 12-minute mile.
“I told him it was around eight laps,” says Street. “Cam went out and did nine-and-a-half.”
No one knew Levins would turn out to be such a gifted runner. He certainly didn’t look like a future star, May recalls, when he showed up for the Comets practice at age 12.
But the one thing May did notice was how hard Levins practised. It’s a trait that has carried Levins to a university scholarship (he’s earned a Bachelor of Science in Exercise), the first sub-four-minute mile at Southern Utah, two NCAA titles and, soon, the Summer Olympic Games in London, England.
“With Cam it’s hard work and it’s always been about personal best (times),” says May. “From the time he was little until this…and he’s a great kid too.”
It’s not just his old coaches that noticed Levins’ work ethic, every person in the Saratoga Beach area of Black Creek knows Levins. When he’s back home for the summer, he runs, runs and then runs some more – tallying 240 kilometres a week.
“Always running,” says neighbour Louise Howes.
Dean Wyatt, the head football coach at Vanier who also lives at Saratoga Beach, says the neighbours feel a sense of “ownership” as they’ve watched Levins practice and win races over the years.
To help the family celebrate, Wyatt took up a neighbourhood collection and bought Canada-red jackets for the Levins’ family. White lettering on the back of the jackets spells out “Team Levins” which will stand out quite nicely when the parents, along their eldest boy Jordan and his girlfriend, travel to England to watch Levins race at the Olympics.
“Sorry,” says Wyatt with a laugh as he presents the jackets, “but we got these made before we knew that Cam had signed with Nike.”
The professional deal, signed this month, is just the latest bonus for Levins who will use the cash and copious Nike gear to continue training.
If he’s overwhelmed by the success and the attention, it doesn’t show as Levins glides through the crowd at the Black Creek Hall. He smiles easily, looks everyone in the eye when he speaks with them, and makes sure that no one leaves with an unsigned photo.
“This is unbelievably nice,” says his dad Gus, clearly far more overwhelmed than his son. “The thing I see is the ownership people have taken in Cam. It’s neat to see people support him. This is his home, this is his community, and everyone knows him.”
When Levins entered the hall, he was greeted by the crowd singing O Canada as Canadian flags were hung everyone, including a sign that read “Cam-ada.” By the time he reaches the front of the room to finally address his fans, they’re standing, applauding and chanting, “Cam, Cam, Cam!”
You can almost see a tear welling, but Levins maintains his composure as he gives thanks to the people who always have, and always will, support him.
“Whenever someone asks me where I’m from, I always say Black Creek,” says Levin, as he receives a roar of approval. “It’s the best support I could have. I can’t thank you guys enough. Thank-you – I use that word a lot.”
• Cam Levins competes in Calgary this weekend in the 5,000-metre event at the Canadian Track and Field Olympic qualifier. He’s expected to win easily. Levins has already qualified for the 10,000-metre race at the Olympics. The Olympic 10,000 final is scheduled for Aug. 4, with the 5,000-metre heats set for Aug. 8.