2010 World Juniors – How Moncton’s Local Organizing Committee recruited the perfect COO
This is the third of a series of articles revisiting the 2010 IAAF World Juniors Championship in Moncton, NB, by Alex Cyr for Athletics New Brunswick.
2010 IAAF World Juniors LOC Vice-President Bill Whalen (left) and President Larry Nelson (Right) Courtesy of Times & Transcript
Nancy McKay figured that Moncton’s revered community development officer Ian Fowler and prominent businessmen Bill Whalen and Larry Nelson had some important news to share with her when they asked her to meet them in Miramichi for a coffee. When McKay, a Bathurst-based health consultant asked Fowler if they could hold the meeting over the phone, he insisted they meet in person.
It was a Saturday in September 2008, and it had been 18 months since Moncton had been awarded the 2010 IAAF World Junior Track and Field championship – an event with which she knew them to be deeply involved.
McKay figured they were looking for help. After all, she had served as vice-president for the 2003 Bathurst-Campbellton Canada Winter Games, which had been quite successful. But by 2008 she had little time on her hands - her health consulting practice filling her schedule. Still, she decided to go hear out the Hub City power-trio out of respect and politeness.
Their offer was no small one – they wanted McKay to be the IAAF championship’s chief operating officer (COO). This two-year appointment would make her responsible for building a capable team of employees and volunteers, and delegate key tasks to other senior leaders. She would also need to relocate to Moncton.
“It looked like a huge commitment,” said McKay, “I immediately gave them multiple reasons why I couldn’t do it, and each took one of my reasons and tore them apart!”
McKay faced a formidable team, and not one that had been put together by accident. LarryNelson’s business acumen and notoriety had earlier lead Fowler and Mayor Lorne Mitton to lure him into the role of president of the Local Organizing Committee (LOC). Nelson, in turn, had accepted on the condition that Bill Whalen be his vice-president. The two had recently teamed up quite successfully as co-chairs of the local United Way Campaign. Whalen was attracted to Nelson’s business approach, and Nelson to Whalen’s communication savvy and as a spokesperson. And both believed tremendously in Ian Fowler’s vision in hosting this event.
But the committee still needed a COO. That had become obvious to them after their eye-opening trip to Bydgoszcz, Poland two months prior. They had attended the 2008 IAAF World Junior championship to take notes. The event was held in a 26,000-person stadium and featured 1,400 world-class athletes, savvy employees and countless volunteers. It was awe-inspiring, but also intimidating, remembers Whalen.
“I remember having a weak moment out in Poland,” he said. “Our first reaction was ‘oh my God what did we sign up for?’ But as we spent days with their staff and looking at the ins and outs of the championship, we started thinking ‘ok, with the right people in place, Moncton can do this.’”
And as far as they were concerned, one of those “right people” was McKay - her meticulous work at the 2003 Canada Games made her indispensable.
“We needed a team player,” said Nelson. “Someone on the ground who is able to run the day to day. I always tell myself I’ll hire someone when I think they’re smarter than I am. Nancy fit the bill,” he said with a laugh.
Sipping on a coffee, McKay was gradually conceding to their pleas combined with friendly nudges. Before she knew it, she was on board. Her commitment did not feel real until she drove home and verbalized it to her husband.
“I got home, and Doug was looking at me, and I think he knew I had done something crazy,” she said. “I told him I was the new COO of the 2010 IAAF championship. He laughed – and said he could certainly see this one coming.”
The job that would include 200 staff and 3,000 volunteers at the time of the championship was daunting, but the plan she had laid out would be simple.
“The key thing was to get the right people from the start,” said McKay. “People who seem to grow and shine when they are a part of a team. Looking back, I think we found them.”
Nancy McKay at News Conference - Courtesy of CBC
Alex Cyr is a journalist from Prince Edward Island who has written for The Globe and Mail, The XC, and Canadian Running Magazine. His first book, Runners of the Nish, was published in 2018.