By Perry Lefko
When two-time gold-medal winning Canadian Olympian Heather Moyse was in Toronto in October for some speaking engagements, she came to The Athlete Training Centre in Mississauga to work out because of its renowned facility.
Many premier athletes, both professional and amateur, come to the ATC because of the equipment and the coaches, although it is also open for anyone wanting to work out with personal trainers or as part of a group.
What separates this facility from others is some of the equipment and training surface. There is a wide swath of artificial turf that has a ramp at one end, which makes it remarkably different from most elite places that have turf tracks areas for running. Canadian Football League star Chad Owens has trained there in the offseason. There is also a synthetic ice surface, which has been used by National Hockey League players John Tavares and Matt Moulson to practice their shooting in the summer. Moyse trained with a power sled with wheels.
Richard Clark, 84, has owned and operated the ATC in Mississauga since 2003, although he moved to the current location in May, 2014 from the previous facility, which was 5,500 square feet. The new one is twice as large.
“We came here into a brand new building because we thought we were really going to expand into the adult market,” Clark said. “People tell me it might be the best facility in Canada. We’ve put everything we thought we needed in this place from what I’ve learned since I started seriously doing this in 2004.”
Clark grew up playing football and basketball and continued that following post-secondary at the University of Western Ontario, where he studied kinesiology. He coached inner-city youths in the late ‘70s and early ‘80s.
When his son, Wes, who works as an amateur scout for the Florida Panthers, was born in 1983 and began playing hockey and became good at it, it led Richard towards training athletes. Wes’ best friend in his late teens was Moulson, so Richard started training them in explosive movement at the YMCA. Richard then set up a facility in his basement for the boys to train. Both players received university scholarships in the United States.
In 2004, Moulson’s father, who was coaching another of his sons, asked Richard to train the team. What started out as a hobby became more serious when Matt Moulson told Richard about a rising star, Tavares, who subsequently began training in the Clark’s basement.
“He started coming in and it built up like that,” Richard said.
Tavares was picked first overall by the New York Islanders in 2009. His jersey is hung prominently at the ATC, which has a gallery of photos from some of the other prominent clients.
Richard said Moyse is probably the most accomplished athlete that’s ever trained at the ATC.
He also said what separates his facility from others is the overall philosophy of the people who train and work there.
“We have a great culture here, but these guys come with it,” he said. “The guys that rise to the top, they’ll do whatever it takes. I think the best setting for training is the group setting. I don’t like one-on-one. We found early on when we put people in a group setting, they did far better than we did working with them alone. When we do shuttle runs and pro sprints we have group competitions and they thrive on that.
“The biggest thing is trying to find really good coaches that adopt our philosophy. Leave your ego at the door because we’ve had great success.”
Noteworthy coaches at the ATC include including Mississauga’s Shea Pierre, a three-year Canadian Football League player whose Elite Performance specializes in explosive training and who has become an Internet sensation with videos he posts on Instagram. Jacqueline Gradish, who worked for the Toronto Maple Leafs and Toronto Marlies as assistant strength and conditioning coach and owns Jfitathletics, specializing in kettle bell training. Both Pierre and Gradish brought their business to the ATC because it can accommodate large groups.
Jerome Howard, a onetime U.S. college football player now operating Dynamic Performance Development in Pittsburgh and whose clients includes some members of the Pittsburgh Steelers, drove to the centre just to watch Pierre train his clients and see the facility.
“It’s one-stop shopping. It’s really amazing here,” he said.