The connection between Melissa Bishop and her coach Dennis Fairall continues to grow and evolve
Jason Kryk / Windsor Star file photo Olympian Melissa Bishop stands alongside her coach Dennis Fairall during a send-off party for Bishop who prior to the 2012 Summer Games in London. The relationship between the two has continued to grow in the lead up to the Rio Games.
The relationship between athlete and coach can take many forms.
When it comes to track and field, few can match the bond that exists from the tight one-on-one relationship and it’s a fact that all three of the area Canadian Olympic team members will attest to.
“I truly owe you my career Dennis,” a tearful Melissa Bishop said to coach Dennis Fairall during her sendoff speech at the St. Denis Centre in Windsor last month. “You made me the athlete I am today.”
The Canadian record holder in the women’s 800 metres, Bishop is headed to her second Olympic Games and has worked with Fairall for more than a decade.
Following is a look at how the relationship between Bishop and Fairall has grown over the years.
A national junior 800-metre champion, Bishop started her university career at the University of Ottawa in 2004, but when the school cut funding to track and field she opted to transfer.
“She was definitely transferring out and UWO (Western) and Windsor were her final decisions,” Fairall said. “She wanted a strong tack team combined with a solid kinesiology program and fortunately for us she selected Windsor.”
But the native of Eganville, which is two hours outside of Ottawa, came to the city a stranger.
“I came from out of town, so I really had nothing when I got here in terms of friends or connections and things like that,” Bishop said. “Right away, (Fairall) put me up in a house with some other track girls and our relationship just really developed over the years.”
Fairall specialized in middle distances and when Bishop graduated after a dominating CIS career, there was never a question that the two would remain together.
“I always just thought we would move on and Dennis would always be my coach,” Bishop said.
There was her breakout in gaining an Olympic spot in 2012, but the two have dealt with their share of personal tragedy over more than a decade.
Fairall has battled cancer during their relationship, while Bishop has had to deal with the death of close family members. In the last year, Fairall stepped down from the university after 29 years as he battles progressive supranuclear palsy (PSP), which is a brain disorder results in the deterioration of cells that control body movement.
It’s made communication challenging at time, but Fairall has never lost his focus on his plans for Bishop and the two have marched forward with continued success.
“It is so much one-on-one stuff,” Bishop said. “Dennis’s focus is only on me. It’s not like he has 120 athletes to look at anymore. I’m sure every coach and athlete has, but it just makes the relationship that much stronger.
“I know the coaches feel our lows and our highs. At the end of the day, we’re a product of what they’re giving us. It’s all up here in their head and they put it on paper and give it us to us. We just happen to work really hard and have the drive to want to do well.”
Fairall admits Bishop might be the closest relationship he’s had with an athlete.
“She has become like one of our own kids,” the 63-year-old Fairall said. “I am dedicated to her development and progress and she remains loyal to our collective effort.
“Many would have looked elsewhere when times got tough, but there seems to be a reciprocal dedication to seeing each other through.”
For Bishop, the relationship and success only continue to grow.
“Dennis has been the most important relationship of this career just because he’s made my dreams come true,” Bishop said. “He’s made me a two-time Olympian now and he has been by my side the very beginning since I got here.”