They still keep in contact well after they’ve moved – it says plenty about the role Des Proctor has played in the lives of many Canberra athletes.
A case in point: renowned cyclist Michael Matthews. The Melrose High student was a gifted athlete winning events from the 100 metres sprint to cross country.
Des, a teacher at Melrose, coached Michael in basketball before suggesting to his mother Donna that it was time to focus on a single sport.
“When he was in Year 9 I took him to an ACT Academy of Sport talent identification program on a Saturday morning at Canberra High for the 2005-2006 scholarship intake for cycling and rowing,” Des says.
“He was quickly identified as a talented athlete. He opted for cycling despite not being into the sport at that stage.”
Legendary Canberra cycling coach Glenn Doney took it from there. By 2010, Matthews was the under 23 years road cycling world champion.
Now 31, he’s become one of the world’s top cyclists after winning stages on the grand tours and securing the coveted green jersey in the Tour de France points classification in 2017.
Des also took another Melrose High student, Nathan Hart, to that same ACTAS talent identification program.
“He was a soccer player at the time,” says Des, who taught him in Year 8.
Nathan became a track cyclist representing Australia at the Olympics and Commonwealth Games.
Another of Des’s mentees, Leanne Pompeani, is vying for selection in the Commonwealth Games team for Birmingham this year.
“I taught her in Year 8 when she was a very talented soccer player. When she was 18 years old she came to me and said she wanted to take up running.”
Six months later under his guidance, Leanne represented Australia as a junior in the world cross country titles. In 2019 she wore the green and gold at the senior cross country world championships in Denmark.
Des’s ability to get the best out of sportspeople comes partly through empathy derived from his own experiences as an athlete.
“I started running in school,” he says. “I was the state champion in Virginia. At one stage I was ranked 11th in the US over 10 kilometres.”
Des came to Canberra after meeting an Australian at university in the United States. His introduction to our running scene was aided somewhat by the fact his brother-in-law was world marathon champion Rob de Castella.
In 1996, Des won the Canberra Times Fun Run but injuries curtailed his track and field aspirations.
“I had three foot surgeries in two years and retired from running in 1998. I started coaching in 2005, and in 2011 my son won the under 17 triathlon championships and more athletes started coming to me for coaching.”
Des now has up to 50 athletes in his squad.
“My youngest athlete is 10 years of age and the oldest is 60ish.
“I just do the best I can with the athletes, encouraging them as much as possible. I get as much joy out of an athlete running a personal best as I do from an athlete making a national team. I simply enjoy working with athletes.”
His desire to see every athlete achieve their best underlines why Des is so sought-after as a coach.