It’s been a whirlwind of a month for Rob Heppenstall of Hamilton, Ont.
Last month, Heppenstall was selected to represent Team Canada at the 2023 Pan-Am Games in Santiago, Chile, where he won a silver medal in the men’s 1,500m behind Quebec’s Charles Philibert-Thiboutot in a photo finish. This was Heppenstall’s first senior national team selection and medal.
On Friday, Heppenstall announced on social media that he signed with Adidas and joined the Atlanta Track Club Elite, a well-known American training group with a focus on middle-distance events (800m and 1,500m).
“The past month has felt like a never-ending movie,” says Heppenstall. “That’s the best way to describe it.”
Heppenstall told Canadian Running that his decision to join coach Tom Nohilly and the Atlanta Track Club Elite felt easy. “I felt coach Tom and I have a very similar attitude towards track,” says Heppenstall. “I believe his philosophies and training will only help me and my teammates get better.”
The 26-year-old from Hamilton was a highly touted 800m runner coming out of the NCAA, setting conference and Canadian junior records during his four years competing for Wake Forest University in North Carolina, signing a professional contract with Under Armour after graduating in 2019.
Heppenstall’s transition from university to pro came with growing pains, but he says his ability to stay patient and focused gave him direction. “There’s no telling of when it will work out or not,” says Heppenstall. “I learned that regardless of my performance, my job remains the same every day.”
When Heppenstall lost support from Under Armour, he was left without a sponsor and came back to Hamilton to train before heading to Colorado with his close friend and fellow middle-distance runner Thomas Staines. In Colorado, he had the opportunity to meet and train with European record holder and British distance runner Eilish McColgan, and her partner, three-time British 800m Olympian, Michael Rimmer.
“It was inspiring to see how she [McColgan] trains from day to day and her professionalism and dedication towards wanting to be the best athlete she can be,” says Heppenstall. “Eilish and Michael have shared stories about their experiences on and off the track, and I’ve tried to absorb as much information as I can.” Heppenstall describes his relationship with McColgan as one-of-a-kind. “She always makes a point to reach out through the good and bad. She’s always the first to congratulate me.”
He says he sometimes forgets how famous McColgan is. “I’ve always seen her as my good friend, then I’ll randomly come across a magazine at the grocery store that she’s on the cover of, and I quickly get reminded: Right, she’s Eilish McColgan,” he laughs.
Heppenstall says the 2023 track season has been his most chaotic year to date, but he is glad he capped it off with a silver medal for Team Canada and a professional contract with Adidas and the Atlanta Track Club Elite. “It makes everything worth it,” he says.