Arriving in Guyana to teach a course on coaching techniques in
June 1996, heptathlete Linda Blade discovered that she was a bit
short of equipment. So she did what anyone who is familiar with
the tropics and developing countries would do. She went to the
nearest bamboo grove and cut vaulting poles; she turned empty
coconut shells into shots for the shot put; she made discuses
out of clay, proving that ingenuity is as important as athletic
know-how for the lecturers in the Worldwide Development Program
of the International Amateur Athletic Federation (IAAF).
This is an article from the Aug. 25, 1997 issue
"You're going to run into difficulties," says Blade, a former
Atlantic Coast Conference champion in the heptathlon who became
certified three years ago to teach the IAAF Level 1 course for
track and field coaches. The pay isn't great--$1,000 per 16-day
course. But like most of the 350 IAAF lecturers from around the
world, Blade isn't in it for the money.
"I love track and field," says Blade, 35, a resident of Edmonton
who devotes part of each summer to the clinics. The rest of the
year she's an assistant coach at the University of Alberta and
teaches phys ed at North American Baptist College. "And it's a
way to educate myself about the world."
It's not always an easy education. In Sri Lanka last year the
threat of civil unrest was so intense that Blade was advised to
return home before her course began. She chose to stay but had
to teach in a stadium protected by armed guards.
That didn't faze Blade. Growing up as the daughter of Canadian
missionaries in Bolivia, she lived through at least three
revolutions. When she was nine years old, she and her family
were detained by rebels in the Amazon jungle after the plane
they were on had an instrument failure and landed on a
In 1995 Blade spent 10 days teaching 30 female coaches in
Tehran. It was the IAAF's first women's-only course, developed
so that the participants wouldn't have to wear the hijab, the
black robe and scarf required of Islamic women when men are
"My trip to Iran changed me," says Blade, whose attitude about
women and sports had always been, "Sport is sport. Why bring
gender into it?" On one occasion in Tehran a male soccer team
tried to bully the women in Blade's class out of using the field
house that they had booked for a workout. Only the presence of a
Western woman who wasn't intimidated by them kept the men from
succeeding. The women were given access to one of Tehran's few
outdoor stadiums at only the hottest time of the day, from 1
p.m. to 4 p.m. Dressed in hijab because they could be seen by
maintenance men, "we were melting," Blade says. She had the
security guards clear the maintenance staff from the field so
that she and her students could work out in shorts.
What surprised Blade most in Iran was what she saw as a tacit
acceptance of the modesty laws, even by those who had been
active in sports before the revolution, when women were
permitted to train and compete wearing shorts, regardless of who
was watching. "I wanted to change them," Blade says, "but you
can't. They're in a constant struggle. They have to resolve
within themselves the conflict between their religious
constructs and their desire to be in sport."
"Linda is now one of the best-known sports ladies in Iran," says
IAAF development director Bjorn Wangemann, who coached Blade,
then 15, to the 1977 Bolivian championship in the high jump,
long jump, 100-meter hurdles and pentathlon. "She did a perfect
job in Tehran. I hope we can send her back because they all want
They'll have to wait. Blade is pregnant with her first child,
due in January. But she'll be ready to go again soon after.
"They can send me back anytime they want," she says.
Deborah J. Waldman is a freelance writer in Edmonton. This is
her first story for SI.