For Jillian Weir, it's like father, like daughter

·6 min read

You could say Jillian Weir is from everywhere yet nowhere.

While Weir lists Kingston, Ontario, as her hometown, the Olympic hammer thrower has, quite literally, been all over the map while putting herself on the proverbial map in the athletic world.

The 29-year-old, whose family roots trace to Tyendinaga Mohawk Territory, has called everywhere from California to Lethbridge, Alta., home, with family ties to Kingston, Missouri, England and even Jamaica.

“My mother was born in Alberta but grew up in Napanee,” Weir said in a telephone interview following a bronze medal performance at the Commonwealth Games in Birmingham, England, recently. Weir’s parents met in Canada while her father was playing for the Canadian Football League’s Ottawa Rough Riders.

Much like his daughter, Robert Weir was a big deal in the sports and athletics realm. Besides his playing career in the nation’s capital in Canada, he coached track and field at Stanford University and continues to coach at University of Missouri. Athletically, he won four Commonwealth Games medals, participated in three Olympics and was a part of six world championship teams.

That championship caliber not only set the example by which Weir would follow, but it meant a lot of travelling.

“We visited (Tyendinaga Mohawk Territory) almost every summer,” Weir reflected. “As my dad was coaching track and field, he also was a track and field athlete and he would spend the spring and summer during track seasons coaching and competing, so pretty much every summer growing up, my mom, my brother and I would go back to Ontario and spend time with our family there.”

It’s a time, Weir said, she cherished. She has since returned to Tyendinaga Mohaw Territory many times over the years, including last year following her Olympic debut, where she finished 19th in the women’s hammer.

“As a kid -- and still even today -- it was always nice when my grandparents would get my brother and I little gifts and support the local businesses and the artists and stuff (on the reserve),” Weir said. “Bracelets or dream catchers, authentic moccasins … things like that. To this day, I have a dream catcher in my room from the reserve that I got when I was younger.”

Given the example her father set, it’s not surprising that Weir would go on to become one of the top athletes in the world. In her youth, she said, she played basketball and other sports before finding her passion at the track.

“Before I specialized in the hammer throw, I threw the shot put and the discus,” she said. “And before that I also did some running events and jumping events.”

Even at a young age, Weir had a love for competition. And in spite of his busy career, Weir said her father always had time, and advice, for her and her brother.

“He was always encouraging on and off the track,” she said. “He instilled the importance of education. We knew that we wanted to not only do the best we could in whatever sports we were playing, but the importance of being a good student as well and that those things went hand in hand in order to be successful.”

A successful formula, indeed.

Weir debuted at the world championship in 2017, qualified for and competed at the 2020 Olympics and most recently won bronze at the Commonwealth Games, as well as finishing fifth at the 2022 world championship, just two years shy of the next summer Olympics.

The global Covid pandemic not only made training challenging, but it also shifted the time frame of the Olympics from four years to three following the postponement of the 2020 Games to last summer.

“Now, we're two years away,” Weir said. “It feels like it's coming up very quickly.”

At the Tokyo Games, Weir finished 19th, while her teammate and friend Camryn Rogers was 5th, surpassing any previous finish by a Canadian woman in Olympic history.

“No Canadian woman had ever placed in the top 20 in the women's hammer,” Weir said. “Cameron was fifth and I was 19th. She had an exceptional performance and then for me to do a little bit better than my ranking at the time was really an honour and a privilege.”

The Olympic experience gave Weir the confidence she needed to keep pushing herself.

“I have zero regrets for how my Olympic experience and competition went,” she said. “I enjoyed it thoroughly and that really gave me the fuel for this year to say ‘OK, how can I do better?’

The fuel tank appears to be full.

Last month, Weir captured bronze at the Commonwealth Games in her father’s hometown of Birmingham, England, a moment she said she’ll never forget. Weir posted a photo of herself and her father holding their Commonwealth Games medals to Twitter following her bronze medal performance.

“After that picture was taken, a day later we had a family barbecue in England,” Weir said. “(I was) able to compete at the Commonwealth Games and earn a medal in his home city -- his home track, Alexander Stadium.”

Weir, who is at the top of her game with the Olympics less than two years away, is proud of the accomplishments she and teammate Rogers have earned.

“I'm definitely excited for the future of Canadian throwing and for our event, Canadian women’s hammer. We've got two minorities doing very well and it's exciting to be able to push the boundaries of our sport,” she said.

On a personal level, she knows her own legacy will be compared to that of her father, who left gigantic shoes to fill.

“Size 14 to be exact,” Weir said with a laugh. Sharing that commonwealth experience with her father was both satisfying and satiating, Weir said. Looking at her dad’s long list of accomplishments keeps her motivated, too.

“My dad is a four-time Commonwealth medallist, he has two golds and two bronze from a big career. He has medals in both the hammer and the discus. It’s cool to be able to follow in his footsteps and to see what he did and to know now that I'm at the point where I'm also making finals and getting medals and placing in the top three.

“It's exciting to carry on that family legacy.”

Jan Murphy is a Local Journalism Initiative reporter who works out of the Belleville Intelligencer. The Local Journalism Initiative is funded by the Government of Canada.

Jan Murphy, Local Journalism Initiative, Belleville Intelligencer