You never know what is going to happen in sports. A five point deficit with 28.2 seconds left in a basketball game usually means you will lose the game. But not always. Trailing by three goals with ten minutes left in a hockey game is usually an insurmountable deficit. But not always. Not if you’re tenacious. It’s the unpredictable nature of competition that draws so many of us to sports in the first place.
At the 2013 USA Championships, the women’s 1500 meters was predicted to be a tightly contested race but most experts figured the three runners who would place in the top three and qualify for the World Championships in Moscow were Treniere Moser, Mary Cain, and Shannon Rowbury. But that’s why they run the race. In the USA spots on national teams are earned on the track, not on paper. If this race were run ten times, there might be ten different outcomes. But the only outcome that matters is what happened on the track at Drake Stadium on Saturday, June 22, 2013.
The pace was extremely slow – 85 seconds for the first 400, 2:40 at 800 meters. I have result sheets with splits faster than that from some of our high school meets this season. It was over ninety degrees Fahrenheit. It was windy. The humidity was high. No one wanted to lead the race and that led to a lot of pushing and shoving and a bunched up group of twelve runners. The race would come down to who could run the fastest last 400. For Shannon, this probably wasn’t the ideal scenario, but she had to deal with it. Cain, Moser, and Shannon pulled away from the rest of the field with 200 to go, but over the last 100 Cory McGee, a junior from the University of Florida, kicked by Shannon to get third place. Shannon found herself in unfamiliar territory – fourth place.
The bad news was that this meant Shannon was not guaranteed a spot on the team for the World Championships. She would have to wait to see if McGee achieved the B standard (4:09.00). Having another athlete’s performance determine your fate is not a situation any athlete wants to be in. The good news was that Shannon’s 2013 USA Championships did not have to be over. The next day was the 5000 meter final, in which she was entered. It’s not her primary event. It’s 12.5 laps. Her legs would be tired from two 1500 meter races (the preliminary round and the final) she had already run this week. It would still be hot, windy, and humid. But if Shannon wanted to clinch a spot to Moscow, this was her way to do it.
The situation reminded me of another Sacred Heart Cathedral track & field athlete – Christina Young. Christina was in the class of 2004, two years behind Shannon. They were teammates in the 2002 season. When Christina was senior, her primary event was the long jump. At our WCAL Trials meet, however, she had a bad day, jumping 15-4 (15 feet, 4 inches) well less than her season best of 16-5. She finished thirteenth and failed to qualify for the final. As I said at our awards banquet in 2004, “all Christina had left was the triple jump, which was not her best event…but it was about to be.”
Some background on Christina’s triple jumping. In late April of her senior year Christina would often jump less than 30 feet in the triple jump. As of April 27 her best mark was 30-11. She improved to 31-10.5 at a meet against Valley Christian. That next weekend she missed a meet in Carmel. At that meet in Carmel, Christina’s teammate, just out from the basketball team, jumped 34-7 in the triple jump to become the team leader in that event. At our next dual meet Christina had a one foot PR, improving to 32-10. Then at WCAL Trials, with her back against the wall as she had already failed to qualify for the final in the long jump, she placed fourth with yet another PR of 33-1. Then on May 15, she had the meet of her life. She not only set a new PR of 35-5.75 (that’s a 2 foot, 4 inch PR). She took first to become the WCAL Champion…in her off event! Over the last 18 days of the season she improved 4.5 feet. I’ll never forget Christina. She was versatile and she was tenacious. When the long jump didn’t go well, she didn’t let it bring her down. She set her sights on the triple jump. Not only did she PR in the triple jump, she became the league champion.
When I went to bed Saturday night, I didn’t know if Shannon would be running the 5000 or not. From the interviews I’ve seen, she may not have known herself. But Shannon, like Christina, is a fighter. She wanted to be on the team to Moscow so she had to put the disappointment of the 1500 behind her and take her best shot in the 5000.
The early pace of the 5000 was modest, which was good for Shannon. With about a mile to go, Shannon was well positioned. The others in contention were Jenny Simpson, Molly Huddle, Amy Hastings, Kim Conley, Abby D’Agostino, Chelsea Reilly, and Shannon. Hastings, tired from the 10,000 on Thursday, would drop out. Six runners remained. With a lap to go, all six were still in it. Conley led with a lap to go. On the backstretch Huddle would take the lead from Conley and a few meters later Simpson would take the lead from Huddle. Simpson and Huddle would battle to the line for the top two places. Meanwhile with 300 to go Shannon was in sixth place and slowly losing ground on the others. With 200 to go, Shannon started moving up on D’Agostino and it looked like she might have a shot at fourth. Suddenly Reilly started to tie up in the last 100 and Conley surged by her. But Shannon, who later said she was thinking about Moscow and her late grandmother, Nonie, kicked it into another gear in the last half lap and passed Reilly and Conley to get third place!
I’ve been privileged to witness some amazing kicks by Shannon over the last fifteen years. Her kick to get third place by one hundredth of a second at the 2011 USA Championships stands out. And her kick at the 2013 USA Championships, again to get third place but this time in her “off event” showed Shannon’s tenaciousness.
Athletes that are tenacious, don’t make excuses when things don’t go the way they want. They don’t let a disappointing performance get them down. They can comeback from disappointment in their main event. They fight for a spot or a championship no matter how the odds are stacked against them. By being tenacious and not giving up, these athletes sometimes shock everyone with a performance that earns a lot of people’s respect. That’s tenaciousness. That’s Christina Young and Shannon Rowbury.
Sacred Heart Cathedral (SHC), a Catholic school in San Francisco founded over 150 years ago and with a current enrollment of 1,257 students, can make a claim that very few other schools around the country can make. SHC has two alumni going to the 2012 London Olympics in track & field – Tina Kefalas, class of 1995 in the marathon for Greece, and Shannon Rowbury, class of 2002 in the 1500 meters for the USA. Even more amazing is the fact that the school does not have a home track.
As the current head cross country and track & field coach I can say that I’ve never seen not having a home track as a detriment to our program. The kids in our program are blessed because there is a lot of variety in their training schedule. It isn’t meet out at the track after school every day at 3:30. In fact, I think the time the kids spend taking the bus together to practice is part of their experience that makes being on the SHC track & field team special and unique. It also helps weed out who is really dedicated to the sport. It takes a great deal of commitment to get yourself to practice off-campus via public transportation day after day.
Kefalas was the school record holder in the 1600 and 3200 meters when she graduated from SHC in 1995. She was the first runner in school history to qualify for the cross country state meet. She remembers going on a road trip to Colorado Springs with her coach, Mr. Denis Mohun (also a graduate of the school in 1979) and some other runners from the team. “It was the turning point for me. My first two years I was playing volleyball and track and after that trip, I finally decided to run cross country,” recalls Keflas. She also is proud to have won the school’s Vincent Contrero Award for excellence in both academics and athletics.
In the fall of 1998, SHC hired a new coach to head both the cross country and track & field
program. That person was me. I had the good timing to arrive at SHC the same season as a freshman who would change my life, a freshman named Shannon Rowbury.
Rowbury would go on to win two state championships and seven section champions during her SHC career. She was nationally ranked in the 800, 1600, 3200 meters and cross country and supplanted Kefalas as the school record holder in the 1600 and 3200 meters.
One of my fondest times during Rowbury’s high school career was her whole senior year of track & field. We both knew that this was the eighth and final season together at SHC. We took time to really soak it all up and enjoy the ride. She set numerous meet records, would sign autographs at meets, and together we would be interviewed for both television and newspaper articles. It was just a lot of fun and we made a point to have fun and enjoy every moment of it.
John Scudder (class of 1972), has been around SHC for thirty-two years and he recalls both students fondly. “I remember Tina and Shannon well. During Tina’s time at SHC, I was the Dean of Students; she was a model student who never found it necessary to take a trip to the Dean’s office. While Shannon attended SHC, I was the Principal. She too was active at school well beyond athletics. It is amazing to think she was so successful on the track, while all the time focusing on her work in the classroom,” said Scudder. Now serving the school as President, Scudder said, “I am so proud of their accomplishments. I know I speak for the entire SHC community in wishing Tina and Shannon the best of luck during the upcoming competition. Go Irish!”
After high school, Keflas went on to run at the University of Southern California. She then moved to Greece, where she continued to run at a high level. In 2008, in her first 3000 steeplechase of the season she ran 9:55.96, less than one second off the Olympic “B” standard, which would have been enough to qualify to represent Greece at the Beijing Olympics. Unfortunately she was injured in her second race and that ended her season and thus her 2008 Olympic dreams. Kefalas then decided to run the 2010 Athens Marathon, which also happened to be the 2500th anniversary of the historic run by the messenger Pheidippides from Marathon to Athens in 490 B.C. that gave the marathon race distance its name. She completed the marathon in two hours, 40 minutes, and 36 seconds, well under the Olympic “B” standard but unfortunately before the qualifying period for the 2012 Olympic marathon began. Kefalas would need to run another marathon closer to the Olympics in sub-2:43 to qualify for the 2012 Olympics. On April 22, 2012 at the Enschede Marathon in the Netherlands she ran 2:41:00 to stamp her ticket to London.
Rowbury competed for Duke University after high school and since college has been a professional runner, sponsored by Nike. Her breakthrough season was 2008, when she lowered her 1500 meter personal record from 4:12.31 to 4:00.33. She qualified for the 2008 Olympic team in Beijing and has also represented the USA at the 2009 and 2011 World Championships. She’s finished in the top three at the US Championships in the 1500 each of the last five years, has been ranked as high third as in the world (2009), and is the eighth fastest women’s 1500 meter runner in US history.
Kefalas will race in the women’s marathon in London, which is Sunday, August 5. She said that her goal is to break 2:40.
Rowbury will race in the women’s 1500 meters in London. The first round race is Monday, August 6, the semi-final race is Wednesday, August 8, and the final is Friday, August 10. In an interview after the Olympic Trials, Rowbury stated that her goal is to “get on the podium,” which means placing in the top three to earn one of the coveted Olympic medals.
As you watch the 2012 London Olympics, almost every athlete you see will have some sort of backstory. They competed in high school, they had a high school coach, at some point making the Olympics became, first a dream, and then reality. But when you’re watching the track & field portion of the Olympics, remember that two of the athletes attended the same Catholic school in downtown San Francisco. The one without a home track.
Any good head coach will tell you, any success you have is most likely due to the athletes and your support staff. The athletes are the ones doing the training and are out there competing. Good assistant coaches make all the difference because they are hands on with the athletes on a day-to-day basis. Behind the scenes you also have the trainer, strength and conditioning coach, and a host of other vital people who comprise a track & field program. This past season the Sacred Heart Cathedral track & field team had one other key player who contributed to our success – one of our bus drivers, Patrick Scott.
We first met Patrick last spring when he drove the team to the Central Coast Section (CCS) Finals in Gilroy, and then waited patiently in the parking lot at Applebee’s while the team shaved my head to celebrate our three state meet qualifiers. During the fall cross country season we often had Patrick again, and I requested him specifically for our two overnights, to the Mt. Sac Invitational and the state meet in Fresno. He was always laid back and flexible about things. The kids liked him and he genuinely showed an interest in getting to know them. One time when we pulled into a shopping center for lunch, Patrick got on the PA system and told the kids where all the “hot spots” were – “In ‘n’ Out is in this section, cross the street to the right to get to McDonald’s, cross the street to the left to go to Starbuck’s.” It was awesome. While we were at the meet, Patrick had been scouting the area to help us quickly find the food of our choice right after the meet.
This track & field season, week after week, meet after meet, when I walked up Gough Street to our bus, there was Patrick sitting in the driver’s seat. An avid sports fan, Patrick admitted to not knowing too much about track & field. But at most meets he would come in and watch and cheer. He got to know the kids and what events they did. One afternoon, it warmed my heart when I saw Patrick giving fist bumps to the kids as they boarded the bus. Another time when we coaches got our wires crossed and we only had one coach (me) for two buses, we had no choice but to send the kids on the bus with Patrick with no coach. When we got back from the meet, Patrick sent me a text message reporting that the kids had behaved superbly and that they left the bus extra clean. I was proud of our kids that day, but also it reinforced the idea that since Patrick was so polite to them, they just naturally reciprocated. Almost every kid thanks Patrick by name for driving us when they get off the bus back at school.
Halfway through this season I was having problems coordinating my ride home after meets. My wife was picking up our car at the end of her work day and going home. This season I had no assistant coach living near me to give me a ride. On a lark, I asked Patrick if he was going back to the Coach USA yard after dropping us off, and if he was, could I get a ride there. The Coach USA yard off of Evans Street is an easy three minute drive for my wife to pick me up, as opposed to a thirty minute drive (fifteen each way) if she had to come to school to get me. A ride with Patrick to Evans Street became our weekly ritual. Patrick would comment on some of the things he saw at the meet and I could explain some of the nuances of track & field to him.
As if this wasn’t enough, when one of the kids left her laptop on the bus, I called Patrick. Typically a forgotten item like that is placed in the Coach USA office and the kid and their parents have to go retrieve it during business hours the next day. Even though it was 9:30 P.M., Patrick went back to the bus to retrieve the laptop. He called me saying he had it. I had walked to dinner so I didn’t have my car with me and couldn’t go get it from him. Patrick’s solution? He asked for directions to where I was having dinner and he drove the laptop to me.
Because of this terrific relationship that our team has with our bus driver, I look forward to opportunities to buy Patrick a meal when we’re on the road or invite him to our end of year banquet. I think he’s become a real track & field fan, too. Although we probably won’t be using a bus for the CCS meet this year, Patrick has already indicated that he’s kind of hooked on our team now and wants to see us through to end. He’s texted me after CCS Trials, asking “How’d we do today?” and I know he’s trying to take the day off and driving himself down to Gilroy to cheer us on at the CCS Finals.
Now that’s a bus driver that’s part of the team!
On Saturday, February 11, 2012, I had the privilege of running for more than just myself.
As a high school coach, I look for opportunities to teach the students about life and how running can be a part of their life beyond high school. “Running is more than just training to run in a high school meet,” I began. I went on to mention that I was living proof that even after high school, one could run in order to compete and accomplish goals. I pointed out that running is often used as a means to raise funds for charities, through organizations like Team In Training. “Finally,” I said, “Running is a way to honor and remember people – sometimes people you don’t even know, and that’s what we will do today.”
I went on to describe Sherry Arnold, someone about the same age as me, a math teacher at Sidney High School in Montana, a mother, a wife, and a fellow runner. I told the team that on January 7, 2012, she went out for a run and didn’t come home and that it appears she was abducted and killed.
It was a good reminder to all of us runners to be as safe as possible when out running. I reiterated to the team that they are not to wear headphones while running so that they can hear things all around them. I re-emphasized the importance of paying attention to the traffic and people around them. I re-stated our policy that they run the exact route the coaches prescribe and that they try to always be with a teammate or at least in earshot of one.
I then told the team that we would join thousands of other runners around the country in honoring Sherry Arnold by participating in a virtual run. I passed out the running bib for Sherry and safety pins. When everyone had their bib on, we gathered for a prayer led by my assistant coach, Natalie Martinez:
Let us pray in the memory of Sherry Arnold. A wife, mother, teacher and fellow runner whose life was cut too short one Saturday morning. Her tragic death is a simple reminder to be thankful and appreciative of the many blessings we have especially the chance to run on this team. Let us celebrate her life, her spirit, her strength and courage as we run in her honor today. And we pray we have a safe and successful track season.
Holy Founders…Pray for us
Live Jesus in our Hearts…Forever.
After that, we headed off for our run. We ran what the kids call the “box run,” a route that includes the beauty of Golden Gate Park and Ocean Beach. We’ve done this run many times but today, running for Sherry, it was just a little bit more meaningful.
I’ve had plenty of great moments as the head coach of the Sacred Heart Cathedral (SHC) cross country and track & field teams. I’m now in my fourteenth year of being the head coach and my list of successes on the track, in the field, on the race course, and most importantly in the development of young men and women is endless. I am smart enough to know that I owe much of the program’s success to the athletes out there training and competing, and to the assistant coaches.
Assistant coaches work behind the scenes teaching techniques, offering encouraging words, providing motivation, and being a good listener; they make or break a program. I would love to be able to teach every athlete on the team techniques, offer them all encouraging words, provide them all with personalized motivation, and have time to talk to and listen to each athlete one-on-one every day. But there is just one of me and forty-five athletes in cross country and ninety-five athletes in track & field. I can’t be everywhere and I can’t be everything for every athlete everyday. This is where strong assistant coaches are vital.
I’ve been fortunate to surround myself with good assistants. My main criteria when looking at potential assistant coaches is passion for the sport, patience, and a sense of how the high school athletic experience fits into the life of a high school student. I’m not looking for tons of technical training experience. It’s nice if they know the sport, but if not I can teach it to them. First they have to be passionate about the sport. Their enthusiasm will rub off on the kids. Also, with passion comes a willingness to learn coaching and training techniques. Patience is a virtue, and it certainly is necessary when working with high school kids. You have to be willing to sacrifice your time for the kids. You have to be able to cajole them into doing things. You have to not judge the book by its cover, but instead take the time to find the hidden gem inside each of the kids. High school athletics is a co-curricular experience. There are rules that need to be enforced, and the goal is to train hard and to be as successful as possible. But this needs to fit into the framework of the activity being only a high school sport, not life and death. Coaches are educators and the top priority is to teach life lessons. Kids won’t remember in ten years what place they came in at the league finals but they’ll remember the bus ride to the meet with their friends. That’s how it works and there’s nothing wrong with that. I want assistant coaches who can make sure the athlete is challenged and having fun at the same time. If the kids get both, then being on the SHC cross country or track & field team will be one of the highlights of their high school days.
On Monday, January 30, the 2012 track & field season will officially begin. It will be the first season since 2004 that Tomas Palermo isn’t on my SHC coaching staff. I first recruited Tomas to coach with me in 2004. He ran with the adult track workout group that I coach and he clearly possessed the traits described above that I look for in an assistant coach. He didn’t have previous coaching experience but that didn’t matter to me. The fact that he ran at St. Francis High School, one of our league rivals, counted neither for him or against him. For the last fifteen seasons, eight in cross country and seven in track & field, Tomas has been there. We’ve celebrated school records, Central Coast Section (CCS) and State Meet qualifiers, as well as kids just developing into fine young men and women. We’ve mulled over meet line-ups, training plans, and disciplinary issues. What’s best for the program? What’s best for the kid in the big picture?
Over the years Tomas has developed great coaching skills. His familiarity with my style allows him to echo my thoughts to kids and tweak workouts as necessary. He’s been a mentor for numerous SHC kids. Ironically, seven girls from Tomas’ first cross country season in 2004 have been or are going to come back and be an assistant coach at SHC. At meets he meticulously records splits with the exacting detail that I like (first leg of the 4X4 splits at the 800 start line and the rest of the legs are split at the finish line). At practice he helps come up with the assistant coach assignments so that all the assistants get to interact with different kids and still perform the necessary assigned training duties. He has an uncanny sense of when something memorable is about to take place and he grabs the camera to photograph the moment.
His relationships with the kids are, however, what make him special. He can talk Giants baseball during a long run with Nate W., sit in the stands with Izzy A. before practice, start a pull-up competition with Geoffrey Y. and Dominic R., discuss music with James M. and Bryan F., video games with Daniel K., and writing and movies with Sophie C-B. “DJ Tomas,” “Tommy,” and “Coach T” are just some of his nicknames, and we coaches all know that getting a nickname from the kids is basically their stamp of approval. In our end of season evaluations kids always reference the good advice and inspiration that he provides. One student thanked him for staying with him for a long run, both to help him not get lost and also for motivating him to run the whole way. Another evaluation red, “Coach Tomas is the bomb diggity” (Urban Dictionary translation: totally the awesomest, no lie).
I will always remember Tomas’s first season in 2004. It had been an emotional season. In September the top returning girl, Melanie S. broke her leg on a freak fall at the end of practice. The girls were devastated and it took a lot of energy to keep them from falling apart emotionally. Our chances of the girls team qualifying for State Meet went down significantly without Melanie S. At the same time we had a good young boys team but no one that was expected to make it to State. That was the team dynamic as we headed to Toro Park in Salinas for the CCS Championships. Melanie S. came with us and gave a great speech the night before the race. As a first year coach, Tomas came to me the morning of the race and commented that the kids were all going to really “leave it all out there” and we coaches should be ready at the finish line to help carry some of them through the finish chute. Tomas couldn’t have been more right. He read the mood of the team and the look in their eyes and thus we were ready with extra water and staff at the finish line. “Leaving it all out there” is now pretty much a hallmark of the SHC teams. I often associate the beginning of this tradition to that day back in 2004 and Tomas’ first CCS meet as a coach.
It’s been a great run of eight years with Tomas as a SHC assistant coach. I’m sure he’ll still come around and cheer on the team because not only is he passionate about the sport, he’s passionate about seeing the SHC teams compete. Life takes many turns and I suspect someday he may wear the SHC coach hat again because his heart is definitely in education. But for now, I must face the 2012 season without my trusted friend and fellow coach. Tomas, that evaluation had it right, you are the bomb diggity!
I’ve seen various “12 Days of Christmas” lists so I thought I would put together my own. Re-capping my year in running and coaching, I give you They Chanman’s 12 Days of Christmas:
12 – Twelve dogs (and two Eskimos) in a Bay to Breakers Pamapede Iditarod centipede.
11 – Eleven (and a half) miles, the least number of miles I ran every week this year.
10 – Ten (and a half) miles from Wunderlich to Huddardt and back. I finally made it all the way to both ends. This was one of many long trail runs this summer that got me into great shape.
9 – Ninth row at the finish line, our seats at the IAAF World Championships in Daegu.
8 – Eighth master runner at the Zippy 5K, a race where I achieved a major goal of mine, breaking 17 minutes for a 5K as a master.
7 – Seven events at CCS Finals, in which the Irish Track & Field team had an individual qualify. We had someone place in the top five in all seven events.
6 – Six Irish athletes qualified and competed at the State Track & Field meet. First time we’ve had someone qualify since 2003.
5 – Five dollars, the new price for Thursday night track workouts. After seventeen years at the original $4 price, I raised my rates effective July 1, 2011.
4 – Fourth place overall in the Pacific Association Grand Prix (Short) Road Series in the masters division.
3 – Three cherry picker race first place overall finishes: Run For Recess 5K, July Fourth Rocket Run, Miles for Migraine 10K.
2 – Two years in a row the Irish qualified both the boys and girls teams for the State Cross Country Meet.
1 – One hundredth of a second, the amount of time by which Shannon Rowbury beat the fourth place woman in the 1500 meters at the USA Championships to qualify for the World Championships in Daegu.
Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to all. And to all, Happy Running!
The theme for the academic year at Sacred Heart Cathedral Preparatory (SHCP) is “Connect.” At the opening day meeting Principal Gary Cannon asked us to think about how we came to work in education and to be a member of the faculty or staff at the school and to share their story with colleagues as way for us co-workers to “connect” with one another.
It didn’t take much thinking for me to figure out my story.
After graduating from UCLA I enrolled in podiatry school. My plan was to be a doctor of podiatric medicine and specialize in sports medicine. In 1996, during my third year of the four year program, I realized that podiatry wasn’t for me. I found myself studying the same material over and over for board exams and interviews. I just couldn’t seem to commit the information to memory. It made for some stressful and un-enjoyable times. I noticed that some of my podiatry colleagues seemed to have no trouble remembering the information for exams and interviews. One night, I thought to myself, “If tomorrow’s interview was about coaching running, I wouldn’t have to stay up late to study because I just know that stuff.” That was my enlightenment moment.
My podiatry classmates felt the same way about podiatry that I felt about coaching. They were meant to be podiatrists. I was not. I was meant to be a coach.
I finished my four years of podiatry school and did a one-year residency, but after my enlightenment things were different. I was quite certain that I wasn’t going to pursue a career in the podiatry field. I finished school to get my degree (Yes, that’s Dr. Coach Chan to you) and completed a residency just in case I had a change of heart later on. During that time, however, I was looking into ways to have a career that included coaching.
Right after my residency ended, I began a master’s program in Sports Management at the University of San Francisco (USF). I wasn’t sure where this would lead but it seemed promising. The sports management program was a two year program with one nightly class a week. Since I had no job and nothing else going on, I decided to condense this down to one year – so I took two classes a week. In addition to the classes and the associated work load, I also started an internship with Special Olympics Northern California (SONC). Three days a week I drove out to Pleasant Hill to volunteer at SONC as the sports program intern. My job was to assist with the 1998 SONC Fall Classic, a multi-sport competition in Sacramento. This internship was required to earn my master’s degree but it was also an opportunity to see if I liked running competitions from the management side of things.
That same summer that I began the master’s program and the SONC internship, my mom saw an advertisement in the San Francisco Independent that said Sacred Heart Cathedral Preparatory was looking for a head cross country coach. I had wanted to be a head high school cross country coach since high school so I applied. I interviewed with Ms. Jo Ann Momono and gave her my resume. Before I even got home I got a call from one of my references at UCLA; Ms. Momono had already called to check my references. The next day I got a call and was invited to be the SHCP head cross country coach. A few months later I accepted the additional position of head track & field coach at SHCP.
At the same time my internship with SONC was taking off. Kimberly Kellett and Roger Slingerman were giving me more and more responsibilities. At first I was only supposed to be an intern for the Fall Classic in November. But I stayed on after that to help prepare for the next year’s Special Olympics World Games in North Carolina. Before I knew it was getting a small stipend from SONC and was invited to be part of the SONC delegation to the World Games in the summer of 1999.
At the start of the summer of 1998, I had very little on my plate. For the first time in five years I had no podiatry obligations. I also had no job. But 1998-99 turned into the busiest academic year of my life. I spent two nights a week at class at USF. Three days a week I worked at SONC. Plus I had daily head coaching responsibilities at SHC. By the time the summer of 1999 rolled around, I had completed my master’s degree in sports management, gone to North Carolina for the Special Olympics World Games, been offered a full-time job with SONC as the Sports Manager for the San Francisco program, and coached a then freshman named Shannon Rowbury, who would go on to some great achievements in the sport of running.
It just goes to show that you never know where life will take you. I spent five years working for SONC. During those five years I continued as the SHCP head coach, juggling the two jobs as best I could. It wasn’t easy being an off-campus coach but I loved both jobs even thought it was quite hectic at times.
In the summer of 2003 there were some changes at SONC and I was not going to be able to continue to work there and coach at SHC. The decision was really quite easy. I was not going to give up coaching. I left the job at SONC with the idea of coaching one more season while looking for a job that would allow me to continue to coach. There were no guarantees I would find such a job but coaching meant enough to me that I was going to give this a try.
That same summer of 2003, SHCP was about to open the Sister Teresa Piro, DC Student Life Center and they were looking for a Facilities Coordinator. I interviewed for that job and was hired. Due to some fortuitous timing, I never had any interruption in medical insurance. I never really even had time to go looking for another job. All I had to deal with was a two week summer vacation between the end of one job and the start of the other.
I started as a full-time staff member the first week of September 2003, eight years ago this week. I am now embarking on my fourteenth year as the head cross country coach, my ninth as an on-campus coach.
Life may have a change or surprise or two left for me. Maybe another Olympic caliber athlete will come my way? Maybe another job change? Who knows? But what I do know is that I love coaching runners. The sports of cross country and track & field have been good to me. They’ve opened doors to opportunities to meet and interact with wonderful people – athletes, assistant coaches, fellow coaches, and opposing runners. Coaching high school runners is especially rewarding because they are young and impressionable. It’s a privilege to teach life lessons and my passion for the sport to the next generation of runners.
In 1915, the state of California held its first ever state championships track & field meet. The meet took place in Fresno with 91 male athletes representing 28 different schools. Points were scored in 13 events (100, 220, 440, 880, Mile, 120 Highs, 220 Lows, 880 Relay, Shot Put, Discus, Pole Vault, High Jump, and Broad Jump). In addition, there were non-scoring competitions in the javelin and hammer throw. In 1974, the first official girls competition took place at the California state meet.
Over the years the California state meet has garnered a great deal of respect for its elite competition. There are no divisions or classes at the California state meet based on school size. To win a track & field state championship in California means that the athlete is number one in the entire state. It is no wonder that since 1994, future Olympians including Mebrahtom Keflezighi, Ryan Hall, Allyson Felix, Shannon Rowbury, Chaunte Howard-Lowe, Stephanie Brown, Joanna Hayes, Lashinda Demus, Sharon Day, Jill Camarena, Suzy Powell, Michael Stember, Tyree Washington, Monique Henderson, and Angela Williams have won California state championships.
The last time an athlete from Sacred Heart Cathedral qualified for the state meet was 2003. Future women’s Olympic Marathon Trials qualifier Michelle Gallagher represented the Irish that year. Gallagher had a terrific regular season, setting personal records of 2:17 (800) and 4:57 (mile). Her best race was a 10:33.04 that earned her fifth place in the 3200 meters at the prestigious Arcadia Invitational and ranked her in the top fifteen in the nation. At the West Catholic Athletic League (WCAL) Finals, she was second in the 1600 (4:57.13) and set meet record that still stands in the 3200 meters (10:49.11).
One week later, Gallagher came down with the flu. She attended the SHC graduation ceremony and then her mom drove her to the Central Coast Section (CCS) Trials Meet. When she arrived she didn’t look good. She was determined to run the 3200 to try to place in the top 12 to qualify for the CCS Finals. Fortunately she was talented enough that it didn’t take her best effort to qualify on. In the days that followed that race she was still not feeling great so she did pretty light workouts leading up to CCS Finals. At CCS Finals she faced some tough competition in defending champion Ruth Graham of Gunn High School and Melissa Grelli of Presentation, who beat Gallagher at the state meet in cross country. We decided that since she was not 100% healthy, it was in her best interest to not go for the win but instead to run for third place to qualify for the state meet. Tough as it was for her to let the other two beat her, it was the right decision. Gallagher ran conservatively for most of the race, finishing in 11:01.45, eighteen seconds behind Graham and twelve seconds behind Grelli – but more importantly eight seconds ahead of the fourth place runner.
Now that she was qualified for the state meet, I had some decisions to make. Normally I fill the week between CCS Finals and the state meet with light running to rest up for the championship race. But in Gallagher’s case she had missed a great deal of training, and she was a runner who thrived on hard training. I consulted with a coaching friend that I respect, Don Paul, and decided that I would do something a little different. I gave Gallagher hard interval workouts on Monday and Wednesday, leading up to the Saturday state championship race. On Monday she ran 2X400 (80, 79), 4X800 (2:41, 2:40, 2:41, 2:38), and 2X200 (34, 33). On Wednesday she ran 1600 (5:20), 3XPower 500 (94, 95, 98), 2X200 (33,33). This was much more intensity and volume than I would give any other runner I’ve ever coached in high school the week of a big race – except for Gallagher.
Throughout Gallagher’s career we always battled about the race plan. She tended to go out fast and would fade in the final laps. I liked it when she ran even or negative splits. Her best paced race was the 10:33 at Arcadia when she ran 5:21 for the first 1600 and 5:12 for second 1600. I wanted her to run a similar race at state. After the first lap, run in 76 seconds, she was in eighteenth place. Then she locked in. She ran 80, 81, and 81 for the next three laps and moved up to eleventh place at the midway point, splitting 5:19 for the first 1600. On lap five she ran another 81 but passed three people, including Grelli, to move into eighth place. On lap six she ran an 80 and passed three more people, including Graham, to move into fifth place. It was going perfectly. She was running a steady pace and as everyone else slowed down she moved up. On the seventh lap she ran an 82 and passed one more runner to move into fourth place, where she stayed. Her final time was 10:41.37. She moved from eighteenth place to fourth place during the race. She had the satisfaction of being the top runner from the CCS, beating the two runners who had beaten her the week before at CCS Finals, when she had to just let them go in order to make sure she qualified. It was a proud coaching moment for me.
Eight years have passed since that state meet. We had a near-qualifier in 2007, when James Mabrey placed fifth at CCS Finals in the high jump and triple jump. On Friday May 27, 2011, the Irish have athletes competing in seven events at the CCS Finals. We did a great job to qualify so many people this far. I believe that anything can happen at CCS Finals. There are eight invitations in each event to the CCS Finals and we are happy to have one of them in seven different events. On Friday we will compete in the girls shot put, the girls 400, the boys 100, the boys 800, the boys 200, and both the girls and boys 4X400 relay. The top three will go to the state meet. We have seven shots at getting to the state meet. Maybe we’ll qualify in all seven. Maybe we won’t qualify in any. It’s the unknown that makes this week so exciting.
The California state championship meet is an amazing meet to be at. The competition is fierce. It’s an honor and a privilege to compete at a meet of its caliber. I would love the honor and privilege to be coaching at the state meet this season. I’ve even promised the team that if someone qualifies they can shave my head bald. The road to state goes through Gilroy this Friday. Go Irish!
The first day of practice
The first high school track & field practice of the 2011 season is just days away. I always look forward to the first day of practice because it’s a day of beginnings – a day full of hope and optimism for what is ahead. I always try to have some inspirational words to kickoff the season. Below are my opening remarks from last year.
“The will to win means nothing without the will to prepare.” – Juma Ikangaa, marathoner
Has anyone heard this quote before? What does it mean to you?
First off, to me in our sport, winning is about personal achievement, not the conquest of an opponent. To improve, to surpass goals, and to set personal records (PR’s) are “wins” in our sport. You don’t have to be first across the finish line or have the best mark in a field event to be a winner in track & field.
By that definition, I think we all want to “win,” right? We have goals like sub-60 in the 400, 21 feet in the long jump, 100 feet in the discus, sub-6 or sub-5 in the mile. Or, maybe your goal is just to make this team?
The will to want to win is not enough by itself. We can talk about wanting to achieve those or other goals all we want. But that’s just talk. Every athlete in the WCAL is sitting at the first day of practice right now and they all want to win just as much as we do.
But, if you want to actually hit those marks, to actually “win” by this definition of victory that I have given you, then you must have the will to prepare. That is what can separate you from the hundreds of other athletes in the WCAL.
Some of you have been preparing in the weight room, up to three times a week since last summer. Others have started preparing for this track & field season in the last month or two. Some of you start today.
Now we all start preparing together. Because those PR’s, those goal, those “wins” will not happen if we don’t prepare. Starting now. Every day.
It will be challenging. Right now, everyone wants to win and is willing to prepare. But will you feel the same way in half an hour when we’re working out? Or next week, when it’s raining? Or when we’re doing a very hard workout in April?
My hope is that the answer is YES. Because that’s what it takes. That’s the mentality that I want from you. That’s what makes you special…maybe more special than other track & field athletes. That’s what makes you FIGHTIN’ IRISH!
Last weekend Croatia hosted the inaugural IAAF/VTB Bank Continental Cup. It was a competition between four teams – the Americas, Europe, Africa, and Asia-Pacific. Each team had two entries per event (except the 1500, 3000, 3000 Steeplechase, and 5000 where each team got three entries) with no more than one athlete from a country. In individual events, eight points were awarded for first place, seven points for second place on down to one point for eighth place. In the relays, it was fifteen points for first place, eleven points for second place, seven points for third place, and three points for fourth place. Points were combined for men and women, with a single team emerging as the Continental Cup Champion. In the end, Team Europe edged out the Americas for the win, 429-419.5, with Africa in third with 291 points, and Asia-Pacific in fourth with 286.5 points.
It was nice to see a meet with a team aspect and team scoring. The $2.9 million in prize money insured that the top athletes were there to compete for their team. But the way the teams were made presented the problem that athletes often had no real allegiance to their team. Athletes think of themselves as being from a particular country and usually have national allegiance, not a continental allegiance. Also, putting athletes onto teams based on continents created teammates out of some athletes who are normally rivals. For example, Nancy Langat (Kenya) and Geleta Burka (Ethiopia) are bitter rivals in the women’s 1500 meters but they were supposed teammates at this meet. Neither athlete was hoping for a 1-2 finish in their race. It was also somewhat strange to see sprint rivals, Jamaica and the United States of America, teaming up in the relay events together. That being said, David Oliver, one of Team America’s team captains, found himself being very team oriented. He cheered on his teammates and talked to and supported athletes from events that he does not normally follow.
A meet that really gets the passions of a country and its citizens going is a dual meet between rival countries. That’s the case at the Finland vs. Sweden track & field dual meet. This meet, called “Finnkampen” by the Swedes, has been taking place annually since 1925. Team scoring is separate for the men and the women at this meet and, in addition to the elite athletes, the meet also hosts a competition between junior athletes from the rival nations. The 2010 meet, held in Helsinki, Finland drew over 54,000 spectators for the two days of competition. Finland was victorious in the men’s competition and both junior competitions, with the Swedes winning the women’s competition. How important is this meet to the athletes? Three Finish javelin throwers arrived at the meet after competing in the Brussels Diamond League meet the day before, just four hours before their dual meet competition began. They went to a lot of trouble to be able to throw at this dual meet. They also swept the javelin for Finland!
A dual meet between rival countries can stir up a lot of interest. The USA took on the USSR in a dual meet, that was held almost every non-Olympic year between 1958 and 1985. The dual meet in 1962 took place at Stanford Stadium and drew a crowd of 72,500 on day one and 81,000 on day two. At the time, It was the largest two day crowd to ever witness a non-Olympic track & field meet. A reporter from the San Francisco Examiner called it the “greatest track (& field) meet of all-time.” Two world records were set: American Harold Connolly (who passed away on August 18) threw the hammer 231 feet, 10 inches and Soviet Valery Brumel cleared seven feet, five inches in the high jump. Among the star athletes from the USA who competed at this meet were, Wilma Rudolph, Al Oerter, Ralph Boston, and future football stars Bob Hayes and Paul Warfield. The final score had the USA winning the men’s competition, 128-107, and the USSR winning the women’s competition, 66-41.
The sport of track & field, at least in the United States, could use more dual meets. A dual meet between rivals like the USA and USSR, with easy to follow team scoring and some political intrigue, has the potential to win over the casual sports fan. People get excited to see a battle between two rivals. Most people may not know the difference between a good time and a mediocre time in the 800 meters, but everyone can certainly follow who beat whom in a head-to-head competition.
At the high school level the dual meet is the main type of competition. Star athletes compete at Arcadia and Mt. Sac, but for all the other high school athletes, the dual meet is the meet to get pumped up for. One of my best coaching memories is from a dual meet in 2002 when Sacred Heart Cathedral ended a long drought of losing dual meets by beating Mitty in dramatic fashion – winning the last event, the 4X400 relay.
In college, although most of the season emphasis is on conference, regional, and national meets, teams get excited to compete against their rival in a dual meet. Some examples: Cal vs. Stanford (116 year history), UCLA vs. USC (as a Bruin alum, this was a painful hyperlink to include), and Harvard vs. Yale (a meet that dates back to 1891). These dual meet rivalries are flamed by the schools’ proximity and long history of competition.
A good dual meet also occurs when the two teams are evenly matched. The men’s coaches from UCLA and Oregon got together in 2008 and decided to renew the rivalry between these two venerable track & field programs by having an annual UCLA-Oregon dual meet at Eugene’s Hayward Field. The 2009 meet was particularly close and exciting; the winner was not decided until the 4X400 relay. I won’t give away the result (you’ll have to watch the video of the race), but let me assure you, it was a dramatic race. The race leader changed several times during the race. UCLA Bruin and Oregon Duck athletes can be seen on the infield cheering on their respective teams. It was track & field dual meet action at its best!
At the elite level of track & field there are very few opportunities to compete in dual meets. With an emphasis on not over-racing and over-competing, and on achieving fast times and big marks, winning head-to-head competitions takes a backseat on most elite athletes’ competition calendar. These are reasons the dual meet is becoming a thing of the past. The Finns and Swedes are lucky, they get to enjoy a dual meet with the drama and excitement of their national pride on the line every year.