Previously I wrote a blog about how I became a high school cross country and track & field coach at Sacred Heart Cathedral Preparatory. But thinking back on the events of my life, my road to coaching began as early as my sophomore year at Lowell High School.
It was the spring of 1987 and the coaches at Lowell were James Thomas and Kevin Fong. Kevin was the head coach that year; he would later become an assistant coach in charge of the throwers for me at SHCP. In my sophomore year Kevin made me one of the team captains and I loved it. Up until that point in my life I was much more of a follower, going along with my friends and not straying very far from my comfort zone. The only reason I was even a runner was because my friend Eugene Cho encouraged me to join cross country my freshman year. For some reason, however, I thrived in the leadership role on the Lowell track & field team.
My high school career came to an agonizing end when my team failed to qualify for the State Meet in the 4X400 meter relay; I felt an emptiness in my stomach. For four years cross country and track & field had been my life. Training was hard and I sometimes dreaded it. High pressure meets and big races made me nervous, but they were also thrilling. I knew I had to do something to stay involved with the sport.
The summer after my senior year I attended Lowell’s summer running practices as a sort of uninvited assistant coach. Coach Lloyd Wilson, who has now been my assistant coach at SHCP for thirteen years, didn’t seem to mind – or at least he tolerated me. I wrote evaluations about all my former teammates in a notebook: what their strengths were, what they needed to work on, what would motivate them the most. I was eighteen years old and just out of high school, and I was thinking like a coach.
When I began my freshman year at UCLA, I decided I would see if the cross country team needed a manager. I went to Coach Bob Larsen’s office. Coach Larsen politely told me that he already had two track & field managers (one of those managers has his own coaching story) and that he didn’t need one for cross country. I walked out of his office a little disappointed, but later realized that Coach Larsen was strictly the men’s cross country and track & field coach at UCLA. The women’s team was totally separate. I then went to Coach Bob Messina and asked him if he needed a manager for the women’s cross country team. Coach Messina seemed a little surprised by my question. I don’t think he’d ever had anyone ask to be his team manager before. Certainly not a geeky looking Chinese freshman boy from San Francisco. Coach Messina told me that if I was really interested, to come to the first meet, which happened to be the next day. I had to be at the Morgan Center steps to ride a van to UC Riverside at 5:30 A.M. I believe that was my first test, to see if I was serious about being manager or if I just wanted to hang out and gawk at the pretty UCLA distance runners.
The next morning at the van my days as the UCLA manager began. That first van ride was quite an experience. The women on the team were used to only having females (and Bob) around. They weren’t going to change their behavior or conversations because I was around. In fact, I think they purposely acted more outrageous just to see how I would react. I must admit I was asking myself, “What have I gotten myself into?” as we stopped so that Jennifer Smith could go pee on the side of the road, and the women kept modeling their tight uniform tops in the van.
My job as manager initially required a lot of writing. There was no internet for posting results, so at the end of meets I had to copy down all the statistics. At practice I was responsible for logging everyone’s workout splits. (UCLA is where I developed my counting system, 98, 99, 1:40, 1:41, … and an ability to call out and record splits at the same time.) On some days I would run with the team. It was sometimes a challenge to keep up!
What made the job special was how nice the upperclassmen were to me. Seniors Laura Chapel and Laurie Chapman were super welcoming to me and the rest of the team followed suit. Laurie Andeen went by the nickname, “Andee” because there was already a Laurie on the team. Being low man on the totem pole, that meant I needed a nickname because I couldn’t be “Andy.” Because of my last name, the girls called me “Charlie.” But that only lasted for a year and then someone started calling me Chanman, a nickname that has continued for the twenty years since.
Two memories I especially cherish from my UCLA days involve Pam Thompson and Kira Jorgensen. Pam was a first year assistant coach and she admitted to me years later that when I first came on the scene she didn’t like me because she thought I posed a threat to her authority as an assistant coach. “But you were so nice and so good at what you did that I couldn’t hate you,” she later told me. We’ve been friends ever since. Kira was the all-everything high school phenom of the late 1980’s. A multiple-time state champion and national champion before she came to UCLA. I had read much about her and watched her race a few times. It was a real thrill to meet her in person and find out that she was the funniest, teammiest, most spirited person you could ever meet. We formed a special bond through our UCLA days and I still consider myself lucky that I ended up being friends with someone who in high school I had considered a hero.
The days at UCLA flew by. Each year I would get (and take on) more and more responsibility. I eventually had my own group at practice. I was included in meetings where we discussed the training. Track & field meets were exciting because my job was to have an accurate, up to the minute, score so the coaches could make appropriate line-up changes to win the meet. (My current dual meet strategies were born from this.) My junior year Coach Messina went to part-time, which meant I was even more vital to the team, sometimes directing a workout session by myself.
My senior year Coach Messina did not return and UCLA merged the men and women’s cross country and distance programs into one. Coach Larsen would be in charge of both the men and women. Ironically, three years after saying he didn’t need me as a manager, Coach Larsen was eager for my help. He knew that I knew the women’s team very well and that I would be a real asset during the transition to a co-ed program. He recruited me by inviting me to a sold out Arizona-UCLA basketball game. I felt loyal to Coach Messina and even interviewed for a coaching job at a nearby high school. But in the end, I decided to stay on so I could help the women who I had grown close to over the years.
My senior year was a magical year.
The UCLA athletic department paid for two-thirds of my school my senior year. I even got my UCLA varsity letter in 1993.
Coach Larsen let me give a lot of input about the workouts. I remember writing different workouts for different people and walking into his office to discuss them. Here was a multi-time coach of the year award winner being lectured to by the manager about why Kira Jorgensen should run 300 repeats that afternoon instead of 600 repeats.
One memorable day at the end of a team meeting, I asked Coach Larsen if I could speak. I got up and gave a passionate speech about how the distance women needed to step up their game. After I was done, Coach Larsen looked at me then looked at the team and commented how lucky they were to have a team manager that cared so much about them.
I developed a strong relationship with both Bobby Kersee (then the head women’s track & field coach) and Jeanette Bolden (who would become the head coach the next year). We had a great time together. I got to hang out with Jeanette and sometimes help work out people like Jackie Joyner-Kersee and Gail Devers. That May when Jeanette was named head coach, she asked if I would return the next year as an assistant coach. I decided to pursue podiatry school instead but it sure was an honor to be asked.
The end of my senior year turned into a series of recognitions from Bobby and Jeannette. They decided to fly me to New Orleans for the NCAA Championships; this was my first NCAA meet after four years as manager. I dutifully drove the rental van back and forth between the track and hotel, supported our one distance runner, Beth Bartholomew, and kept the scoresheet that found us in a surprise third place team finish.
At the end of year UCLA athletic department awards banquet Bobby was supposed to present an award to Beth for distance runner of the year. When he got up to speak, instead of introducing Beth, he introduced me and said that it was more appropriate for me to present the award.
Jeanette put on various track & field clinics for her asthma foundation. Bobby was supposed to go with her to Philadelphia for one of these but at the last minute couldn’t make it. Jeanette asked me to step in for Bobby. In this pre-9/11 era, I flew to Philadelphia with a ticket with the name “Booby Kersee” on it. At the clinic, most of the clinicians signed autographs and put their highest achievement (e.g. “1984 Olympian”). I decided I needed something but wasn’t sure what to do. I ended up signing, “Andy Chan, 6/12/93.” Hey, that way the kid collecting the autograph would remember what date they got all these cool autographs.
Even as a recently graduated high school senior I think deep inside I knew I was interested in coaching. All through college when I was bored during lectures my doodles would be training plans and workout ideas. From 1989-1993 I had one of the greatest coaching mentorships anyone could ever ask for. I didn’t know it at the time, but I was developing a love for the sport, knowledge about training, and ideas about how to motivate from great athletes and coaches in the UCLA program.
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.
Interview by George Rehmet
This interview appeared in the Winter 2004-05 Soonar Soundings.
1. How did you get involved with running?
I ran track at Aptos Middle School in the 8th grade mainly because my friends were. Then as a freshman at Lowell I went out for cross country and was hooked…been running every since.
2. How did you end up coaching at Kezar? At SHC?
The DSE approached me about coaching track workouts back in 1994. We started out at SF State and moved when daylight savings time ended to Kezar, where we have remained (Kezar has lights, SF State does not). 10 years later the day (Thursday), time (6:30pm) and cost ($4 per session) are still the same.
I was the team captain of my Lowell high school running teams, I loved being in a leadership role for cross country and track and wanted to some day be a coach. At UCLA I was the team manager for the women’s team and after college I assisted at Lowell for a few years. In 1998, I was beginning graduate school at USF to get a masters degree in sports management and wasn’t planning on coaching that year. Then my mom saw a listing in the Independent that SHC was looking for a head cross country coach. I thought it might give me something else to do besides school and I had always dreamed of being in charge of my own program. While trying to make a decision about applying for the job, I ran at Sawyer Camp Trail with Tower (Raymond Yu) and talked over if I should go for it or not. I decided to apply and got the job. 7 years later, I am the head coach for both cross country and track & field, work full-time at SHCP as their Facilities Coordinator and have had an amazing 7 years at SHCP with numerous championships, great moments and new friends.
3. Why should someone do a workout with you at Kezar?
The workouts are a great way to improve your speed/kick at the end of a race, your ability to pace well and/or get a hard workout in. The company of the other runners helps people to push themselves. The workouts I write are designed to challenge you to improve yourself and yet not take the fun out of running.
4. Besides your track workouts, what are other ways for runners to get faster?
A weekly tempo run is a great supplement to any training plan. Tempo pace means different things to different people. I define it as a “strong” pace, close to 10K pace. The idea is to run for about 20 minutes at a faster pace than you would normally run.
5. Is coaching high schoolers different? How?
Coaching a high school team is very different:
1. They are all training for the same race distance.
2. I see them daily to oversee their training.
3. They have little running training background and expect to be directed about virtually every aspect of their training.
With the adult population, people’s goals vary from “getting in shape” to achieving a certain marathon time. I only see them once a week so they do a lot of training on their own. I see my role as giving them a good speed session that will help their overall running but I realize that my workouts are just one part of their training program.
6. What’s a typical training week for you?
I don’t get a lot of specific training in myself. I do whatever I can with the team and/or go for a run with Malinda after work.
7. What is your favorite race(s)? Why?
I think the Nicky’s race (a 3 mile and 10K that took place in Berkeley) was my favorite. Why? Because I always did well at that race. I ran 5 of the 6 years they held the race and was either 1st or 2nd overall in the 3 mile, the last 4 years. I got to know the race director, who is the father of “Nicky” who died of leukemia, and other people associated with the race. It became an annual reunion to see them. The goodie bags were phenomenal and I sure won my share of wine from them!!
(2005 edit: Steve Woo’s ANA Cable Car Chase is becoming a new favorite. How can you go wrong with sake at the finish line?! But I do seem to keep just missing out on that trip to Japan! When’s Steve going to start giving an award to the 2nd San Franciscan?!)
8. What has kept you going for 10 years at Kezar?
I love coaching and the group of people who come out on Thursday are lots of fun to be around.