How I Became A Coach
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.