Why I Love Cross Country: An Ode To Coaches

Welcome to the last post of the “Why I Love Cross Country” series! So far, you’ve heard from runners, parents and I. After publishing these perspectives, I decided to dedicate the fourth and final chapter to cross country coaches.

Tracy speaks in our women’s team huddle after Griak.

At the Roy Griak meet last year, I bravely followed head coach Tracy Hellman around Les Bolstad Golf Course as our women’s team raced. An unstoppable force, Tracy sprinted through remote spaces and up hills to locate key, but less-crowded, points of the race at which to shout tactics and words of encouragement to his athletes. Breathless after our last runner crossed the finish line, I listened to Tracy’s enthusiastic play-by-play of the race — an enthusiasm that lasted through the men’s race, awards ceremony and post-race huddle.

Oh, and it was also 90 degrees.

Fueled by a love for the sport (and maybe a mocha or two, in Tracy’s case), cross country coaches expend incredible amounts of energy during meets. I’ve witnessed this energy throughout high school and college, from both other teams’ coaches and my own: sprinting parades of khaki-clad men and women with clipboards. It’s insanity. It’s endurance. It’s devotion.

Tracy coaches the men’s team at the Woody Greeno invitational. Tracy was so focused on the race that he almost collided with me after I took this photo.

“I feel like I have to keep running during the season,” said assistant coach Scott Tanis. “I almost started hyperventilating at conference because I was trying to catch my breath so much [while] screaming at the same time.”

Still, Scott finds fun in the exhaustion; unlike other sports’ coaches, cross country coaches aren’t “quarantined to the sidelines.” While technically outsiders, coaches participate in the sport — nearly all aspects of the sport, in fact.

Tracy and Scott discuss the women’s race at Woody Greeno.

On most easy runs in high school, our coaches biked with us. After the first few minutes, our footsteps and light conversations would be joined by cheesy jokes and the sound of tires against crushed rock. Coach Kabourek, Coach Hubbell and Coach Skiles were as much a part of our team culture as any runner, as they held a significant role in all of our runs.

What better way for Coach Kabourek to participate in our team culture than taking a selfie with his athletes?

Aside from their mere presence at practices, coaches’ hard work expresses their love for the sport. Cross country coaches don’t just show up to the gym at 3 p.m. and leave at 6 p.m.; they create spreadsheets, attend conventions, communicate strategies, send emails, coordinate strength sessions, ensure their athletes’ well-being, reach out to recruits and organize meets. As I type this post, Scott and Tracy reside at Yankton Trails, diligently preparing for tomorrow’s Augustana Twilight. Between actively coaching and ensuring the meet ran smoothly, Tracy’s mileage hit double digits at Twilight my freshman year.

Now that’s devotion.

During a tempo workout last year, Scott simultaneously coached and maintained contact with Tracy and Augustana Track twitter followers.

Ultimately, a coach’s love for cross country comprises the same sentiments held by many athletes and parents: a community value.

“It’s not necessarily the big sexy workouts or the races or winning,” Scott said. “It’s having a bunch of people you really care about together and trying to do something together. I think cross country is a great avenue for that.”

Of course, Scott’s holistic passion is hard to articulate, but as he said, “the things that are hard to articulate are really pretty special.”


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