C oaches are the beating heart of our sport. To shine a light on these incredible humans, Brooks established the Inspiring Coaches program in 2014.
If you’re lucky, you’ve had a coach that taught you more than running. Good coaches inspire, educate, discipline, and ultimately teach some of life’s greatest lessons. They help us to reach goals we might not have thought possible, buoy us up when we fall short, and give us the strength to get back up again. All this while serving as equal parts anchor and inspiration.
The Inspiring Coaches program recognizes some of the high school coaches across the country who’ve made a big difference in the lives of their student athletes. Given the challenges of the pandemic and so many nominations pouring in from student athletes, it didn’t feel right to limit the award.
This year, we’re very excited to give all 486 coaches who were nominated the recognition they so richly deserve. Brooks is honored to be providing them with a gift box and letter of recognition. It’s a small token of appreciation for the priceless lessons they’ve given so many. These coaches have impacted their runners in ways that extend far beyond the finish line, teaching student athletes lessons that set the pace for the rest of their lives.
Encouragement every step of the way
Coaches help us lengthen our stride, dig deeper, and go farther than we ever have before. In her letter nominating her coach Ashley Barr Soske of Fox Chapel High School in Cheswick, PA, Kimberly Wolf shared how Coach Ashley helped her overcome a big challenge to go the distance:
“Ashley is one of the most encouraging and inspiring people and coaches...The lessons
she teaches her runners are lessons that apply to life: keep striving, seek improvement, and try your best. In my own life, as a person born with a club foot (and had 9 subsequent surgeries that never fully corrected it) and had never [officially] run until 2.5 years ago, Ashley has been instrumental in making me ready to complete my first official 13.1 in June. I began by literally running to the corner and back and every increase, every extended distance, Ashley was there to encourage me and keep my spirits up. I would have become disheartened if it weren’t for her. She’s been incredibly inspiring every step of the way.”
A coach (and fan) for life
Other student athletes never lost the connection they had with their high school coach because their coach made the effort to never lose that connection with them, even after the formal coaching relationship was over. That was the case with Coach Chris Gruenhagen, the coach at Brookings High School in Brooking, SD. His former runner, Emily Berzonsky, wrote:
“In the middle of my sophomore year of track, my parents informed me that I would be moving away with the family because of a new job. Out of all the people I would have to share this information with, I dreaded most telling my team and Coach Gruenhagen.
One day, after practice, I finally mustered up the courage; however, after saying, “I have to tell you something,” I began laughing uncontrollably yet also somehow crying at the same time. Coach Gruenhagen took me aside and waited for me to calm down and tell him what was wrong. His response was everything that I needed to hear. He reminded me that I still had the opportunity for a great track season and that wherever I went next would be lucky to have me. And what meant the most to me was that he promised to be my fan and follow my career.
He was true to his word. As I found success at my new school, Coach Gruenhagen reached out to see how I was doing. I informed him of every PR and good race. His encouragement meant the world to me; he even Tweeted about my success through the team Twitter account as if I was still a team member.
I continued to grow as an athlete and ultimately committed to run Division 1 cross country and track and field at Coach Gruenhagen’s alma mater. He continued to cheer me on, oftentimes in person. Hearing his familiar coaching advice and “Go Berzy!” (his endearing nickname for me, a nickname I still use to this day) every race meant so much to me.
Moving halfway through high school was a stressful experience, but knowing that I had a coach, cheerleader, and friend for life eased the transition and helped me to be confident in the web of love and support that I have today. I am forever thankful to Coach Gruenhagen for the kindness and understanding that he showed me during my moving experience. I am inspired by his lifetime commitment to his athletes.”
Embracing the possibilities
Coaches can see things within us that we don’t yet see ourselves, helping us tap into that potential, develop grit, and shape us into better versions of ourselves. That was the case with Madison Sneigowski, who expressed gratitude for her coach Lisa Cook at Oswego East High School in Oswego, IL:
“I tried to quit the cross-country team after the second week of my freshman year. I was super slow and really showed no potential to do well in the sport. However, when I told Coach Cook I was quitting, she spent the rest of the practice convincing me not to and eventually I decided to give it a shot. Now, I’m a senior and captain of the cross-country team. The girls on the team are my family and the coaches are like my second parents. Cross country has given me so many opportunities that I am go grateful for. However, I’ll never forget that none of that would have been possible if Coach Cook would have let me walk away that day.”
Nominate an Inspiring Coach
If you know of a current high school running coach who is making incredible impact on the track and in the hearts of their student athletes, we’d love to hear about them. For 2022, we will break the nominations into 4 regions, awarding one coach from each region along with several honorable mentions. The winner of each region will contend for the coveted “Coach of the Year” honor. Nominations are rolling all year long, with selections announced in the fall, so please submit your nomination anytime here.