Boulder area coaches honored for their labor of love on Olympic Day

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As the year’s longest day turned into night, two-time Olympian turned coach Kathy Butler was grouped with a number of other volunteers at the finish line of the 5000 meters, the final event of the Boulder Road Runners Olympic Day 2018 all comers track meet.

As the large field of 32 runners streamed by, some getting lapped, others massed together heading around the far turn into the gathering darkness, Butler peered intently, concentrating on making sure her assigned runner knew which of the 12 and a half laps he was on. “I wanted to do a good job,” Butler explained afterwards, as she and her daughter left the meet. They had spent the day up at Fourth of July trail in the Indian Peaks Wilderness, before returning back to Boulder to spend their night at the meet.

Recognizing the “good job” Butler and the many other local coaches do in giving up much of their time and energy to help others was the reason Olympic Day organizer Deb Conley and the Road Runners honored them Thursday night. T-shirts with “Coach” printed across the front in large letters were handed out, snacks served, and for this one evening, runners could give a nod and thank you to the men and women who provide the techniques, workouts and training philosophies that fuel the training of so many.

“Coaching is a profession of love,” Conley said in her opening remarks. “Thank you coaches for your commitment to pursue your passion in a direction that gives back to the community.”

This was the first time I’m aware of that such a number of coaches were brought together simply to let them know that their almost always unsung efforts are appreciated. Not only distance running coaches were honored. Carl Worthington was there, from Boulder High School, where he has taught and coached field events since competing for CU back in the 1970s. He had the look of a proud father as he talked about the new generation of coaches that have passed through Boulder High and who he has helped mentor.

“It is nice to see the lineage continue,” he said. Chatting with Worthington as the heats of the 400 meters went off, he nodded over to former Boulder runner and assistant coach Nell Rojas, now head coach of “RISE,” standing for “Rojas Integrated Speed and Endurance.”

Turns out “RISE” is the turning of the coaching wheel, as Nell is taking over from her father, Ric Rojas, a former U.S. national champ who started Ric Rojas Training not long after he won the inaugural Bolder Boulder in 1979.

As Denver coach Dave Reese, a former top CU runner and still the state record holder for 20 miles (1 hour, 47 minutes, 40 seconds) announced the meet, Ric Rojas talked with Lilly Guerra, coach of Running Lilly Coaching, along with Guerra’s mom and sister, visiting from their native Ecuador. They spoke in Spanish, and it was nice to hear from Guerra that she is now working with the local Latino community through Centro Amistad, as well as teaching a running class at Columbine Elementary and coaching at Boulder High as a cross country assistant.

Coaching is not easy, as I can attest, having been a high school assistant for less than a year. Coaches have to be firm and in control, yet also gentle and understanding. Middle school coach Lorraine Green exemplifies this. She is the long-time starter for the Boulder Road Runners track meets, and as the runners lined up for the next heat of the 400, her voice suddenly rang out across the track. We all stopped and turned.

“I can’t see lane 1! Get down,” she yelled with authority, holding the anxious runners in place at the starting blocks until she was ready to start them off. Green and her husband, Woody, another former CU runner, coach a large number of middle schoolers at Broomfield’s Nativity Faith and Reason.

The bonds and community that coaches create was brought home as the runners finished the 5000 meters. There was Georgia high school coach Greg Johnson, finishing in 16:09, ahead of most of the boys and girls he coaches. This is the seventh year Johnson has brought his runners to Boulder to train, he said, as I turned to leave.

But the meet was not quite over. One runner remained on the track, finishing his laps. It was Johnson’s father, and Greg explained how he used to accompany his Dad on runs when he was a kid.  Father taught his son to run, and now the son and the young runners he trains waited for the father. Out of the darkness came the elder Johnson, sprinting the final 100 meters to loud cheers. “He was my inspiration to run,” said Johnson. “He is the reason I’m here coaching.”

This article also appeared in the Boulder Daily Camera