At Brooks we believe that running change a day, a life and even the world. We also believe that coaches bear some of the brightest torches in our sport. They are the mentors and the true inspiration behind millions of people experiencing the run. The time has come again to announce this year’s finalists for the Inspiring Coach of the Year Award, the multinational award we give to pay tribute to coaches for all they do for runners and our communities.
Last year, we expanded the search for the Inspiring Coach of the Year to Canada, and this year, we opened the award to coaches outside of high schools, acknowledging the important work they do in youth clubs, community running groups and more.
Get to know this year’s finalists below, including their best line of coaching advice, and be sure to leave a comment and let us know who you think should be named the Brooks 2016 Inspiring Coach of the Year!
Alysun Deckert, Team Transplant, Seattle
Alysun, a clinical nutrition manager at University of Washington Medical Center and competitive master’s runner, started Team Transplant as a way for transplant recipients to find community and healthy lifestyles post-surgery.
“I went into this thinking that with my diet and exercise background, I’m going to show the power of diet and exercise. People will be thinner and have better cholesterol levels, they’ll be fast. But it’s not so much what they do to train and what they eat, it’s having a community that supports you in that effort that makes a difference. The community is what gets people back on Saturday mornings to exercise. They show up because they know they’ll have a group there and people will support them.”
Alysun has seen what running can do for those around her and in her own life and found a logical transition into coaching and building community using her experience. Currently with over 200 members, Team Transplants’ motto is “Survive. Thrive. Together.”
Anders Brooker, Hellgate High School, Missoula, Mont.
Anders, the coach at Hellgate High School in Missoula, Mont., views running as a tool to build quality student athletes and human beings. For him, racing fast and winning are important, but they are only one element of creating valuable memories. Coach Brooker has succeeded in creating a community of runners and a legacy of running memories at Hellgate High. One athlete wrote of coach Brooker, “Anders has created a culture that at-once demands your absolute greatness in strength and endurance, is full of passion and empathy, is wholly inclusive – but has an instantly obvious layer of endearing sarcasm, humor and so much fun.”
Ashley Wiles, Sole Girls, Vancouver, British Columbia
Understanding the struggles of doubt and body image that many young girls experience while growing up, Ashley was pulled to create positive change in her community.
Ashley used her passion for running and for helping those around her to create to create Sole Girls, a group for adolescent girls that uses running as a tool to build self-confidence and a sense of empowerment.
“Sole girls started in 2013. It’s an empowerment program for girls between ages 8 to 12. We started with 15 girls and now it’s over 600 girls. We run a nine-week program where girls train to run a 5k. We talk about values and we use running as a tool to facilitate conversations about body image and confidence. At Sole Girls by intermixing physical activity it enables a deeper learning and is less confrontational –it’s facilitates an open-minded conversation. We tell the girls to be that person that inspired you 5 or 10 years from now. Find your happy pace!”
Many runners have indeed found their happy pace with Sole Girls. Ashley’s goal to “change the number of girls who are physically inactive” and in return build self-confidence is working.
Dan Dachelet, Southington High School, Southington, Conn.
Dan Dachelet may be a firefighter by trade, but he’s a coach through and through. One example-The Vicious Cycle. It’s what he calls the process of inspiration on his team- he coaches and motivates the kids and through their running, they motivate and inspire him. “That’s the reward I look forward to… listening to them talk about how they want to be better,” he says.
“I like the word passion, and that’s the way I approach the sport. If you’re going to do this, be passionate about it. Don’t just go through the motions. Put your heart and soul into it and you’ll be better at it and you’ll succeed.”
Hopey Newkirk, Montgomery County High School, Mt. Sterling, Ky.
Hopey views herself as a mentor and tries to foster family with her program.
“We teach family and we call ourselves a family. We celebrate graduations, we mourn loss, it’s not a seasonal activity – it’s year-round and all through their years. We encourage church activities, service activities, helping homeless families. It gives kids the big picture that we all need to help each other in this world and also helps them appreciate what humans sometimes take for granted.”
That sense of family and commitment to one universal goal has brought a running team from obscurity to become regional champions.
“We weren’t competitive (in the past). This past season we were moved into a much more difficult region. Our goal was State and we wanted a trophy – the top two teams in the region. We did a visualization and I said here (finish line) is where you’re gonna lay down and die. And well, they did. I remember as the last runner crossed that line I looked and they were all laying down – it was cold and muddy – and I lay down with them right there. And it hit me right there that these kids had grown in their belief in themselves and that was a defining moment. And we got that trophy!”
Family, community and commitment to team are the values that create community for the Montgomery County Indians and what makes Hopey Newkirk such an admired leader.
Jason Belinkie, Charles E. Smith Jewish Day School, Bethesda, MD
Jason views coaching as an opportunity to create lifelong runners and also lifelong passion for running. It’s a metaphor for life, he thinks, and running on a team is a chance to learn and grow.
“I’ve had countless parents who say their children leave the team and running became a foundation for them to reinvent themselves and make them better people,” he says.
Whether it’s working for nonprofits like Athletes for Hope as Chief Operating Officer or coaching at the high school, Jason brings an enthusiasm and genuine respect for the human condition that help to inspire the community of runners around him.
John Peebles, John Burroughs High School, Burbank, Calif.
For Coach John Peebles, his first responsibility is to mentor young adults into responsible human beings. And that means doing the simple thing…the things most people take for granted.
“Like knowing your teammates names. I hate it when I go to a meet and someone yells go ‘school name’ but doesn’t know the name of the athlete they are cheering for.”
Coach Peebles enjoys teaching and coaching because he enjoys mentoring young adults. His goal is for all his athletes is that they aspire to succeed. Their growth comes from the efforts made to attain those goals. He knows that if his student athletes “do the simple things right,” that they will ultimately become better people and responsible adults. Sometimes the simple things are inspiration enough.
Juan Castanon, Southside High School, San Antonio, Texas
Coach Juan Castanon knew it wouldn’t be easy but he knew it was right; he was determined to create a program the community could be proud of.
“When I first took over the program it was way below a standard program…they went to small meets and there wasn’t much motivation to succeed. I started setting goals and the athletes responded. I exposed them to the highest level. This year we won district and qualified for State for the first time in school history. No sports at our school go to State, but now XC does.”
He was inspired to coach after a powerful life given to him by his own high school coach.
“My girlfriend of five years passed away in college. I dropped out. My high school coach got me back to running and in school and really changed my life. I wanted to be able to have that positive impact on other peoples’ lives.”
Coach Castanon’s generosity and determination have turned a lackluster running program into the best sports team in the high school and the center of attention for an entire community.
Marisa Parks, Dripping Springs High School, Dripping Springs, Texas
Marisa Parks loves what she gets to do for a living and she loves her sport. She created a unique and special culture in Dripping Springs that not only inspires her student athletes, but unites a community of runners.
“I think what’s really cool about the type of kids you get is there’s no glory… at least not much in our sport. These kids are coming from all different backgrounds, and the run is the one thing that unites us all. It can define us; that one moment of being edged-out or finding passion that changes their lives. As a coach, you never know when that moment is going to impact them.”
To Coach Parks, running is special and powerful, and she acknowledges its role on her team. It’s just one reason of many why she’s a finalist for the 2016 Inspiring Coach of the Year Award.
“You don’t always realize the impact you have and I truly believe I get more from coaching than I give. I love coaching…I love my job. I feel like the kids can see the passion I have for running and for my job.”
Nat Carter, Union Pines High School, Cameron, N.C.
Nat Carter is a pioneer for women’s track and field in North Carolina. When he began teaching, there were no sports for girls in the spring, so he organized an all-girls field day and invited other schools. He saw the need for even more opportunity for the girls, so he began working with the high school coach to take some of the older girls to compete in the Junior Olympics. From that work, the Union Pines girls’ track and field team was born.
Coach Carter has created a legacy of inspiration in his community, empowering youth and developing responsible adults.
“When you look at the diversity of different kids in the program, not everybody at home receives the same type of encouragement, affection or ability to challenge themselves. They learn devotion, commitment and they build friendships. It’s just a matter of, overall, making a kid more well-rounded. You learn to deal with people – wins and losses – you learn to appreciate performances. It’s just a matter of preparing these kids for life itself.”
Rick Patton, Wamego High School, Wamego, Kan.
Rick Patton loves coaching and he loves his athletes. His passion for his adopted sport is contagious in his athletes, and like many great coaches, he uses running as a metaphor for life.
“Life’s a gift and, you know, you want to use every day you have. If you’re willing to really work at it, you can get better. You may have some potholes along the way, but you can get better. The choice is yours, and of course you have injuries, but every day is a gift. And the coach can be one of the most influential people in their lives – outside of their parents. The life skills they learn from running are invaluable – it translates to being good people: mothers, husbands, fathers and wives.”
Coach Patton has not only created a positive impact on his community, but he’s galvanized the commitment and tradition of a small running community for something much larger than himself.
RJ Stiltenpole, Scranton Running Club Barrier Breakers, Scranton, Pa.
RJ Stilenpole never intended to become a coach. But a group of women saw his potential and now, years and 600 athletes later, RJ isn’t just a coach, he’s a finalist for the 2016 Inspiring Coach of the Year Award.
“You want to try to be a good runner, but I preach to be a good person. You see people from the 8 minute group go back and run with the 14 minute groups,” says Coach Stitlenpole. “People come here and they can be who they are, good and bad.”
Through his Barrier Breakers running group, RJ Stiltenpole has transformed an otherwise sedentary town in Pennsylvania into a pretense-free, joyful, life-affirming place to run.
Stephen Barlow, Oliver Wendell Holmes High School, San Antonio, Texas
After leaving his native Australia to run in the U.S., Coach Steve Barlow established roots in Texas and decided to invest back in his chosen sport, seeking to bring as many kids as he could into the running family to help them fall in love with the sport that had such a huge impact on his life.
“I’m here to help the kids. The only thing I get out of it (coaching) is helping kids run well. Kids want to come back every day, that’s the payoff. If a kid doesn’t want to be there, that’s OK, it’s not for everybody. But we want to keep everyone around.”
Coach Barlow understands the impact a good coach and mentor can have on a community of runners. He’s decided that modeling an example of self-sacrifice, hard work and teamwork is how he can inspire future generations of runners. Several years ago, he started the “Run-a-Thon,” to raise money for local charities. What started as him alone running for eight or more hours during the day has turned into a team and community event that helps provide meals for struggling families.
Our list of 13 finalists represents some of the finest coaches in running today, and we’re excited to award them $5,000 in Brooks gear and $500 in cash for team expenses. The winner of the Inspiring Coach of the Year Award, who we’ll announce in June, will receive an additional $5,000 in gear and $2,000 in cash.