by Erin Huggins
Western Oregon Alum Chris Reed (B.S. Economics, 2011) tore up the track during his four-year collegiate running career, setting five distance records for the Wolves in cross country and track; now he is expanding his experiences as an athlete—teaching others to run as WOU’s youngest, non-graduate assistant coach.
Not sure what he wanted to do after graduating, Reed talked to Mike Johnson, head coach for cross country and track and field, about helping coach the Wolves. It turned out Johnson had also been thinking about asking Reed the same question.
“We customarily try to find talented former student athletes that understand Western Oregon, that have a passion for the school, that have a real yearning to be involved in the sport, and that can show commitment,” Johnson said, adding that he prefers athletes to approach him first. “If they come to me with the idea, it’s something they’re more genuinely interested in doing.”
“I loved the experience I had [at WOU] as a runner, and I wanted to give that experience to other people,” Reed said.
Pictured at left: Chris Reed '11
Changing hats from athlete to coach came with a few challenges, including the new dynamics of relating to teammates-turned-team. “I couldn’t be buddy-buddy anymore; I had to separate myself,” he said. “In order to be the coach I wanted to be, I had to make a commitment to it.”
Not always easy, the decision reaped rewards for Reed, including clarification of future career goals: “I knew probably two or three days after starting that I wanted to commit my career to this profession.”
For Reed, that certainty justifies the time, stress, effort and frustration spent as an assistant coach. “The extra hours I spend in the office, the late night doing recruiting—it’s something going towards a long-term end, a long-term career.”
There are occasional job perks—like travelling with the cross country team to Hawaii for the 2012 NCAA West Regional Championships (Nov. 1 through 4, 2012)—but there are also many days when the work stacks up, the weather is abominable, and personal goals seem miles away.
“Every day has its own challenges,” Reed acknowledged. “Everyday there’s someone that needs your attention; someone who’s not feeling very good, and you need to help them through it; some hotel that didn’t book our rooms correctly, and you have to deal with it. That’s what makes it fun.”
That, and the people.
“It’s really cool to see people who really want to be good students and good athletes and good people, and helping them pursue those goals,” Reed said. “I love going to practice everyday, seeing [the athletes] on their good days, helping them on their bad days. I like recruiting, too. It’s invigorating meeting new people and foreseeing the potential they could have in a Western Oregon uniform.”
In fact, Johnson sees recruiting as one of the key areas where Reed is integral to the program. “He has a very good social knowledge, he’s good in recruiting, he knows lots of coaches, and he knows coaches of high school athletes. The breadth of his social body is a real asset,” Johnson said.
Outside of recruiting, Johnson said Reed is also using his time with the Wolves to expand his knowledge beyond cross country, distance running and track (Reed’s personal competition areas) by working with the sprinters, the hurdlers or other athletes needing help.
Mentoring former student athletes by providing the opportunity to gain coaching experience is not new for Johnson—at least six former WOU athletes have been on staff as assistant coaches over his time with the Wolves, many continuing on to full time coaching positions in Oregon or around the country.
“He’s an incredible mentor…[Johnson] understands the sport at a level most people can’t quite comprehend,” Reed said. “As much as I thought I knew him then [as an athlete], I know him better now. As much as he helped me become a better athlete, he’s helped me become a better coach more…I am always going to look at these two or three years as the absolute fundamental basis for any success I may have in the future.”
For now, Reed’s personal coaching goals are concise: “Don’t make people slower. Don’t make people hate you.” So far, he’s succeeded.
His high school nickname, Runnin’ Reed, also continues to apply, although he finds it harder to train at the high level not being on a team. “I’m in no position at my age and at my fitness level to want to be done improving. I want to continue to get better,” Reed said.
To accomplish that end, Reed joined the Bowerman Athletic Club (BAC). Last year, he ran a 10k in the USA Track & Field club nationals in Seattle, representing BAC. He has also run a handful of other distance races, including a road 10k on July 4, where he won $150 for his second place finish. The monetary reward, along with his Power Bar sponsorship, qualifies him as a “professional athlete,” Reed joked.
Nonetheless, balancing running with coaching is tough. “Everyone thinks you just run at practice,” he said. In reality, “You coach at practice. You run on your own time, and you’ve got to fit that in.”