DALLAS — When cross-country coach Monique Lankheet joined Dallas High School in 1996, it was never meant to be her final stop as a coach.
ALLAS — When cross-country coach Monique Lankheet joined Dallas High School in 1996, it was never meant to be her final stop as a coach.
Dallas was her first job after graduating from Western Oregon University — but something unexpected happened.
“My son graduated, and I thought it might be fun to coach at a bigger school or a school with a little more money,” Lankheet said. “I kept getting attached to the kids. I kept saying after you graduate, I’ll go. No, after you graduate, I’ll leave.”
After more than two decades at Dallas, Lankheet has become synonymous with the Dragons’ cross-country program.
“Now, I’m here to stay,” she said.
The world of running has always intrigued Lankheet, but she lacked the opportunities to run competitively.
“I’ve always been a runner, but I wasn’t born in the right generation,” she said. “We didn’t have athletics at my high school, but I learned how to do and write workouts. I’d read books on training.”
When she arrived at Western Oregon University, she was approached by another student about joining the cross-country team.
Lankheet had her reservations since she had never run competitively on a team before. She eventually caved in and tried out for the team — and made it.
“The cool thing about it is it gave me confidence,” Lankheet said. “I don’t know that I learned a ton from being on the team, but I felt like, now I’m a runner. Kids respect that. Now, when I tell them this is what we’re going to do, they go, ‘Oh, you were a runner, so it’s OK.’ I understood the commitment and saw the coach’s role on a team. I don’t know if I’d be coaching if I hadn’t made the team.”
When she came to Dallas, Lankheet understood how to write workouts and had a plan how to best train her runners.
What she wasn’t prepared for was finding the balance between training her athletes as runners and as people.
“In the beginning I had so many rules,” she said. “You have to do this or that. Then, I was super easy where you could do anything wrong and you’re still on the team.”
It took some time, but she realized cross-country was as much about developing people as it was about runners
“I was more worried about whether people liked being on the team than developing some character,” Lankheet said. “Now for me, it’s more about providing experiences that can last a lifetime. Hard work, dedication, supporting your teammates, these are things that you have to do as runners, as business people and as family members.”
Dallas has accomplished a lot during Lankheet’s tenure. There’s just one thing she’s hoping changes. She’s never taken a team to state.
“I think this is the year,” Lankheet said. “I’m optimistic we can do it. I want it mainly for the kids to experience that joy and be proud of their accomplishments.”
Staying at Dallas may not have been her original plan, but today, Lankheet can’t see herself coaching anywhere else. Above all else, it’s become her home.
“I feel like this is my program, like this is home,” she said. “I’ve watched it grow and develop with the help of a lot of people. It’s been a really fun experience.”
By Lukas Eggen
Polk County Itemizer-Observer