Coach Chuck Koeppen

Challenge and Failure.   John Garman sent a long blog from a runner who completed what seems like a completely crazy 60 hour race at the end  of winter (The Barkley Marathon).   At the end the runner, Gary Robbins, writes the following:

You can’t put yourself out there without expecting to fall flat on your face from time to time, sometimes literally. Life is not easy and pursuing the limitations of who you are will certainly be wrought with unforeseen challenges, but as long as you keep your head up and keep pushing onward towards your truth, towards your belief in who you can be, you will learn to enjoy and cherish the journey, to find positives where others only see negatives…even if you end up reaching your ultimate goal a little later than you may have expected to. Even if you find yourself at that destination a few years further along than your planned arrival time. 

From <>

I’m increasingly conscious that so much of success in life has to do with experiencing failure, standing up again, dusting yourself off, and trying again.   Of course, sometimes it is equally difficult to handle success, but most of us are more afraid of failure.   I also like the point about finding positives when others see negatives — this resonates with my post on the “perfect ride.”

Chuck Koeppen.   I had a wonderful surprise today –my old cross country (running) coach has been following my cross-country blog.   He took issue with my claim that I never made varsity; he distinctly remembered having a wooden plaque made for the “varsity ladder.”   It is true that I think at one point I slipped through to the ladder (must have been a Spanish flu rolling through Carmel High School); one of my friends grabbed the plaque at a dinner commemorating Coach Koeppen’s accomplishments on his retirement and it has somehow found its way to my office at work — one of my prized possessions.   That he could remember this is beyond my ability to comprehend.   It has been 38 years.

Coach Koeppen was one of the most amazing coaches and teachers that I ever came across.   I don’t know where to start — probably at the simplest level — he was a fierce competitor.   He wanted to win, badly.   He had a deep sense of how to build young runners physically and mentally so that they reached their personal potential and peaked for the all-important State Championship.   In the seven years before I left the team the team won the Men’s State Championship every year.   Just to be clear, I never was a runner in the State Championship.   But I cheered wildly from the sidelines.

He expected total commitment to the team and to the goal of winning.   We had one week off after track season and two weeks off after cross-country.   Much of the summer was “two a day practices” — longer runs in the morning to build endurance, endless circuits on a 1-1.2 km woods run, track or football practice field to build speed.

Coach Koeppen ran in every practice we had.   Not a jog; he ran with the front-runners.   I don’t ever remember him standing on the sidelines.  He knew who was giving versus slacking; who was keeping up versus falling behind.   He knew whether people were straining or holding back.   He wasn’t screaming “go faster”; he was simply in the action, leading from the front.

We had routines and traditions that gave us a sense of belonging to something bigger than just a sports team.   Every summer we spent a week at a state park undertaking some of the most difficult training of the year.   It was the first key race to determine who was varsity and who was reserve for the starting inter-school race.   We travelled in the back of open pickups and slept in canvas tents.   It was hard work and fun.

He also got to know each team member as an individual, and would grab them for a pep talk if their morale was flagging, or cut them to pieces if they violated a key rule or were sandbagging.   We had strict curfews and it was definitely a “no drinking / no smoking or you are out” environment (except for one exception which I think he eternally regretted — RZ).

I think coach Koeppen would be staggered by how many lessons I took from his coaching style.   But most of all I learned what it takes to win.   And as I wrote earlier, that even when you do everything you think you can, sometimes it is not enough.

Day 29 Ride Summary  (Topeka KS to Saint Joseph’s Missouri).   Well, we have crossed into another state — Missouri.   89.2 miles, 3714 feet of climbing.   The terrain is different here — more of a roller coaster than a long ascent (some days we climbed for 5 straight hours).   Everyone was flagging by the end of the day — we needed a rest day.



One thought on “Coach Chuck Koeppen

  1. since you Referenced Coach Koeppen, and our CA trip. How about when we were in Carmel CA, and walking the streets in the early AM and a Noblesville coach saw us wearing our Carmel CC track sweats we forgot to turn in. I call a message waiting for all of us when we got home.


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