My college track coach passed away suddenly last night. He was only 35. I was on the committee that hired him in 2007, and later served as one of his assistant coaches before going to graduate school. Though there were some growing pains at the beginning, he took the program to new heights. He was a great leader and role model, praying before every team meal, making us remove hats and turning off our phones when we ate, and encouraging us to pursue our dreams. I’m grateful for all of the opportunities and second chances he gave me.
I was a senior during his first year and the transition to a new coach was tough. I was still figuring out my life then and which direction I wanted to go. He knew I had a passion for working with people and the ability to explain complex ideas. He saw something in me and hired me as graduate assistant. We had our differences — mostly philosophical — but worked together to improve the team and recruit talented athletes. Five of the cross country runners I recruited became the centerpiece of the programs ascendancy to the top of the conference standings (we finished last my senior year). We spent a lot of time together those few years. Coaching every day, traveling to cross country, indoor, and outdoor meets. I attended two national meets with him, too.
Beyond coaching, the opportunity and flexibility he gave me to coach with him, earn my Master’s of Liberal Arts, and work part time in the archives was integral in helping me figure out what I wanted to do with my life. That was probably one of the most difficult times of my life and I’m grateful for all of the support he gave me. I only coached a year before leaving for Reno to earn my MA, but that year was so pivotal for the trajectory of my life and career. Had I not had that year to figure things out, I don’t know what I’d be doing now.
My coaching tenure didn’t end on the best terms, but we later made amends. I shared with him my MA thesis on my running-hero Billy Mills, which he enjoyed. We also would occasionally exchange text messages — mostly me congratulating him on his the team’s success. We also talked about what I was up to in school. He was genuinely interested in my life and excited about the path I was on. After I became a certified USATF official, he gave me an open invitation to come back and help out with home track meets. Sadly, I never got a chance to.
It’s tragic that he died so young. He influenced so many talented athletes and students at Baker University. He was a tremendous athlete and coach. During his competitive days he won a National Championship in the javelin, but he never really talked about it. That didn’t define him. He was mostly family man and a man of faith. He leaves behind a wife and three young children. RIP Zach Kindler. You were a great coach and an even greater man.