It’s six 0′ clock in the evening at the Caf (Morningside’s cafeteria, for those of you who don’t know). A slew of people have already been streaming in, but now, an unusual group approaches. They consist of mostly tall, somewhat skinny people, almost all of them wearing short shorts, even the men.
By now, it is apparent to everyone in the Caf that these people are the people from one of the running teams coached by David Nash. Be it cross-country, indoor track, or regular track & field, these runners are rarely seen on their own, especially in the Caf. The group of runners set their bags and jackets by the coat hangers and walk up to the lines for food, having jovial conversations with each other the whole time.
“We always sit together, we always do activities together,” says sophomore track runner Shelby Hall, “We even have little study groups together.”
Hall and one of her teammates go on to talk about how the runners always have class with at least one other runner. It is second nature for anyone on one of the running teams to go the extra mile to make sure another runner feels welcome. This rings especially true for incoming freshman runners.
“I knew I wouldn’t have any trouble fitting into the program,” comments Alex “AJ” Janssen, a freshman runner on both the track and cross country teams.
Even if it’s just a little bit of a warm welcome, a little bit can go a long way. “My first impression of the Morningside track and cross country teams was that I was welcome and cared for right from the start,” recounts Eric Koithan, a runner who is still running strong into his senior year, “It was not like high school where there can be lots of segregation based on talent or age. Instead, I felt included and valued by the whole team including the talented upperclassmen which meant a lot to me.”
This lack of segregation helps everyone feel welcome.
“Everybody hangs out with everybody,” adds Janssen.
This is due, at least in part, to Coach David “Dave” Nash’s style of coaching. While it is not strictly enforced, it is highly encouraged that the running teams keep a welcoming environment. At the very least, Nash requires that people keep it nice and clean.
“We don’t allow profanity, we don’t allow negative dialogue,” explains Nash. “Everyone respects each other.”
This is mostly because Coach Nash is not just concerned about the students as athletes, he’s also concerned about them as people. He takes time to stop and get to know his runners. “He asks about me, my family, and is always checking in on me (and all of the team),” says Koithan. “It is not just about running and winning with Coach.”
All of the team would agree with Koithan. Nash is not just another coach, but someone who is rather invested in the athletes on his team. According to Janssen, “running in college is more than competing.” It’s an ideal that Nash has instilled upon all his runners, “he really wants you to grow as an athlete.”
“If it was not for Coach Nash, my running career probably would have ended early,” says Koithan. He begins to recall how the recruiting process went when he first decided to come to Morningside, “Coach Nash is the only coach that took extra time recruiting me, which meant a lot to me.”
One might ask how a coach such as Nash could be so passionate for his team and work so hard to make them feel like they belong. “I’m very sensitive to people that bullied or don’t have a good self esteem,” he explains. “People step into my office, I want to make sure they feel like they’re cared about.”
This could be due to Nash’s own experience on running teams during some of his earlier years, “I know how it feels when you’re second fiddle.”
This is a large reason why he works so hard for his team. But that’s not to say friendship and comradery are the only things that the running teams focus on. Running is also important, as it works as a commonality between such a diverse team. As a result many of the runners work hard to ensure they do well in their sport. Just this year, the men’s cross country team came in first for the GPAC Championship. Coach Nash received an All-GPAC honor for Coach of the Year while Jay Welp received an honor for Runner of the Year.
But it’s not just the top notch runners that enjoy the sport for what it is. “My favorite part about running used to be winning, but I have been more than humbled at the NAIA division,” comments Koithan. It’s simply a passion for running and being the best person that one can be that drives these runners.
Koithan has been experiencing some bitter-sweet feelings as he finishes up his college career, “I have been so blessed along this journey, especially at Morningside College. I have run with some outstanding athletes, mentors, and true friends. I know that sometimes I take running for granted, but this being my final year, I have done my best to avoid that. I am just trying to savor every workout and race.”
But this does not mean that this the end of his running career. Both Janssen and Koithan speak about how they will continue running even after their college careers have been over. Koithan goes on to say, “I know that my running career will not be completely over. I will keep on running. It has taught me a lot about myself, and Coach Nash has reignited my passion for running.”
This is no doubt inspired by Nash’s own lifelong passion for running, “I’ve been running since I was about 8, 9 years old. I’ve been racing since I was 10.” Nash goes on to elaborate how many of the people he ran with stopped running years ago, but he has been going on for decade, after decade, after decade.
Regardless of whether or not one continues to run, though, anyone who has run on the track and cross country teams can say that they have had a more than rewarding experience being on these teams. “Though it is tough knowing that I will have to move on soon, I will cherish the memories that I have made forever.”