Today, Gwen Robertson, Issaquah High School’s most-esteemed Cross Country and Track & Field Coach, was awarded the Brooks Inspiring Coach of the Year 2017. Brooks believes that coaches are the torchbearers for running, the mentors and the true inspiration for millions of runners. The Brooks award comes with $10,000 in Brooks performance apparel, accessories and/or shoes for their teams, and $2000 cash and a membership to the Brooks Inspire Daily program for the following year.
Tracy Silva, co-head coach, nominated Gwen, confessing, “I was mostly motivated by the prize as the team really needs uniforms. Our team is the largest it’s ever been and we don’t have enough uniforms for all of our kids.” The reality is Gwen has made a profound impact on Tracy, “Gwen played a significant role in my life. She was more than a coach, she was a teacher, counselor, a missing parent, and the sister I never had.”
In fact, she has been the inspiration for over 20 other former Issaquah High runners who chose to pay it forward and enter the coaching profession. Kris Roof (1991 – 1995) says, “Gwen was much more than just a coach to me as she and her husband, Lawrie, provide paternal influence, positive energy and were always the bright spot in my day. I am in my 15th year coaching High School Cross Country and Track and Field teams and strive to model my program after Gwen’s by fostering a positive environment.”
“I was a bit of a troublemaker”, says Chris Brasino. “It wasn’t until I started coaching alongside Gwen that I realized how hard it must have been to deal with me. I grew to understand and respect that Gwen cares deeply for each runner on her team—even the ones that cause headaches.”
Countless other former athletes say “She was like a mom to me”, “She never gave up on me”, “I owe a lot to her”, “She got me through High School”.
Gwen has received five significant lifetime career awards within 6 years—more proof of her value as a coach among her peers and athletes. After the girls XC team won the state championships last Fall, she was awarded the 2016 Washington State Girls Cross Country Coach of the Year by the US Track and Cross Country Coaches Association, She is a 2 time WIAA Hall of Famer, having been inducted into the Track and Field Coaches Hall of Fame in 2015 and Cross Country Hall of Fame in 2013. She is also a Pacific Northwest Track and Field Association President’s 2012 award winner.
So, who is Gwen Robertson and what led her to this legendary coaching career? Gwen is the daughter of two teachers/principal and always wanted to be an educator like her parents. She had a successful running career through college and national team race walking career after college. Gwen majored in PE and minored in math as well as earning a coaching credential. She met her husband, Lawrie Robertson, at a track meet. He is likely her biggest fan. Lawrie sees Gwen as a partner to each athlete’s development and he describes her as being in the “life-changing business.”
As with many successful people, Gwen had three key mentors that she learned from and that gave her inspiration along the way. Peter Thompson was her coach early on in her car and has been her lifelong coaching mentor since the early 80’s. He was the first person to guide her in planning a season-long workout schedule. They remain good friends, attending numerous track and field championships. Her second mentor is Terry Kirkpatrick, who she officiated with at the UW and was the one responsible for recruiting her to come out and volunteer at Issaquah High School over 30 years ago. He taught her all the mechanics of coaching such as how to place kids in meets when there was no such thing as Athletic.net. And the third, was Pat “Hattie” Hatmaker, who was an icon at Issaquah. Gwen coached with Hattie for about 15 years and learned a lot from her as she had an innate coaching ability. One of the key things that resonated with Gwen early on was that there were more than just the top athletes to consider. That is not something many coaches think about or do.
Tracy sums it up, “Gwen was more than a coach, but a teacher of the sport. She taught us to focus on what we could control, as opposed to the external factors that we couldn’t control. That made us more confident and better performers. Her gift to us as athletes was to allow us to figure out how we could get better. She helped by guiding us to the solution, but we were ultimately responsible for our own self-reflection. If we failed, what did we learn? What could we do differently next time to change the outcome? She is incredibly supportive win or lose, just give it your best, that is all she asked of us.”
No surprise, Gwen’s coaching philosophies are consistent. They are really quite simple, but ‘run’ deep:
- You can’t want it more than the kids. It’s what they bring from talent to motivation. Each kid is there for their own reasons and I’m there to serve all of them.
- Just don’t quit. I don’t give up. I’m too stubborn to give up. I don’t want the kids to give up either. I believe that there is always a way to figure things out.
- Listen first. I am an “observational” coach. I listen to athletes, parents, other coaches and I watch.
- I teach the kids to reflect and learn. I give them the tools to think through what they can do to improve or make things better.
- Athletes should run for themselves first, then for their team. It has to be something they want to do.
Coaching has never been about the awards or recognition for Gwen, “it has always been about teaching all the athletes, not just the top athletes, life skills to be able to move on into adulthood and to teach them that running is not who you are, it’s what you do.” And that is why she is the 2017 Brooks Inspiring Track Coach of the Year.