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Getting to Know Andy Chan, Running Coach Extraordinaire

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Getting to Know Andy Chan, Running Coach Extraordinaire

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Cross Country isn’t always known for being a popular sport here at SHC, but in his 19th year coaching at our school coach Andy Chan takes great pride in the team and has begun to make a name for himself in the process. During his coaching years at SHC, Andy has seen success take many different forms, but his most undeniable achievement has been coaching Olympic runner Shannon Rowbury. Representing the U.S. three times in the Olympics and holding the U.S. record in the women’s 1500 meter run, Shannon has become a running legend, and, even with this newfound stardom, continues to have a strong relationship with the person who was there from the start of her running career, Andy Chan. Through Shannon’s successes, Andy has stayed humble and continues to coach every runner with the same intensity, passion, and dedication as he did with Shannon so many years ago. Lizzie Han, sophomore Cross Country runner at SHC, had an interview with Andy to discuss his opinions on running, coaching career and pedagogy, and overall perspective on Cross Country here at SHC. Here are some of the Q and A’s from the interview:

When did you start your running career?

I started running in 8th grade. My friend just encouraged me to go out for the Track Team; so I ran the 800. Then when I got to Lowell that same friend said ‘oh we should try Cross Country’, so that’s when I started to do Cross Country.

Did you enjoy running Track or Cross Country better?

I think I enjoyed Cross Country (better) because of the team aspect. It’s funny now, because now I actually like racing on the roads better than I like Cross Country but in high school I liked Cross Country better than Track.

Did you find it (Cross Country) more challenging than Track?

I think what I liked about Cross Country, which also happens here, is in Cross Country sometimes you’re rewarded for just getting up and working really hard and maybe you can outsmart people with a good race plan. So I like that maybe I wasn’t the most talented runner, but I could maybe be more successful than other people because I could be more smart about it.

Did you run in college?

I did not compete, I was the UCLA team manager.

Is that when you started figuring out that you wanted to be a coach?

I think so. I enjoyed it. I wanted to be manager because I liked the sport. I liked doing something everyday after school. I liked being at meets and I think it was over those four years that I realized I liked the coaching side of it.

When you were in high school was there a different kind of job that you wanted to have when you were older?

Yeah, I thought I was going to be a doctor and specialize in sports medicine. When I left college and finished at UCLA, I went to podiatry school to be a foot doctor; thinking that I was going to specialize in sports and running injuries. So the podiatry school was here in San Francisco and it was four years, so during my third year I realized I didn’t really enjoy it. So I decided I would finish school, just because I was that far invested in it, but I kind of lost all passion for it. What told me that this wasn’t right for me was, you’re always taking tests and doing interviews and things like that for internships and every time I had an interview and a test I had to restudy the material and I would just memorize it for the test but my classmates didn’t even study for these interviews because they just knew the material and I remember thinking if this were a coaching interview tomorrow I wouldn’t study because I would just know it. Then I realized I should be coaching just like they should be doing podiatry.

Do you think your running career in high school affects how you coach now?

I think so. I think everything along the way has kind of shaped who I am as a coach. I think because I never was a top runner, I come at it from a different perspective. I think most of the coaches in the WCAL, a lot of them, were college runners and a lot of them ran at the schools their coaching at now and were pretty high level runners. I like to think that I would think about our JV runners more than those teams do because I was that JV runner.

What do you most enjoy about coaching?

I think it’s interacting with the team. That’s why I like high school. I can be silly. I can shape people. There have been maybe a couple of opportunities to coach either adults or colleagues or something like that, and I just haven’t been interested because my true passion is with high schoolers.

What do you find most challenging about coaching high school students?

I think when you first get runners to come with the team, they’re not exactly sold on the program yet and it takes some time to sell them and during that period that you’re trying to sell them on it, and not everyone gets sold on it, it’s tough because sometimes I feel like I care more about how well they’re doing than they themselves care.

Do you find that the people that ran all four years in high school improve the most?

Definitely. I think if you’re willing to put in four years or you’re joining in as a sophomore and put in three years and you stick it out all the way through the end it’s because something clicks for you. You like this. You like the program. You like the challenge. There’s something about it or you feel like you’re really contributing either by your ability or with your leadership. So those people I think make the biggest strides from when I met them to the time they graduate and those tend to be the people I really keep in touch with.

What are your other interest outside of coaching Track and Cross Country?

In the last two or three years I’ve become a bit of a foodie. So my wife and I shop at the farmer’s market when we can. So I like trying to cook different things… I find joy in the challenge of trying to figure out how to cook something different or something new. If we’re not cooking ourselves we like exploring different restaurants around San Francisco.

What do you enjoy about coaching specifically at SHC?

I think what I like most is the community at our school. People come from all different backgrounds, all different interests, and when we get them together on the team, over the course of the season everyone kind of comes together as a family and that’s very rewarding.

How do you think Shannon’s success in running has changed your coaching style?

I don’t know if it changed it but I think Shannon’s success helped give me confidence in that I must be doing something right. Having her in my first four years kind of immediately as a young coach I think I garnered a lot of respect around the Bay Area because of her success and that was a good feeling and that made me confident that I could continue to run a successful program. I think because of Shannon, and my connections with her, I get to interact with lots of other people who then give me ideas for coaching that maybe I wouldn’t get if it weren’t for Shannon.

Do you see yourself coaching another success like Shannon in the future?

I’m not expecting anyone like Shannon to walk through the door again. I think that’s kind of an even more-than a once in a lifetime (opportunity). I think there’s a lot of great coaches out there all across the country, and very few, like you could count them on one hand probably, have coached someone that’s gone to the olympics.

Will Shannon try to qualify for the 2020 Olympics?

I don’t know. I don’t have any insider information. My personal story on that question is, I’ve always thought she was kind of going to retire in the next year or so, but after she came fourth in Rio after we left the stage that night, that’s the first time in my life I’ve thought about going to Tokyo to watch her. I think an athlete like Shannon is really driven and motivated and coming in fourth in the Olympics and to be that close to the podium is the kind of thing that maybe drives someone to try again. I’m not saying she’s going to but I think that’s going to make her consider it more so than if she had medaled or if she had come in tenth. I think there’s something about fourth that sometimes is life changing enough that you want to try again.

Do you have an ultimate goal for your coaching career?

My goal I think is kind of a longevity thing. I’d like to coach at Sacred Heart Cathedral for a long, long time. It’s already been 19 years and when I started out I remember seeing coaches in the league or in the Bay Area that had been at their school for a long time and thinking, wow that’s really cool, and some of them were 20 years coming up on 30 years and I was thinking I’m getting close to being that guy who’s been there for so long and has associated with the SHC Cross Country and Track and Field teams.

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Getting to Know Andy Chan, Running Coach Extraordinaire