Coach Heather Newberry’s idea of a perfect day is likely different from what most people would expect. It is early October, the weather is cool and clear, and Newberry is running 26.2 miles along Milwaukee’s lakefront — for fun. When she finishes, Newberry has set a new PR, or personal record. Her next goal, however, focuses on training young athletes at Dominican High School to achieve their own success, as the head coach for cross country.
Newberry has been running since she was a sophomore in high school. She says that she loves competitive running because it’s all “relative and subjective,” meaning that everyone can find their own individual success. An Illinois native, Newberry was drawn to Dominican by a friend who was the cross country coach. Newberry enjoys coaching high school athletes because they’re at an age where they have become their own people, but are still willing to accept and take guidance. As a coach, Newberry thinks that the most rewarding thing is watching the kids succeed, and knowing that she helped get them there. She says, “I feel the same success when you guys PR as when I PR, so I feel that I get to live the experience again but it means more because I helped you get there.” Newberry has sent several athletes to state, for both cross-country and track, and credits keeping the kids healthy and ensuring that their training is occurring in the right way at the right time to their accomplishment.
Yet, despite her success in shaping high school students into competitive endurance athletes, Newberry admits that the team faces challenges. For years, cross country has struggled to field a complete team. Newberry attributes this to a variety of factors. Primarily, she blames running being associated with punishment in most other sports. She says, “I think they think that it’s work and painful and it’s not as fun, whereas I think that if they knew what it was, and tried it, their experience would be something very different.” Newberry also adds that cross country suffers due to a lack of recognition from schools where the sport isn’t pushed by administration. “I think, since it’s not one of the biggest money-makers for a school, [the team gets] a lot less press, if you will, and recognition for what [we] do, because it just doesn’t bring enough money in.”
Newberry knows that her sport is tough, but says that watching success, and feeling that “runner’s high” is the best motivation. She disagrees with people who say that they won’t run cross country because they feel as if they can’t run. She says, “I don’t think can’t should ever be used in anything.” Newberry says that if these people do the right training with the right sequencing, anyone can run cross country, “and that’s pretty awesome.”
Photo Credit: Lindsey Mills