Posted in Uncategorized on November 24, 2016 by thepurpleroo

will freeman

So here we are with another Thanksgiving day, a day that, too often, means time off from school or work,  too much food,  and the lead-in to Black Friday.  Funny how our priorities get shifted when we just go along for the ride.

This time of year also represents the end of a competitive season in cross country, and the shift toward the upcoming track season. It also gives me a chance to reflect on the season and the things for which I feel gratitude. I have found that in this rat race we live, it is hard to just step back for a moment and focus on the positives that we have in our lives, rather than the challenges we face every day.  Sometimes gratitude can put things in perspective and help even out the ride.

With this very successful season ending,  I feel gratitude for these things:

  • A teaching and coaching environment that is truly special, where my athlete-centered model can not only be tried,  but can flourish.
  • Iowa.  What a special State and part of the country. Who would have thought we would stay. It was our first job….thirty seven years ago. Just as with our students, it’s been a gold mine for us.
  • Athletes who challenge themselves to be better as athletes, and as people. This challenge rubbed off on the coach! I love this job.
  • Being in this country, right now.  We are in a period of discomfort,  but I trust in our young people and how they will shape the future of this nation.  We will right the ship. We always do.
  • My family. I am who I am because of them, and for them.

I find that giving gratitude, especially when down or challenged,  it often just what the doctor ordered. We live in a society where negativity overwhelms positivity. Just read the headlines for watch the news. Maybe we should try to shift that balance toward the positive with a little gratitude. It works!  Happy Thanksgiving!



Posted in Uncategorized on October 31, 2016 by thepurpleroo

What looked to be a challenge going into the 2016 Midwest Conference championship turned out to be an example of the us overestimating the conference competition, while they underestimated the Roos.  When it was done,  six Roos had earned All-Conference honors by virtue of a top-20 performance.


Jackson Schulte (7th), Matt McCarthy (8th), John Lennon (2nd), Pieter Hansen (11th), Gray Krewson (17th) and Anthony McLean (5th)


Grinnell tallied just 33 points to outdistance surprise runner-up Monmouth with 83, Cornell (93), Lawrence (95), Lake Forest 107, St. Norbert (144), Beloit 176, Knox 240, and Ripon 248.  Our men had a season best range of just 28 seconds between 1 and 5.  While I could not be prouder of thee results,  it was something else that will remain a very long time in the minds of those who were there. First, we need to go back to Wednesday.

As I awaited the runners to return from a moderate easy run, I noticed that Anthony did not come back with the front group, which he normally led. I was told he stopped for a pit stop in the bushes. I waited, and waited some more. It turned out to be more than a pitstop.  As he walked up to me,  he said he had had to stop because he could not breathe. Alarmed, and realizing the seriousness of the issue, I took him to the hospital emergency room, where he was seen, had his lungs x-rayed, and was prescribed a strong doze of antibiotics. We raced to Wal-Mart to get it filled before they closed. So here we were. The favorite of the race diagnosed with pneumonia, and the conference race just 62 hrs away. I could do the math.  I know how long it takes for antibiotics to kick in. The picture was not good.

Fast forward to race day.  We had agreed that he would warmup and make a decision on running.  I had already decided in my head that he would not run, and that our other guys would have to step up. That had been my message in our team meeting Fri. night before the race at our hotel.

Ever a man of few words,  Anthony warmed up and came up to me with a decision. “He is what I’ve decided.  I’ll start the race and continue to run as long as I am in the scoring five.  If five teammates pass me, then I cannot help the team and will drop out.”  I agreed with a tear in my eye.  I hated to see the talented senior, and the favorite, finish out his conference career this way. The runner up last year,  this was his year to move up.

The race began, and Anthony was in a large group behind the front three. He stayed there.  At two miles, three miles,  four miles,  he still was our second man!  He would finish that way, and fifth overall.  Remarkable!  Fifth place at the MWC meet with pneumonia! He knew it was unlikely he would challenge to win given the circumstances,  but he ran, and he ran for his teammates.  It’s the stuff legends are made of,  and a story that will be passed on to future teams.  Hats off to senior captain Anthony McLean of Des Moines, IA.  In all my 37 years at Grinnell,  this has to be the most impressive thing I have witnessed.


4 time All- Conference Runner, Captain Anthony McLean




Posted in Uncategorized on October 26, 2016 by thepurpleroo

Over the last several weeks, I have heard from the Reich brothers. Both Henry and Alex were individual conference champions and national qualifiers in cross country for us.  These two were off the charts both academically and as runners,  clearly having picked the right parents!


HENRY REICH at the Stanford Invite


Alex Reich winning the MWC meet


You may have seen the work of both on the web.  Alex’s MinuteEarth, and Henry’s MinutePhysics are amazing educational tools that teach us about the world.  Every time I pull these up on the web, I learn something new!  Trouble is, it’s hard to stop! If you get a chance, look up both MinuteEarth and MinutePhysics.It’s fun, it’s educational, and you will see their talents as artists, speakers, and educators. The Reich brothers…two examples of the success of former Grinnell runners!  Well done guys!!


On running at Grinnell

Running was central to my experience at Grinnell, and to my formation as a person who can go out into the wider world.

The Team

The Roos are family. They challenge, amuse, surprise, frustrate, and ultimately, help you become your best self.


Will is great. Through his commitment to the athlete-centered model, he balances technical knowledge about coaching, athletics, and running with a great respect for of the culture of independence, exploration, and self-growth at Grinnell. The athletes benefit from his great knowledge (and huge reservoir of personal stories about athletics and life) while being able to direct their own development.


Running at Grinnell is special. It’s a culture unto itself. Not one isolated from the rest of the world, but one that takes what it wants from the rest of the world and makes it its own, through traditions – some serious, some ridiculous, but all meaningful.

Academics and Athletics

There’s no question that running made me a better student. If I hadn’t run, I would have wasted my time idling around. But spending time training every day, sleeping more to recover better, and having the program promote a mentality of self-improvement all made me into a more organized, more directed, and better student, as well as a better athlete.

My development in the program

I never thought I would be the runner I have become. It hasn’t been easy, because I dealt with injury my first few years, but Will and my teammates came to support my (cross-)training, because they realized that everyone’s bodies and training has to be specific to them, and that a well-rounded, accepting program can help people achieve their goals, whatever their levels of ability.

Why Grinnell worked for me

I chose to come to Grinnell, a school far from a big city, because I wanted to go to a college where the activities and culture centered around the school, rather than one where people were drawn away and distracted by the surroundings. College is a unique, momentary time in life. You can live the rest of your life in a city. And the surroundings of Grinnell really are pretty, if you get out and run through them.

I’ve always said that Grinnell attracts passionate, smart people.  And many times, they also run fast!


Posted in Uncategorized on October 6, 2016 by thepurpleroo

It begins in the morning as the coaches sit and determine the training load for each runner for the TUE interval workout. Volume and Intensity.  Intensity and volume. The keys to success in the workout. Today, it is repeat miles, one of the few times we will touch the track during the season, a test of lactate tolerance. For me, it was caffeine tolerance I was working on,  having my 5th cup in the past two hours. The weather looks good.  A note is sent to the runners to make sure they eat a good lunch, and have a mid afternoon snack if needed….and to hydrate.  I, on the other hand, am dehydrating, continuing to pound the coffee.  It’s 10:00am and I’ll be visiting the men’s room for the fourth time.  I think I need to drink more water.

The workout does not come soon enough for the coaches. After a short get-together in the locker room,  the guys go out at 4:30 for their warmup run as Nate and I head to the track,  clipboards in hand with  colorful excel charts showing groups and times on them.  As always,  one runner will forget their watch for the intervals.  Never fails.  Who will it be today? Geez:  what do you need for equipment for this sport?  Shoes and watch.  Pretty simple.

Upon arrival at the track after the warmup run, the groups  do the dynamic routine prior to the intervals.  The excitement is palpable and the guys begin talking it up.

Anthony McLean begins it  “5:00 miles? Crap!  Challenge me coach!”  John Lennon not to be outdone follows with “I’m athlete of the week, boys. Don’t you forget it!”

The runners finish with strides as I overhear Josh Jensen, “This isn’t my only piercing, you know.”  Aidan Healey nodded, also deep in reflection, “My spirit animal is the vulture.”

I had a good feeling for this one.  Windy it was,  but this group was ready for a big workout. Stew Bass agreed,  “Really?  These times are cool down pace.  I’m no wuss!”  I looked over to  one of the groups deep in meditation after looking at the goal times.  John Osler commented, “The only person I’m chasing is Booth’s ghost.” Sam Sokolsky nodded,  “This is good training for me to become a Seahawks water boy.”  Sean O’Reilly look up with a puzzled look as Ring of Fire played for a second time on the interval list,  “I wish Coach would loop the pokemon theme for these intervals.”

The intervals began,  and it was a beautiful display of sartorial spender.  Coach Nate and I could barely record the times as we were overwhelmed with the moment. Mo Facke stepped up to the line after running his first mile in 3:57.  He looked at me, “Coach, why are all these boys in shoes?” Off he went in his group of one. I knew he would be the big surprise at conference in three weeks. HIs second mile was 7:57. Still has a problem with pace, and tolerating shoes.


The group of Crail, McCarthy, Hansen, Schulte and Krewson were finally about to begin. Nate Crail was busy putting the CC flags into his hair for his signature do, “You guys go ahead without me,  I’m having a bad hair day.”  Oleg Yardas, waiting to finish his first recovery period, agreed,  “It’s not how hard you run,  it’s how good you look doing it.”  Pieter Hansen, feeling unusually boisterous, claimed, “Not enough of a challenge, Coach.  I’ll be doing the rest of the miles in lane 8.”  Fellow sophomore GT looked on with admiration. Pieter asked him, “GT, what’s with the big shakespeare book?”  GT replied,  “You see this big Shakespeare book!  I don’t carry it around for reading.  I carry it for the extra load.  Training affect, you know.”  Pieter nodded with admiration,  wondering what it would feel like having a big book stuffed down your shorts.  Gray Krewson zipped up his parka, ready to begin,  “Coach, when are you gonna buy us training parkas.”  These guys!  Always wanting new jerseys,  new parkas. Spoiled!  Matt McCarthy stood by himself repeating his mantra before the work began “Yeah, We’re happy, free, confused, and lonely at the same time. It’s miserable and magical.”  I got it. Young Jackson had had enough as he ran off in the lead.  “These guys are sick, Coach.” The others followed suit.

I looked over at Chris Brunet,  hands on knees and breathing heavily after his first mile,  I’m good coach,  except I think I just coughed up a lung.”   Mully was walking away from the finish line as I yelled, “where you going?”  “Cross training coach,  this workout is for weenies.”


John Gallagher ran up after coming from a late lab,  ‘Hello everybody!  How is your day going”!  He didn’t know what he was in for. Get ready to suffer, Johnny! Phillip Kane, who had been waiting patiently for John to arrive, was now itching to run. “Let’s go, John!  This workout won’t kill me.  I’m gonna kill it first!”

Alec Monovich jogged away from the track to cross train. “Where’s Murphy?”  Looking to my right was Matt Murphy, also ready to cross train. He was asking the others,   “Where’s Mono?”

Kevin Anderson was the last to leave for the bike, letting the guys know a truth,  “You just wait for track season. I’m gonna make you guys puke!”  Coach Nate nodded in agreement,  “Us middle distance boys don’t get no respect in this sport.”  Matt Phipps,  the racer who always is there on Saturday,  was in the midst of another tough workout, “Coach, taking iron before the workout isn’t working.”


So it went for another interval workout at the track.  Music blaring from Will’s world-class list, not a cloud in the sky, and a gentle breeze.   And some of the things these guys say!  What a show!  Life doesn’t get any better than this.

Well, except for race days!


O.K.,  maybe they didn’t say those things,  but it would be funny if they did!  They did work really hard, and ran really fast!



Posted in Uncategorized on October 5, 2016 by thepurpleroo

In the fall of the successful cross country season of 2007,  we  won the conference title with a solid team performance with the top five finishing in 7-8-9-10-11 and  having a range of  just 25 seconds. It was a harbinger of things to come as that team further developed with  another year of training. Confidence was high as the 2008 season began. Knowing we had a special group,  I was approached by the captains with a challenge.

Nick Sparr asked me, “When are you going to get a Purple Kangaroo tattoo like us?”

My answer was short and direct.  “Never.  It’s not me,  besides I’m a bit old for that kind of stuff.”

Now the other guys chimed in,  “Maybe we could make a deal, Will.”

Will: “Yeah,  what kind of deal?”

Team: “Well,  if we win conference and qualify for nationals,  you will get a tattoo.”

Will:  “But guys”,  You guys are really good this year.  I expect those things to happen.”

Team: “How about if we perfect score the conference meet and quality for nationals?”

I thought about it for a minute, thinking of the motivational possibilities. Since we had never seen a perfect score at the conference meet, I felt confident that, while this might help to motivate them,  it was highly unlikely a perfect score would occur.

“O.K., I’ll take that bet” I said.

The guys cheered, maybe knowing something that I did not. Weeks later, the 2008 conference meet was at Galesburg, IL on a natural grass course east of town.  Things did not seem in favor of a good meet for us. Evelyn’s choice of the hotel was shakey at best.  With concerns of bedbugs and other critters,  the team slept,  well… kind of.  The hotel rooms faced a large all-night gas station with bright, bright lights just outside the rooms.  Our very hotel burned down shortly after our stay…a good thing for future runners, and the Galesburg community.  Breakfast was a challenge, as well.  Donuts and juice were served in the lobby.  Donuts. The lobby.  There was nowhere to eat.  We sat outside and ate breakfast at picnic tables,  fortunate that Evelyn brought boxes of oatmeal on the bus. It was not the way to perfect score a conference meet. I felt comfortable that we would run well,  but also confident that my body would not become a canvas for a tattoo artist.


Calish, Sparr, Heppner, DeLong, Montgomery, and Henry Reich lead the front pack at Mile Marker #1

I should have seen it coming at mile one.  The guys looked good.  Really good.

I was  250m from the finish waiting for the runners to come into view.  It was impressive. One, two, three, four Roos went by.  Then a runner from St. Norbert went by, with Nick Sparr, our fifth, close in pursuit.  I knew the possibility.  As I ran toward the finish, I could see the first four cross,  then double pack to cheer on Sparr.

It worked.  Perfect score, and a tattoo for coach.

                                The Top 10 at the MWC Championships 2008
 1 Reich, Henry SR Grinnell College 25:51.39    1
 2 Calisch, Sam JR Grinnell College 25:58.95    2
 3 DeLong, Noah SO Grinnell College 26:05.33    3
 4 Montgomery,   David JR Grinnell College 26:12.56    4
 5 Sparr, Nick SR Grinnell College 26:22.20    5
 6 DeVillers, Alex SO St. Norbert College 26:24.63    6
 7 Smith, Jason SO Ripon College 26:29.27    7
 8 Johannes, Anthony SR Beloit College 26:34.08    8
 9 Laska, Mackenzie JR St. Norbert College 26:39.13    9
10 Reich, Alex SO Grinnell College 26:40.96   10

At the awards banquet a few weeks later,  I had not heard anything about the tattoo.  Hoping it would blow over,  we gave out the awards,  I spoke about a wonderful season (they did qualify for nationals). It was customary for the captains to finish the night and give a small token or gift to the coaches.  Nick Sparr handed me a card,  I opened it and read it to myself as the room began to cheer and clap. It was a pre-paid coupon for one tattoo at the tattoo parlor downtown…for that night! I was accompanied by the captains to the tattoo parlor where I had to hold up my end of the bargain.

I wear the Purple Roo tattoo on my right thigh with pride.  Many others do, as well.  I am the only one who is not a runner in the program who sports one.  It means a lot to me because of the people on that team and on many other teams before and since.


The Perfect Five team of 2008. Note that four in this picture would win individual titles in the next few years: Henry Reich in this meet, and Drake Ballew, Alex Reich, and Dan Krauss in the future.


What a team and what a year it was.  A perfect score… and a tattoo for Coach.

Fast forward a few weeks.  I got a call from one of the runners while in the office.  “Coach, you need to come over to the JRC (the dining hall)! Now!  A couple of the guys are in a fight and you need to get over here now!  You need to get over here and put a stop to this!!”

I ran out and to the JRC across the street.  When I went in,  the top five from conference were all there. “Sorry, coach.  there’s really nothing wrong.  It was a ruse to get you here quickly.”  There was no fighting, just laughter and good feelings.

Captain Henry Reich spoke, “We’ve got something for you, Will.  We wanted you to have it from the five of us.  He handed me a package in gift wrap, which I opened. In a beautiful frame was a signed picture of the top 5 at the conference awards ceremony. Below the picture were their individual medals.

“Coach, we want you to put this on your wall in the office to remember this team by, and to show future runners that perfection is possible.  I was moved to tears.  “We don’t do this for the medals, Coach. We do it for each other., and you are part of that.

The gift remains on my office wall to this day, as a reminder of a special day in the fall of 2008, where a special team did something remarkable. A great memory, indeed.




Running for Balance

Posted in Uncategorized on September 26, 2016 by thepurpleroo

Running means a lot of things to a lot of people.  At Grinnell, the academic workload is demanding…very demanding.  Rated as one of the most rigorous college educations in the country,  running can provide a real sense of balance.  GT (Connor Gregorich-Trevor) says it best:

Its spring, and the weather has finally gotten warm enough that you don’t have to check the forecast before you walk outside. I step into the locker room and it’s empty, everyone has either already practiced already or will be soon. I look around the locker room, at the nametags of all my friends, the mess of shoes, the cramped whiteboard full of inside jokes. I know that I could wait for twenty minutes and someone else would walk in, but I decide to go alone for once.
Its been a bad week. I feel like in a lot of ways things have slipped out of my control; things in my life are falling apart. Even running, the thing that always makes me feel better, hasn’t been helping. I’m sad and frustrated and feel like I have no way to deal with it. More than anything I just want to get away for a little while, to escape. So the first few miles are just me and the swirl of angry thoughts inside my head. I decide to run the High Speed Six route, and I hit the turn off point and go right for maybe a quarter mile.
Then I stop.
I push away all my thoughts for a minute, and for the first time that day I take a good look around myself. The sky is a brilliant blue, with only the smallest ribbons of cloud streaking across it. The gravel crunches loudly under my feet as I turn in place, but other than that the only sounds are the wind, the insects, and the occasional distant cars. The sun shines blindingly above, warming me. I feel like I’m the only person for miles, and maybe I am. Gradually, I stop thinking about the week, and start to take it all in. The fact that I am fit and alive, and I am experiencing this incredible beautiful day, and that there will never be a single day that’s exactly like this one.
I stood there on that road for almost half an hour, thinking and taking in the beauty of it all. Its probably romanticizing things, but I still feel that it was one of the most deeply spiritual experiences of my life, and that I found something inside myself that day that I had forgotten about. How grateful I am to have the friends that I do, to have the life that I have, and to have the team, who are like a family away from home. I still think about that run to this day, and it still brings me joy and motivates me every time I do.
I arrive back at the Bear after the run, covered in sweat. I’m tired and ready to shower, but happy. I don’t tell anyone about what happened on the run or why it took me so long. I go to eat dinner with the team, confident that life is good, and it’s going to get better. And it did.



Posted in Uncategorized on September 26, 2016 by thepurpleroo

Sophomore JOSH JENSEN, Iowa City, IA

GOALS FOR THE SEASON: Win conference as a team and do whatever I can to improve and help the team.

PARENTS NAMES: Chris and Sheral SIBLINGS:  Isaac (21), Annika (17), Mara (17)

HOMETOWN AND HS: Iowa City, IA / West High School

MAJOR: Intended: Biology and Environmental Studies Concentration

HOBBIES: Camping, slacklining, rock climbing, being outside, reading