Amherst Magazine

“Practicing Here Makes You Tough”

Interview by Alex Kantor

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Coach Ned Nedeau

[Track] When cross-country and track and field coach Ned Nedeau came to campus in 1995, he was a graduate assistant pursuing a master’s degree at UMass. Within three years he’d taken over as head coach of the men’s and women’s teams, and he’s been producing All-Americans ever since—even without a real indoor track.

What’s it like coaching indoor track without an actual indoor track?
There are certainly nuances to the job [laughs]. I can’t think of other coaches who have to piece their playing surface together in preseason and then make sure it’s all connected before games. [His teams train on an octagonal band of individual track-surface sections in Coolidge Cage, an all-purpose space not specifically designed for track.]

So you don’t see the hoops team putting down the parquet?
I often tell kids you can’t look at it as an ugly black octagon. We run it as a circle. Our kids tend to catch on to the cage quickly. A long time ago we got the black perimeter track surface, so we can provide a decent cushion for the runners. For the hurdlers, they run the 55-meter hurdles, and the cage doesn’t range 55 meters in any direction but diagonally. We can squeeze three hurdles in and then they dive into a high-jump pad. At our first event each year, we are finishing off jumps into sandpits for the first time all season.

Is there an upside?
Practicing here makes you tough. It has been tremendously beneficial to our success. Would I take a brand-new track? Yes. But we make do and I think it makes us stronger.

Is this why you’ve produced so many All-Americans?
I think a big reason for success at the highest levels is also something to do with challenging a kid—telling them that what they think they can do is simply not good enough, that they are selling themselves short, that I feel that they can
do much more.
 
But sometimes the odds are against them.
Shauneen Garrahan ’07, in her senior year, had a disappointing race at cross-country nationals, finishing around 50th. Rather than let that dictate the rest of the season, we tried, at the Outdoor Nationals, to do a nearly impossible triple—running the three longest events in track in successive days: the 10K on Thursday, steeplechase on Friday and the 5K on Saturday. No one had done it before (successfully). Not only did Shauneen follow our specific game plans to the letter, she became the first woman to win all three events and even set the national championship record in the steeplechase.

What’s one thing about you that would surprise people?
I play in a baseball league on Sundays throughout the summer and have an incredible desire to be a ball boy at a Red Sox game and shag flies in the outfield at Fenway Park.

Photo by Alec Jacobson '12