Iowa cross-country coach Wieczorek doesn't blur student-athlete line


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Men’s cross-country head coach Larry Wieczorek usually begins practice with a speech. In addition to motivating his team athletically, the 26-year head coach usually touches on academics in his pre-practice talks.

On a day-to-day basis, he encourages his runners to do well in school and emphasizes how important an education is.

“Even though I tell them you have the rest of your life to have an education, you only have four years to make me famous,” he said and laughed. “Bottom line is: You’re here to be a student.”

Junior Jon Michael Brandt said Wieczorek stresses to his harriers that they are student-athletes, not athlete-students. The coach also believes that doing well inside the classroom is essential for athletic performance.

“If we’re struggling in the classroom, we’re struggling on the track,” Brandt said. “That stress carriers over.”

Wieczorek’s philosophy is that classroom success and running success aren’t mutually exclusive. When they are doing well in class, the theory is that they spend less time worrying about their grades, which in turn makes them more relaxed and focused on running.

The same goes with athletes who maybe aren’t performing to their capabilities inside the classroom.
“If you’re cutting corners in academics, you’re probably cutting corners in athletics … you can get a degree without being educated,” Wieczorek said.

When it comes to education for his athletes, he said, his job is to be their cheerleader and encourage them to use the resources that are available. Other than that, the rest is out of his hands.

“It’s really up to the athletes,” he said. “People give credit to coaches, but really, the credit goes to them.”

If they need to rush out of practice early to study for a test, Wieczorek allows it. Practices aren’t a requirement, and neither is going to the Gerdin Athletics Learning Center. Instead, getting help is something he expects his athletes to do themselves.

“I just know they’ll come [to practice]; I assume they want to be there or else they wouldn’t be in the program,” he said. “I don’t make some a great athlete; an athlete makes himself a great athlete.”
Wieczorek’s harriers would say that despite always encouraging them to do well, he’s pretty laid-back.

“He’s been there before and knows that a lot of it is your choices, your decision making,” Brandt said. “It’s your life; you need to be the one who’s concerned about it the most.”

In 2011, then-junior Cameron Reiger was the only men’s cross-country runner to make Academic All-Big Ten. Wieczorek said Reiger was an example of someone who is well-disciplined and makes the best of his abilities.

For Reiger, balancing being a student and an athlete wasn’t always easy. But with Wieczorek’s emphasis on education and his ability to accommodate, the runner has learned how to balance the two.

“He understands the importance of education,” Reiger said. “He wants us to spend a lot of time running, but what’s good about him is he realizes that we are students, too.”

Once Reiger achieved success in the classroom, it motivated him to get that same progress on the cross-country course. The now-senior didn’t want to be just a good student and an average athlete; he wanted to excel in both.

Wiezcorek’s coaching style offers future success for his harriers beyond running. Reiger is on the track to graduate with a marketing degree in the spring and has begun a job search.

“We can’t all run forever; we have to get jobs,” he said. “We’re here to run but first and foremost to get an education.”

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