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Extreme Endurance

What running teaches me

Coach “Z,” a 33-time conference coach of the year, in his office (left) and in New York City’s Central Park (above), where his team usually trains. Photo credit: Photos by Simon Lee / Hunter College

By Edwin Zarowin
As told to Rachel Stark

ROLE: At 87, “Coach Z” is in his 31st year coaching cross country and track and field at Division III Hunter College. HIS STORY: Edwin Zarowin thought he was hanging up his whistle for good in 1984. But after Zarowin retired from high school coaching, the Hunter athletics director came calling. LESSONS LEARNED: At first, he never wanted to coach running. Fifty-two years later, he doesn’t want to stop.

In my college days, I was a football player and a wrestler at NYU. I used to say to the track people, ‘I will never, ever be a track and field coach. Your uniform looks like underwear. I don’t think I want to be associated with that.’ Fade out, fade in. I begin teaching at a high school, and in the spring of ’62 my assistant principal says, ‘You have to do me a favor. The track and field coach has gone to the hospital. Please take over the team.’

I learned to like the sport that I paid no attention to in high school or at the collegiate level. Now I really appreciate what one has to go through in training for cross country and track and field.

Speed comes from strength, and that takes a lot of time to develop within kids’ bodies. You have to make your mind do things that your body must do in order to be superior. 

I have never in my career had a track on which to work. I work in the hallways. I work in the gym. We make do with the things we have. If I want my kids to do strength work, good ol’ push-ups are a great way for you to get strong. Everybody on my team must know how to jump rope. We do a lot of drills that are passed over by most coaches. I have used them for a long, long time to great success.  

In 52 years of coaching, I have learned something every year. Last spring, the captain of my team graduated. When he was a freshman, I remember saying to my assistants, ‘What is this kid doing here?’ He graduated as one of my best distance runners and one of the best students in his class. I never envisioned he would become captain of my team and do things only the best are able to do. 

My first objective with anyone that comes to my team is academics. They must work at their studies before their sport. 

There is no hurdle in life that you cannot overcome. You can, if you’re dogged and relentless in your aspirations and methodology, become a banker or a baker or whatever. It takes time to learn all the parts and then do them well, then subsequently do them better than well. And the same thing is true in sport. 

If we were to meet, you would never know I was 87. I don’t feel like it. When the kids are running, I’m walking. When I was a teacher, I would run every day. 

You will have to carry me out of coaching. Seriously. I take it as a challenge that I must, if I can, make a kid better than he ever was before.



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Champion magazine goes behind the headlines and beyond the scoreboards to celebrate the unique connection between Americans and college sports. Champion is published by the NCAA.

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