This year, Team USA Minnesota is celebrating their ten year anniversary. As media are accustomed to doing, we like to look back and provide a glimpse of what happened during those ten years, what it means, and what will happen in the future. DtB has asked several people who have been with the organization from the beginning to share their memories and dreams on those topics. First up is, perhaps, a person most would consider the "engine" behind the project, the founder, Pat Goodwin.
Down the Backstretch: Ten years ago the Team USA concept was just an idea waiting to happen. What were your thoughts when it started? Why did you get involved? What did you hope to get from the experiment?
Pat Goodwin: It was my idea to form an Olympic development training group for distance runners here in the Twin Cities. Two training groups in other parts of the country had been announced in November 2000. I was confident this area had the resources, interest and athletic talent - not to mention an incredible distance running history - to develop and sustain an effort like this. Fortunately, a lot of others in the running community felt the same way. I pulled together a number of people in December to brainstorm the idea and in January 2001, we officially formed Team USA Minnesota. The goal, which is still what we strive for today, is to improve the competitiveness of post-collegiate American distance running and to develop Olympians.
DtB: Did you have any idea then that ten years later you would still be involved? Was there a plan or commitment you had in mind when you first signed up?
PG: As the founder, I was committed to making sure this effort worked over the long term, so I didn’t set a timetable for how many years I would be involved. As the weekly running columnist for the Minneapolis Star Tribune from 1996 through 1999 (one of my many jobs), I had been witness to the decline in elite American distance running during the end of that decade. When things hit bottom with the 2000 Olympics, i.e. only one man and one woman qualifying for the US marathon team, I felt it was important to do something. That was my thinking, and I didn’t know how long it would take to help out with this movement. I’m still involved because there’s still a need to provide a supportive group training environment for post-collegiate distance runners.
DtB: What has been the highlight or highlights of those ten years?
PG: For me, the highlight is every time – year in and year out - the Team USA Minnesota athletes do well at a major competition. They compete nationally and internationally on the roads, the track, and in cross country, and I’ve been privileged to be at a number of these competitions. It has been an absolute joy to see them run well, which I attribute to excellent coaching, a lot of hard work by the athletes, and the support our group has provided. The other highlight is that our athletes have become part of the Twin Cities running community – they live here, work here, and some of them coach high school cross country and track teams. I think they’ve inspired a lot of local runners as well.
DtB: What have been the greatest challenges?
PG: My challenges are the fundraising, the marketing and promotion, and managing the organization, all of which are ongoing. I would have to say, however, that my greatest challenge is the fundraising, which is something I’ve focused on since day one. Although we’ve had two great sponsors – Life Time Fitness and the Twin Cities Marathon - with us since the beginning, that only covers half of what we need for athlete stipends and travel expenses. The first five years of our existence all the funding came from local sources. During that time, a lot of individuals from the Twin Cities running community stepped up and helped us out – and this is still an important part of our fundraising today. In 2006, some national funding sources became available to us including the USA Distance Project and the New York Road Runners and that really helped us get to another level. We were able to add a couple more athletes and provide additional resources for the team. I also keep an eye out for any grants that might be out there. All in all, fundraising is a constant effort.
DtB: What were the primary objectives you hoped to achieve?
PG: Ten years ago my objectives were to create and sustain a successful training center for distance runners. That first year I watched the movie “Field of Dreams” more than a few times to drive the point home to me that (my phrasing) “if you build it they will come” and that meant both the funding and the athletes. And I’d have to say, both have come. As far as the team, the objectives are to compete well in national championships and major competitions, to make world teams and of course, to qualify for the Olympics. In addition, the objective has been to provide a training center for talented distance runners who want to continue in the sport. I think we’ve accomplished all these objectives and will continue to improve on them.
DtB: What would you like to accomplish, see happen with the program?
PG: We would like to see our athletes continue to do well, win more national championships, make world teams and become Olympians.
DtB: What has surprised you or was unexpected about the project?
PG: I’ve worked in the corporate world, had my own business for 22 years, taught graduate school for 19 years, and been involved in the local running community – including president of the Twin Cities Marathon - and been a runner myself for almost 30 years. So, I never expected that everything would go smoothly with this project because there are ups and downs in any endeavor. But overall, I am amazed at how successful Team USA Minnesota has been – the number of national championships we’ve achieved, the number of top ten finishes, and the number of athletes we’ve placed on world teams not to mention developing an Olympian. These accomplishments are a tribute to our coach Dennis Barker, our athletes and our board along with everyone who supports our group.
DtB: What are your plans for the future?
PG: The immediate future is the next competition year followed by the 2012 Olympics and doing everything we can to have a team in place that competes well. In the meantime, it’s a significant milestone for Team USA Minnesota to be able to celebrate ten years of existence and to look forward to the future.