Heather Kelley has always enjoyed running. She started running competitively at 8 years old and ran until she was 16. The Kirkwood native quit running after her sophomore year of high school, when she injured her knee.
“I enjoy running no matter what it is,” Kelley said. “I find it relaxing. It’s stress relieving. I enjoy the competition. I’ve always liked to watch track meets and cross-country meets. I watch every minute of the Olympics when track and field is on. I love watching the competition and doing it myself.”
Kelley wanted to get into coaching, so she became a volunteer assistant for Webster University’s cross-country teams in August 2010.
“I knew I didn’t have any experience, and the position came up,” Kelley said. “I thought it would be a good way to do something I enjoyed and get experience at the same time. Hopefully, that would lead to getting a paid position after I had done some volunteer time.”
Her dedication paid off. In August 2011, Kelley was hired as an assistant coach for the men’s and women’s cross-country teams. Last fall, the women’s cross-country team won its first St. Louis Intercollegiate Athletic Conference title with Kelley’s assistance.
“It was great — really nice to see them really excited,” Kelley said. “They were really proud of themselves, and I was proud of them. It was the culmination of a lot of hard work and determination. It was a really great thing to see.”
Last week, Director of Athletics Tom Hart appointed Kelley to the position of interim head coach of the cross-country teams after Dusty Lopez resigned as head coach. Lopez cited his wife’s opportunity for a full-time radiology position in Ann Arbor, Mich., as the reason for his move. Lopez will finish the track and field season as head coach.
“A number of years we had some runners come in, and they didn’t really have a good discipline,” said Jane McKibben, a junior on the cross-country and track teams. “At one point, they’re really strong athletes, but they didn’t discipline themselves to that summer training. Whereas when coach Kelley came on, and working with coach Lopez, we were able to see the talent our team had, and also stress the importance of summer workouts.
“She’s really good at emphasizing the fact that training outside of our season is highly important. Being a good leader and a good authority person, I feel she’s going to be really good at instilling discipline in the team. With cross-country, if you’re not running every day, you’re losing your endurance. She’s going to bring a good approach to the team as far as that discipline is concerned.”
Kelley started running competitively again about six years ago. Her most recent competition was the GO! St. Louis Marathon in April 2009.
“I do race half-marathons and anything from 5K and up,” Kelley said. “I have done four half-marathons, but I have not done a full marathon yet.”
Kelley not only helps with training, but she also runs with the team at practice and creates workout routines.
“A lot of the faster guys usually run with coach Lopez. It’s kind of cool being able to run with the coach,” McKibben said. “Not only does that help instill high morale, but she also is really good at formulating core workouts that we do prior to runs. Not only is she mimicking coach Lopez’s workout, but on top of that she’s incorporating her own ideas and creativity.”
Kelley said she enjoys learning about the athletes at Webster and helping them improve as runners.
“I like that you’re working with them on a day-to-day basis,” Kelley said. “They’re a really great group of athletes. I like getting to know them better as the season progresses — watching them improve, work hard and see the sense of accomplishment they feel when they run a personal best or set a school record. It’s nice to see when they do that; it’s probably my favorite thing.”
Kelley will still be assisting the track and field teams as they complete their spring seasons. Because she’s currently the interim coach of the cross-country teams, there is a chance Kelley will take the reins as head coach next fall.
“She’s playing the role as assistant coach right now, but she’s also playing a really good role at being a future head coach,” McKibben said.