Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Cuyamaca coach heading to Olympic Games


Left to right: Tyler Sorenson, Nick Christie, Tim Seaman, Trevor Barron
Cuyamaca College cross-country coach Tim Seaman, a two-time Olympian race walker, will be traveling to the Games in London, but this time it will be as a coach instead of as a competitor.

Seaman will be cheering on a group of other athletes he coaches, including his wife, Rachel, Canada’s leading contender in the women’s 20-kilometer race walk. The two other Seaman-trained athletes earning Olympic berths in London are Trevor Barron, a 19-year-old prodigy who broke a pair of American records previously held by none other than Seaman; and Maria Michta, the top finisher in the U.S. women’s 20,000-meter race walk.

Seaman, who competed in the 20-km race walk at the 2000 and 2004 Olympics, had hoped to compete for Team USA this year, but missed that mark when he came in second at the U.S. track trials Saturday in Eugene, Ore. While he fell short of his Olympic goal, he managed to set four masters records for the 40-45 age category. Earlier this year, as his Cuyamaca College athletes watched, Seaman earned a designation as an Olympic alternate behind fellow San Diegan John Nunn in the 50-km race walking trials held in Santee.

“It was very inspiring to be cheered on by my Cuyamaca team,” Seaman said. “I felt that as their cross country coach, I needed to show them that even if the odds are stacked up against you, you can’t give up.”


Another Seaman protégé, Cuyamaca College graduate Nick Christie, finished third in the men’s 20,000-meter  race walk (50 times around the track), setting a personal record time of one hour, 29 minutes, 47 seconds, bested only by Barron’s 1:23:00 and Seaman’s 1:27:29. Still another member of Seaman’s coterie, 18-year-old Tyler Sorensen, finished sixth and also set a new U.S. Junior men’s 15-km race walk record.

“Coach Seaman’s accomplishments as a world-class athlete are inspiring,” said Bill Garrett, president of the Grossmont-Cuyamaca College District Governing Board. “The success of the race walkers he’s taken under his wing, including another Cuyamaca College star, Nick Christie, reflects his additional skills as a coach. We are delighted to have him as a member of the Cuyamaca team.”

Seaman, 10 times a national record holder at various race walking distances, and the most decorated competitor in his sport in U.S. history, was a unique story at the U.S. Track and Field Olympic Team Trials which drew to a close Sunday after a week and a half of Olympic-qualifying competition at the University of Oregon.

Through sheer determination and dedication to a sport that is easily the least heralded of Olympic track and field events – at least in the United States -- the 40-year-old Imperial Beach resident has remained a competitive athlete in a sport that he was recruited to in 1990 by a high school coach in Long Island.  That competitive drive was key to Seaman’s dual role in Oregon as both a competitor and coach to the same athletes he raced against.

“Athlete Tim was disappointed about not making it to the London Olympics as a competitor, but Coach Tim was super happy to see his racers doing so well in Oregon,” Seaman said. “My London dream didn’t come to fruition, but it did for Trevor. I had tears in my eyes when I finished and I saw him.”

Seaman, who has written two books on race walking and runs clinics and training camps in and out of the state, is sought out by top young race walkers across the nation for mentoring. Barron, who took up the sport at age 9, moved to San Diego when he turned 16 to train under Seaman. Today, the Colorado College computer science major is regarded by fellow athletes as the American most likely to raise the profile of the sport oft-derided by the public for its peculiar, hip-swiveling gait.

Seaman acknowledged that race-walking has not garnered the cachet of other Olympic track and field events. While coaches of high-profile competitions are paid to accompany their athletes, race-walking coaches have to pay their own way and are relegated to spectator status. 

Long accustomed to his sport’s lack of prestige, Seaman accepts the inequities with a shrug. With the trials over, it’s back to work at Cuyamaca, where he is teaching a conditioning class that ends July 18, the same day he will flying to Dusseldorf , Germany, where Team Canada has set up its pre-competition camp for athletes to train and to focus on their events. With his wife in Germany and his American athletes at Team USA’s pre-camp in Birmingham, England, Seaman expects to be doing some hop-scotching between the two countries in the coming weeks.

The travel costs and time away from work demanded by his sport has meant years of sacrifice for Seaman, but the satisfaction he derives from training an up-and-coming generation of race walkers rivals his addiction to competition.

One athlete who has benefited from Seaman’s personal mentoring is Christie, a former cross country runner at Cuyamaca, who took up race walking 14 months ago at his coach’s urging. The switch paid off for Christie, who last month accepted a scholarship offer from Missouri Baptist University, and has burst onto the scene as one of the top young race walkers in the nation. Although Christie didn’t qualify for the Olympic Games, he will compete this week in Mexico in the North America Central America and Caribbean (NACAC) meet for top-ranked, young athletes.

Seaman has a special place in his heart for his cross country runners at Cuyamaca, saying their support during the  two years that he’s been at the college has been a motivating factor to step up his training and to remain competitive.

“The support I’ve received from Cuyamaca College and the runners I coach has been tremendous,” Seaman said. “In my opinion, the athletes at Cuyamaca have motivated me to take my training to the next level.”

As for London, Seaman concedes that he will again be in a unique position, given that his wife will be competing against yet another of his athletes, Maria Michta.

“Of course, as my wife, Rachel is my favorite athlete,” Seaman said, laughing. “The way I look at it, I’ve given them the tools they need to have the best races they can. Whoever wins, it’s between them.”

As for what’s next for Seaman, the athlete, he has his eyes set for the World Track and Field Championships in Moscow in August 2013.

“I don’t want to retire just yet,” he said.