Outdoors Latest

A conversation with WNC coach, athlete Kevin Fitzgerald

Kevin Fitzgerald is a well-known runner and coach in Western North Carolina. Donated photo Kevin Fitzgerald is a well-known runner and coach in Western North Carolina. Donated photo

Recently, Kevin Fitzgerald left his Waynesville home and made the long trek up to West Virginia University to watch one of his former athletes, Tuscola High School running standout Eva Rinker, compete at the college level. For Fitzgerald, it was a moment of immense pride to be there and cheer on Rinker. 

“I’m just happy to be able to come up and watch her experience this because she’s had a great freshman year [at WVU] — it’s just fun to see it play out [for her],” Fitzgerald said.

Head coach of the Tuscola boys and girls track and field and cross-country teams, Fitzgerald has been at helm of the pos itions for several years.

“I tell these kids often in practice — ‘nothing in life is ever really, truly given to you, you have to earn it,’” Fitzgerald said.

Fitzgerald was also coaching swimming for the better part of a decade. The culmination of his coaching endeavors is aimed at encouraging young minds to reach for the stars through hard work and aspring to break barriers with their talents and skillsets.

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Kevin Fitzgerald coaching former Tuscola running standout Eva Rinker. Donated photo

“When kids are good at something and if they have good coaches, they generally will stick with it because they see the reward for the effort they’re putting in,” Fitzgerald said. “It’s a lot of work and a lot of hours and dedication to help young people reach goals — all of this is the foundation they’ll have as adults for goal setting.”

Growing up in Winston-Salem, Fitzgerald led a pretty normal life for a kid of the late 1960s and 1970s. He got involved in sports in middle school, only to soon find a love for track and field and cross-country.

“My father ran cross-country in New Jersey in the 1930s and 1940s, and I was always intrigued by it,” Fitzgerald said. “I’ll never forget how sore I was after those first couple of practices. But, once I got over that initial pain and soreness, I liked it, it was fun and I had a great coach.”

And a great coach he was, leading Fitzgerald to two state titles during his junior and senior year at R.J. Reynolds High School. The same coach won three more consecutive championships in a row following Fitzgerald’s graduation. With the success of his own coaching in recent years, Fitzgerald see it as a full circle kind of thing reflecting on his father and what he taught him.

“I don’t consider myself to be a motivator. I consider myself to be someone who works with motivated people to achieve their goals,” Fitzgerald said. “And the ones that are motivated, the ones that show up and come to practice every day, ready to work, are the one that’ll go to the state meet because they’re motivated to get better.”

Aside from coaching, Fitzgerald is also heavily involved in the annual Gateway to the Smokies race. Taking place Saturday, April 6, in downtown Waynesville, the half-marathon (13.1 miles) and “Mighty 4 Miler” have become a cherished event for local and regional runners. To note, proceeds from the “Mighty 4 Miler” will benefit the Riley Howell Foundation Fund

“In the last three years, we’ve raised almost $20,000 for the foundation,” Fitzgerald said. “It’s a great cause to be part of and we’re hoping for a great turnout this year.”

A well-known and acclaimed Western North Carolinian in his own right — in the fields of running, swimming and cycling — Fitzgerald looks at his life in motion as a way to not only be healthy and mobile, but also simply find deep enjoyment and fulfillment in doing so.

“There’s a social aspect to it, too — the people I run with, the people I train with,” Fitzgerald said. “I swim a couple times a week, bike four days a week and run between all of that. [Rotating through these] sports has allowed my body to be able to do all of these things for a lot longer.”

At 65 years old, Fitzgerald is clocking half/full-marathon times of those decades younger than him. Like his coaching practices, Fitzgerald is all about putting in the work to hit milestones and break personal best times.

With the marathon, which is 26.2 miles, Fitzgerald has run 19 of them, five of which being the storied Boston Marathon — the crown jewel of the running world. His personal record (PR) for the Boston Marathon was two hours and fifty-two minutes, putting Fitzgerald at a 06:35 per mile pace. He was 56 years old then.

“[At Boston], people lining the entire course,” Fitzgerald recalled. “When you turn onto Boylston Street, you’ve got only 800 meters to go. You give it all you got. You give everything. The people are screaming and carrying you with their voices. Chills going up and down your back — there’s no place else like it.”

Ready to lace up?

Below are some tips from Kevin Fitzgerald for those looking to possibly get into running.

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• Invest in a good pair of running shoes and work with a reputable running shoe retailer to determine the right shoe for you.

• Consider having a gait analysis done, which is well worth it for injury prevention.

• Set reasonable goals, build mileage slowly and follow a plan.

• If weight loss is the goal, lose some pounds with non-weight bearing activities (swimming, spinning, hiking, walking) first, then begin running.

• Start running with a friend(s) as companionship and encouragement are a bonus. 

• It takes 21 days for form a habit, so keep at it and be consistent.

• Most importantly, have fun.


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