Coach Pens Book About His Friend and MentorBy Peter G. Sanchez
Catholic Star Herald August 18, 2017
|Browning Ross directing one of his many races.|
Earlier this month, Heath published “Browning Ross: Father of American Distance Running,” the culmination of almost 40 years of friendship and lessons imparted from one runner and coach to another runner and coach. “His legacy has to be better known,” Heath says.
The current Gloucester Catholic cross-country coach, and past columnist for the Catholic Star Herald, first began conducting interviews and research for the book almost six years ago.
But the true heart of the story was formed in the mid-1970’s, when Heath was a Gloucester Catholic cross-country runner and Ross was his coach. “I graduated high school in 1977, and after graduating college (at Glassboro State, now Rowan University), Browning asked me to coach (boys and girls cross-country) with him at Gloucester Catholic,” and so he did.
In his book, Heath recalls a “humble and charismatic man, with a great sense of humor,” who not only found much success in his sport, but also challenges in attempting to reform running for the better.
A high school National Champion miler, Ross served in the Navy, and while studying at Villanova University, became an NCAA Champion. In the 1940’s and 1950’s, he became a two-time Olympian, and later won a gold medal at the Pan Am Games. In his career, he was also an eight-time National Champion in running.
Ross’ contributions didn’t end when he stopped actively competing though, Heath says. In addition to being a high school and college coach, he was founder of the Road Runners Club of America, which gave the sport a bigger profile across the nation; and created the first national running magazine, “The Long Distance Log.”
His mentor’s efforts to expand running as more than a man’s sport brought him some trouble early on, Heath says. “In the Philadelphia Marathon in the 1960’s, as race director, Browning helped a
woman compete in the race, but when the (AAU) Amateur Athletic Union found out they suspended both the runner and Ross from running.
Ross’ contributions didn’t end when he stopped actively competing though, Heath says. In addition to being a high school and college coach, he was founder of the Road Runners Club of America, which gave the sport a bigger profile across the nation; and created the first national running magazine, “The Long Distance Log," a precursor to Runners World magazine.
Heath also notes that Ross, a convert to Catholicism in 1957, was not shy about sharing his Catholic faith. “He ran a week long cross-country camp in Medford, (NJ) and on Saturday night would take all the runners that wanted to go to Mass over to Our Lady of the Lakes Parish in his car,” Heath remembers.
Most of all, during his accomplished life, he treated everybody he met, professional and novice runner alike, the same way, with dignity and respect, Heath says. Lessons the protégé wants to keep alive, “I’m carrying on his legacy, and running in his footsteps,” Heath said.
Copies of “Browning Ross: The Father of American Distance Running" can be found at https://www.amazon.com/Browning-Ross-American-Distance-Running/dp/1511888253/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1504899314&sr=8-1&keywords=Browning+ross
Courtesy The Catholic Star Herald: http://catholicstarherald.org/