COACHING DONOHUE LIFTS STILL-GRIEVING GAGLIANO
By David Monti
(c) 2010 Race Results Weekly, all rights reserved
NEW YORK -- When Frank Gagliano gave up his coveted coaching job with
Nike's Oregon Track Club Elite in Eugene one year ago, it wasn't
because he was ready to give up training top middle distance athletes
like Nick Symmonds and Will Leer. His family needed him Back East.
"You know, I bought a home, a condo, in Eugene and I never thought I'd be leaving Eugene in January, 2009," Gagliano told the New York Track Writers gathered at Coogan's Restaurant for dinner last Tuesday. "But with the illness to Meighan..."
Gagliano's voice cracked. He looked down at the floor and fell silent for a moment.
"I came back because my daughter-in-law had stage IV cancer, and since passed away," he continued, haltingly. "I didn't want to stop coaching. Why would I leave Nick Symmonds?"
Gagliano, a burly man in his 70's who coached at Georgetown University from 1983 to 1999, bought a house across the street from his son, Dave, in Rye, N.Y., just north of New York City, so he could be closer to his family. Coaching, his life's mission, had to be put on hold, at least for a while.
"I didn't want to coach at that time because, going down to Sloan (Kettering Cancer Center in Manhattan), back and forth and everything, there was a lot going on," he recounted.
But the man universally known in the sport as "Coach Gags" soon found his way back to coaching after Olympic 1500-meter runner Erin Donohue split with her former coach, John Cook. Donohue, who grew up and still lives in Haddonfield, N.J., near Philadelphia, was looking for somebody whom she could work with closely. Cook had mostly advised her via e-mail and the telephone, only seeing her for a few weeks a year.
"When I was thinking of getting a new coach, one thing that I definitely wanted is a coach who would be there at the track for me, a little more hands on," Donohue said to reporters. "Word on the street was that Coach Gags was coming back from Oregon and was going to be back in New York." She added: "I asked my agent to get in contact with him."
Donohue and Gagliano each took a train to Manhattan and they met at Grand Central Terminal. They instantly saw a fit.
"I met her in Grand Central Station in the middle of March," Gagliano said. "She came back from Mexico and took the train up. I took the train down, and we talked. We had a great conversation."
The pair have been working together ever since, training together two days a week in New Jersey and New York. Donohue, who suffered a calf injury last spring which put her training a little behind schedule, finished fourth at the 2009 USA Outdoor Championships in the 1500m, missing the world championships team by one position. Ironically, her race took place one day after Meighan Coughlin-Gagliano succumbed to cancer. Gagliano had lost one battle, but another was just beginning: to get Donohue faster.
"A lot of her lady competitors made the big jump," Gagliano said of Shannon Rowbury, Christin Wurth-Thomas, and Anna (Willard) Pierce who all ran under 4:01 for 1500m last year (Wurth-Thomas and Pierce broke four minutes).
Gagliano will be training Donohue primarily as an 800-meter runner this year, he said. Getting her 800m time down was the key for her to run faster at 1500m. Donohue has run 2:01.12, but Gagliano said she would be getting under two minutes this year.
"To be honest, you'll see Erin run a tremendous 800 this year," he said. "I really, really mean it."
Donohue opens her season today (Jan. 23) at the New Balance Games at the Armory Track & Field Center. She'll be running an invitational mile, basically as a rust-buster.
"This will really be my first race of the year where I'm not really concerned with running a time," she said. "If I run a fast time that's great, but just really looking to focus on competing, and just getting the win, and starting off the season that way."
For Gagliano, who will be at the Armory with Donohue, coaching seems essential to his very existence; retirement appears to be a long way off.
"I don't have golf clubs," he said. "I have a stopwatch."