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INA, Ill. – Rend Lake College Athletics recently welcomed James Wooldridge as the new head coach of men’s and women’s cross country, following the resignation of three-year coach Eric Alberter.
Wooldridge, 49, of Herrin, took the job, knowing full and well what was coming up around the corner. Not only did he have only one race with the team before its regional, but Rend Lake will host the national championships, Nov. 10, at Rend Lake Golf Course – less than one month after Wooldridge came on board.
No problem. “It’s a great experience,” he said about preparing for nationals. “I’m excited about it. But, on the same point, I don’t want to mess anything up! One really good thing is all the staff at the college who have been phenomenal in helping out. I think it's under control. It’s looking good. Fingers are crossed!”
He said he consulted in the coach from last year’s host, New Mexico Junior College, to get some tips. He told Wooldridge that he can’t possibly please everyone and to just do his best. That sounds a lot like Wooldridge’s coaching style.
He tells his runners at Rend Lake, “Do the best you can do at everything you are doing. School is important. You want to open as many doors as possible on your way to college. Kids today think everything comes in 30 seconds. They don’t look at the long term and I try to preach that to them. They are going to miss so much if they don’t do everything they can do while they are here.”
The father of two teenage daughters, Kaci and Abby, Wooldridge coached in the past at high schools in southern Illinois and Colorado Springs. He also does some individualized training with local runners. He said coaching at the collegiate level was a goal of his and Rend Lake is the perfect fit.
“It’s a dream situation for me. It’s local. It’s a smaller community, which I like. And the people behind it seem to back it 100 percent, which is great.”
Wooldridge has a lot contribute to the young runners at RLC. He ran at Southeast Missouri State University and was a part of its cross country and track programs that each finished third in the nation. After college, Wooldridge continued to run competitively. This past summer, he was USA Track and Field Masters’ National steeplechase champion. His goal is to beat the USATF Masters American steeplechase record of 10:10 – he needs to trim his time by about 20 to 30 seconds, he said. Not too shabby for a guy who will celebrate his 50th birthday next month. In early December, Wooldridge will enter the cross country nationals in Kentucky with the rest of his Tennessee-based teammates. He’d put his team in the top 10 going in, he said.
“There are things I wish I had done differently when I was a collegiate runner. I have that wisdom to give to these young guys here at Rend Lake College. That’s why I am coaching. I want to see them run as well as they can. They have been working hard and I think we are going to see some good results at nationals.”
For all things athletic at The Lake, visit RLC online at www.rlc.edu/warriors.