The independent news organization of Duke University

Letter: Duke track and field, cross country alumni reflect on career of Norm Ogilvie

<p>Ogilvie had served as the director of Duke's track and field program since 2003.</p>

Ogilvie had served as the director of Duke's track and field program since 2003.

Editor's note: Last week, former track and field director and head men's cross country coach Norm Ogilvie retired after 30 seasons on the Blue Devil coaching staff. This letter was written and sent to The Chronicle by former Duke athletes who competed for Ogilvie throughout his tenure.

The signatories to this letter competed for Duke University cross country and track and field teams across event groups and eras. We came from diverse backgrounds, and had different majors, personalities and amounts of natural ability. Despite these differences, there are common threads that unify our athletic experiences running for coach Norm Ogilvie. 

Other programs at times may have had more scholarships, glitzier facilities or less stringent admissions requirements. Nevertheless, Norm never wavered in his fierce conviction that we could, and would, compete with any team in the country. And he impressed that conviction upon all of us.

While his focus as director of track and field lay in maintaining consistently high expectations for the program as a whole, Norm had an uncanny knack for marking milestone individual performances. Whether a freshman running their first track 5k, or a senior defending an ACC title, we knew we’d done something special when we saw coach running toward us, stopwatch clutched in one hand, the other anticipating a crisp high five. He passed on his fervent love of the sport to all of us. We continue to engage with it as recreational runners or weekend warriors, competitive athletes chasing Olympic Trials qualifiers, or coaches ourselves.

Norm taught us the value of hard work. One Duke team spent hours “plowing” two lanes of the Wallace Wade track after a snowstorm so we’d be able to get intervals in the next day, with Norm wielding a shovel the whole time (insisting, amidst much chattering, that the shoveling was great cross-training). He taught us to not make excuses, to be accountable in word and deed, to never give up on ourselves or our teammates and to sacrifice for a common goal. 

As the famous NCAA commercial says, the vast majority of us have “gone pro” in something other than sports. It is not surprising, given the universality of the lessons we learned from coach, that we have made good doctors and lawyers, medical devices salesmen and airline network planners, teachers and professors. We are leaders in our communities and our professions. More importantly, we are better sons and brothers, husbands and fathers, colleagues and friends—better men—because of Norm. 

Undoubtedly Norm cared deeply about our performances, but he cared about our well-being far more. He made accommodations for us to take challenging courses even when they conflicted with practice times, congratulated us on job offers, wrote recommendation letters and trusted us to study abroad. He recognized that our competitive seasons were an important part but not the whole of a rich student-athlete experience. 

Norm’s Honda CR-V was a ubiquitous presence in the Duke Forest, offering multiple water stops over the course of a run, from a Gatorade cooler he usually filled himself. On the hottest of days in Durham, these water stops were a godsend, the blue SUV emerging as suddenly as a mirage from a sun-drenched summer landscape. But even in the middle of winter, “The Tall Man” faithfully parked beside Couch Mountain or at the bottom of Lemur Lane during our training runs through the forest. 

This seemingly small ritual reveals a fundamental truth about Norm—he was there for us, always. Sometimes that meant lending an ear if we were down about a bad race, a poor grade or a break-up. Once, it meant boarding the first flight to New York when one of us suffered a life-threatening accident. Time and time again, Norm showed up. Time and time again, Norm proved that he cared.

As we have reflected on our Duke careers in the aftermath of Norm’s retirement, it has become abundantly clear that our Duke cross country and track and field network is a second family (literally, for some of us). We all have friends and relatives that were also college athletes, whether in other sports at Duke or at other universities. Many look back fondly at their athletic careers, but very few seem to have developed the depth and duration of camaraderie that Duke runners are so fortunate to share. The term “culture-driver” has become a popular corporate bromide today, but there might not be a more apt descriptor of Norm’s impact on our program over the last 30 years, always striving to uphold the mission and values that make Duke Athletics special.

Go Duke,

Class of 2000: Kyle Leonard, Brian McCulley and Tim Schaefer;

Class of 2002: Luke Wood;

Class of 2003: Donald Fowler, Tom Gianturco and Bill Spierdowis;

Class of 2004: Jon Amt, Casey Reardon and Chris Williams;

Class of 2005: Mike Hatch;

Class of 2006: Daniel Narvey and Chas Salmen;

Class of 2007: Jon Fox, Keith Krieger and Marco Salmen;

Class of 2009: Greg Feltman, Kevin McDermott, Chris Rowland and Dan Shankle;

Class of 2010: Ben Bubnovich, James Osborne, Ken Sullivan, Tradelle Ward and Will Smith; 

Class of 2011: Josh Brewer, Jonathan Chu, Isaac Dunkelberger, Josh Lund, Ryan McDermott, Cory Nanni, Sean-Patrick Oswald and Bo Waggoner;

Class of 2012: Andrew Brodeur, Steve Clark, Guillermo Echarte, James Kostelnik, Will Leister, Brendon Pierson and Johns Ross;

Class of 2013: Joseph Elsakr and Mike Moverman;

Class of 2014: Brian Atkinson, Christian Britto, Phil Farleigh and Clint McKelvey;

Class of 2015: Henry Farley, Alec Klassen, Nate McClafferty and Shaun Thompson;

Class of 2016: Will Hague and Blake Udland;

Class of 2017: Michal Filipczak and Stephen Shine;

Class of 2018: Jordan Burton, Kyle Francis, Matt Luppino and Dylan Murphy; 

Class of 2019: Nikhil Pulimood;

Class of 2020: A.J. Eckmann, Cole Hoff, Dalton Randall, Ethan Ready, Tom Sullivan and Matt Wisner.

Discussion

Share and discuss “Letter: Duke track and field, cross country alumni reflect on career of Norm Ogilvie” on social media.