Bill Steyer, four-year head coach of Homer High School’s cross country team, as well as five-year coach of the school’s track and field team, has been named Alaska’s 2014 girls cross country coach by the U.S. Track and Field and Cross Country Coaches Association. The announcement came in a Jan. 9 USTFCCCA press release.
“Wow! That’s pretty cool I didn’t even know,” said Steyer when contacted by the Homer News the morning of Jan. 9.
Doug Waclawski, principal of Homer High, said the selection of Steyer was “Very well-earned. Very awesome. … This is a program that he’s built over five years.”
A boys coach and a girls coach from each of the 50 states were honored for their 2014 cross country successes, chosen by the association’s high school coach of the year selection committee. The selection was based on team performances throughout the 2014 season, with an eye toward team score and placement at state championships, margin of victory, performance against rankings, individual championships and team performances compared to previous years.
“High school coaches have a profound impact on young athletes’ lives,” Sam Seemes, USTFCCCA chief executive officer, said in the press release. “For so many runners, their high school cross country coach is the person who opened the world of running to them.”
Waclawski noted the impact Steyer has had on the teams’ enthusiasm for the sport.
“Usually coaches need to get on athletes to work more. Bill’s had to get on his athletes not to train as hard,” said Waclawski. “Some of the girls want to run in the morning, at night. He’s had to get them not to train as hard.”
The Mariner girls brought home a state championship from the 2014 123A competition in Anchorage in October. The boys team, also coached by Steyer, earned a third-place finish. Megan Pitzman, the first Homer runner on the girls tea to cross the finish line, credited the championship to the team’s commitment, as well as Steyer’s coaching and belief in the team’s ability.
“Our whole team has been working really hard. We trained through the summer. And (Steyer) believed we could do it by looking at all the other times teams were running. Once the season started and we were racing, as the season progressed, we knew we could do it, too,” Pitzman said at the time.
For Steyer, coaching is a passion, one that could have been ended by injures he sustained while hiking in Nepal in November. He and his wife, Homer physician Judy Steyer, along with their daughter, Saanti, 26, were planning on spending several months in Nepal, working with villagers in a remote village that requires a two-week trek to reach. Steyer and his wife were Peace Corps Volunteers in Nepal in the early 1980s.
While there, the Steyers were joined by Homer friends Forrest and Stephanie Greer, and the five decided to trek in the Kaptad National Park.
“From where we were based, it was two days essentially hiking up, not super high by Nepal standards, about 11,500 feet, but two nine-hour days,” said Steyer.
About half-way down on the second day, after stopping for lunch at a small village, Steyer and a Nelapi hiking companion were a couple minutes ahead of the rest of the group when Steyer lost his balance and fell onto “a big slab of rock about 15 feet below the trail, on a 45 degree angle, that had water flowing over it like a water slide.”
Falling headfirst and picking up momentum, he saw a wall of rocks ahead and in a split second managed to get his hands in front of him.
“It saved cracking my head open, which would have been really bad, maybe fatal,” he said of the impact that spun him around and slammed his hip against the rocks, causing a complex pelvic fracture.
“I thought maybe I could get up and walk it off,” said Steyer. As soon as he stood up, however, “I had to sit right back down. It was obvious I couldn’t walk, but we were three hours from the road head.”
Time was bearing down on them. At 3 p.m., darkness was only three hours away and Steyer was going into shock. While his family and friends managed to get him back up onto the trail, their Nepali companion ran back to the village where they’d had lunch and recruited help. Within an hour, he had returned with four other Nepalis and a stretcher, “which is how people in rural Nepal get people to the medical clinics. They carry them out,” said Steyer.
In less than three hours, they reached the road head, where Steyer was then transported to the nearest hospital, one where he and Dr. Steyer had worked in the past “so we knew all the people,” he said. There, X-rays verified the hip injury Dr. Steyer suspected.
“So, the next morning I had a helicopter medevac to Kathmandu,” said Steyer of the two and a half hour helicopter transport with a pilot who is a retired colonel and has “the record for the highest elevation rescue. He was flying one of those French high-elevation helicopters. … And a Nelapi orthopedic surgeon flew out with the pilot because they have a connection with the rural hospital.”
Two days later, Steyer underwent surgery in Kathmandu. Although travel plans included continuing to Thailand after leaving Nepal, those plans were changed after Dr. Steyer sent her husband’s post-op films to Homer orthopedic surgeon Brent Adcox.
“He ran it by a hip trauma specialist in Anchorage and they said they couldn’t give an affirmation that it was 100 percent (healing properly), so we dropped the ball and decided to come home,” said Steyer.
Arriving back in Alaska the day before Thanksgiving, Steyer underwent surgery at Providence Hospital on Dec. 1.
“The surgeon was concerned because it was two, three weeks post-op … but things went remarkably well. He had scheduled an eight- to 10-hour surgery, but it was only four hours. I’m doing good.”
While he has to keep weight off that hip for three months, Steyer is on crutches and undergoing physical therapy. With the injury to his left leg, he is able to drive.
“I’ve got to get around or I’d kind of go crazy just being home,” said Steyer, who is optimistic about his prognosis. “Sometimes I get a little frustrated, but that’s where people like my wife come into play and set me straight.”
He hopes to be able to run again sometime during the summer. Before that, however, he’ll be back to doing what he loves.
“I’ll be coaching track, even if I’m on crutches,” he said. “That’s what keeps me happy.”
Marcus Dunbar of Kodiak High School was named Alaska’s boys coach of the year.
“Dunbar has done some great things,” said Waclawski. Of Dunbar and Steyer, he added, “This is very well deserved for both of them.”
McKibben Jackinsky can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.