(24-Jun) -- When coach Joe Bosshard realized in the middle of March what a profound impact the COVID-19 pandemic would have on the lives of his athletes, he needed to rethink completely his team's program for 2020. There would be no Payton Jordan Cardinal Invitational, no Prefontaine Classic, no Olympic Trials, and no Olympic Games. In fact, with the unpredictable trajectory of the pandemic there might not be any competitions at all.
PHOTO: Team Boss (left to right): Nick Harris, Morgan McDonald, Aisha Praught Leer, Emma Coburn, Dom Scott, Dani Jones, Cory McGee, Maddie Alm, Laura Thweatt, Tripp Hurt (photo courtesy of Team Boss)
"Right when we got the news of everything shutting down, the season wasn't going to be what we had originally thought of," Bosshard told Race Results Weekly in a telephone interview yesterday from Crested Butte, Colorado. "It was like a waterfall effect of everything being postponed or cancelled."
Bosshard, who is married to and coaches 2017 world steeplechase champion Emma Coburn, decided to press the pause button for his athletes. He stopped holding regular practices for the team, informally called "Team Boss because the athletes run for different shoe companies, and he took some time to think things through.
"We shut down team practice and I didn't see anyone for a bit," Bosshard said. "Everybody starting training on their own or with their roommates."
A former distance runner with a goatee and a creative streak, Bosshard set to work on bootstrapping a competitive opportunity for his Boulder-based team. He wasn't sure what it would look like, but the spring is when his squad would normally be ramping up their training, anyway. Something had to be done to keep his athletes motivated.
"The whole idea is to make sure they stay relevant this year, some way, somehow," Bosshard said. "At the end of the day, we're athletes. We race, we perform on the track. Figuring out ways to get that done, I think, is still important, not only for their development but also for their careers, trying to make some money and keep their jobs, you know?"
Bosshard came up with a two-stage plan. First, he would get the team out of Boulder and to a training camp. He chose the ultra-high altitude of Crested Butte, Coburn's hometown, which sits at 8,909 feet (2715 meters). He told the team that a competition would be coming, but he didn't provide any details, but he was working on it.
"As soon as things in Colorado and Boulder started loosening up a little bit (as the virus waned there) we decided, just to get our mind right, to take the team and move to the mountains more or less for five weeks, all of us together kind of isolating ourselves," Bosshard explained. "So, we went up to Crested Butte the beginning of June, end of May. We go up to Crested Butte as a team once a year, kind of pre-season, anyway."
In the meantime, Bosshard had been reaching out to different people trying to create a competitive opportunity for his athletes who include milers Maddie Alm, Cruz Culpepper, Nick Harris, Tripp Hurt, Dani Jones, and Cory McGee; steeplechasers Coburn and Aisha Praught Leer, 5000m specialists Morgan McDonald and Dom Scott (who are both excellent milers, too), and marathoner Laura Thweatt. He wanted to give them something they could sink their teeth into, but he also wanted his team to make a statement about who they are and what they stand for.
"All this time I've been reaching out to anyone I knew that would put on a race, or have put on races, or has a track, just kind of finding out what our options were going to be," Bosshard explained.
All that networking paid off when Bosshard connected with officials at Colorado Mesa University in Grand Junction in western Colorado. That city is at about half the elevation of Crested Butte, 4,583 feet/1,397 meters, and they had just the kind of facility he was looking for.
"They just built a brand new track," Bosshard said, hardly able to believe it. "I think it's just a couple of weeks done. And they were really excited to try to get something together for us. We kind of jumped on that."
So, the Team Boss Colorado Mile, which will take place on Saturday, was born with two objectives: set new absolute Colorado state records for the mile bettering 4:36.05 by Dani Jones from 2018 for women, and 4:01.00 by Joe Klecker from 2020 for men. When he told the team, they were immediately excited.
"I thought it sounded awesome," said Olympian and multiple Jamaican record holder Aisha Praught Leer in a telephone interview yesterday. "I love competition. I like training and I like running, but I love lining up for a race. So, I thought this is great."
But Bosshard didn't just want his athletes to be running just for themselves, for individual or even team glory. He wanted them to also give something back to the community and to support the Black Lives Matter movement. He and Praught Leer had discussed it extensively.
"Joe and I had had a long talk, just sort of what can we do this year with the Black Lives Matter movement and with everything going on in the world," Praught Leer explained. "We thought, why don't we take action instead of just talking about it? I think that's something really rooted in what we do on Team Boss is take action and create opportunities for ourselves."
Praught Leer researched extensively Colorado-based not-for-profits which supported Black Coloradans. She discovered the nearly 100 year-old Sachs Foundation which provides scholarships to Black and African-American Colorado high school students who want to attend college. It was exactly what they were looking for.
"I reached out to Sachs Foundation, got a call back immediately within an hour, and had this amazing conversation about the first scholar at the Sachs Foundation (who) was a middle distance runner by the name of Dolphus Stroud," Praught Leer said. "I had no idea. I had no idea about the founding of this foundation, their first scholar being this amazing middle distance athlete. We thought it was such a great fit."
The team set a goal of raising $20,000 for Sachs. Praught Leer built a PledgeIt page (https://bit.ly/3fZg14N) to accept donations. Supporters can either pledge a flat amount, or pledge a dollar figure which will get multiplied by the cumulative seconds that the team breaks the records. For instance, if the five women run 4:29, 4:30, 4:30, 4:31, 4:32, and three men run 3:59, 4:00, and 4:00 that totals 32 cumulative seconds below the records. A donor's pledge would then be multiplied by 32.
While those records might look soft by sea level standards, they are very challenging at high altitude. Bosshard is hoping that the super-high Crested Butte training camp will boost their chances.
"We're going to be coming down from living at 9,000 feet," Bosshard observed. "We'll be coming down to 4,500 feet in the hopes that that feels a little bit better." He continued: "It's a challenge, and it hurts. It really stings the lungs, but it's a little slower in the legs. It's kind of a trade-off there."
Bosshard thinks that everyone on the team has a chance to break the records (except for Thweatt who will be pacing the women), but he admits that the women have the edge.
"I think we have five or six women who can all get under that time, that barrier," Bosshard said. "We have a really strong group."
Bosshard also thinks that Cruz Culpepper can get under 4:00, a goal he missed during the indoor season by just 1/10th of a second. The outgoing high school senior from Lafayette, Colo., ran 1:48.50 for 800m at sea level in Arizona on June 13. Culpepper's parents, Olympians Alan and Shayne, will be in Grand Junction to watch the race.
The event will have fully automatic timing, be controlled by USATF officials, and the track has a rail. The event will also be streamed live on the Team Boss YouTube channel.
"We think we have a good plan in place," Bosshard concluded. "We have six women, five guys, couple of family and friends, and a beautiful track to try to get this thing done with everything we need to make this thing count in this state. Everything that is needed we will have to get this thing done."
The Team Boss Colorado Mile will begin on Saturday, June 27, at 8:30 p.m. Mountain Time (10:30 p.m. Eastern Time), and will be streamed live via the Team Boss YouTube channel at TeamBoss. There are some preview videos available there now.