By Matt Ensor
To be a coach in the world of college athletics, one tends to rely on their experience. Their athletic, academic and personal experiences as student-athletes are what mold coaching styles and philosophies. For Nicole Cook, Virginia Commonwealth University Assistant Track & Field Coach and Director of Cross Country, saying she has a wealth of experience doesn't do her justice.
There's the four-year professional career with Reebok as an 800-meter run specialist, which included representing the United States at the 2008 World Indoor Championships in Valencia, Spain. There was also an All-America career at the University of Tennessee, highlighted by her national and SEC championships in the 800 meters and the distance medley relay. All of which makes her homecoming to central Virginia that much more exciting for Petersburg native. It also made her the ideal candidate as an assistant coach in the eyes of Head Coach Jon Riley.
"When I took over the men's program, and we had an opportunity to get another coach, she was the first person I thought of. I harassed her a little bit to get her to help us build this program and take us to a new level on the middle distance side," Riley said.
For Cook, part of the big picture is bringing in talent with the potential and dedication of a championship caliber athlete, like herself. She's looking for a special type of talent; talent that has that same fire as the blistering fast kid from Petersburg High School.
"I want to bring in athletes with the potential to do something great because a lot of colleges probably won't look at those types of athletes. You can find someone who is untapped talent and get them in here and be great," Cook said. "I want to inspire people with my story to be better. I wasn't the fastest in high school. I wasn't the fastest 800 meter runner going into college, but I had goals and aspirations that turned me into what I later became."
Recruiting is essential to the future of VCU Track and Field, and Riley believes Cook, with her championship pedigree and rock star status in central Virginia, will be a game-changer for the Rams.
"She will have an opportunity to get into homes that we wouldn't have been able to before, especially locally in the Virginia area." Riley said. "It's really important when talking VCU Track and Field that there's an association with Nicole Cook and open that line of communication. It really helps us all (the coaching staff) when it comes to recruiting."
College track and field presents coaches and athletes with unique situations. One of them is the coaching of male athletes by a female coach, which is something unheard of in football, basketball, baseball or almost any other sport in America. It's a welcomed exception to the norm within the VCU Track and Field program as the coaching staff looks to change the way their athletes think.
"It can be harder to get through to guys as a female coach, especially if they've always been with a male coach," Riley said. "However, I think she's done a really good job of transitioning their thought process and to believe in her and what she's doing."
Then again, if you know Nicole Cook as a runner or coach, what's not to believe?