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The North Wind is an independent student publication serving the Northern Michigan University community. It is partially funded by the Student Activity Fee. The North Wind digital paper is published daily during the fall and winter semesters except on university holidays and during exam weeks. The North Wind Board of Directors is composed of representatives of the student body, faculty, administration and area media.

Students protest against Israel-Hamas war with campus encampment
Students protest against Israel-Hamas war with campus encampment
Dallas WiertellaApril 30, 2024

NMU coach runs from fall to winter to spring

Throughout the past week, the cross country team has been preparing for the Oct. 25 GLIAC meet.
This race is perhaps the most important competition of the year, and head coach Jenny Ryan has been busy training her team to be at the top of their game for Saturday.
Coaching these 29 athletes to third place in the GLIAC has been a tiring task for Ryan, but when the season is over rest and relaxation will still be months away.

An enduring passion

Ryan is in her second season as head coach of the cross-country running team. Assisting her is former head coach and current men’s and women’s nordic ski head coach, Sten Fjeldheim.
Ryan is also an assistant coach for the track team under Tom Barnes, and assists Fjedlheim with nordic skiing.
While being the only coach at Northern involved with four varsity teams, she also is the only woman to head a varsity team.
Northern Michigan Athletic Director Ken Godfrey said Ryan is a valuable member to the NMU athletic family.
“I think it’s her passion and love for what she does, that allows her to do all those things,” Godfrey said. “She is very knowledgeable. She has a good education. She has been a student athlete at a very high level, and I think that contributes to what she brings to coaching.”
Before coming to NMU, Ryan cross-country skied at the collegiate level for Montana State University, where she gained Academic All-American honors.
After earning her bachelor’s degree she moved to Northern and trained with the USOEC in skiing for three years.
She raced in nine National Championships and three Olympic Trials. She also earned one gold and two silver medals in the World Masters Championships.
Ryan said she continued her two passions of academics and athletics.
When she wasn’t competing, Ryan was coaching skiing and running in Bozeman, Mont. and teaching math at a local middle school.
In 2000, Ryan returned to NMU to earn a master’s degree in exercise science. During this, Fjeldheim was head of the ski and cross country programs and signed Ryan on as a graduate assistant.
“I always have loved sports, and especially these sports,” she said. I also love teaching, and working with people. So I wanted to do something that combined my love for athletics, my academic education and my experience as an athlete at many different levels.
“I worked hard as a graduate assistant coach, learning as much as I could,” Ryan added.
After earning her master’s, Ryan became assistant coach to Fjeldheim in cross-country and the ski teams.
“We both have an educational background and we’ve done a lot of racing of our own,” Ryan said of Fjeldheim. “He has done many more years of coaching, and he has really taught me a lot about coaching.”
As if coaching three teams wasn’t enough for the duo, in 2004 Fjeldheim was able to get the women’s track team reinstated, and hired Ryan as an assistant along with Barnes.
In 2005, Ryan took the reins as head coach of track for one season. She then handed them to current head coach, Barnes, and he kept her for coaching endurance runners.
“I did want to [head coach],” Ryan said. “But at the same time, I didn’t have the background in all the throwing and the jumping.”

Cross coaching

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Coach Barnes said keeping Ryan was an important decision, because she coaches runners in both cross-country and track.
“Her experience is invaluable and we’re lucky to have somebody like her,” Barnes said. “She pitches in and can help any athlete. Sometimes I am able to help the distance runners too. So we work together. She is able to talk to athletes, and sometimes a different person makes a difference.”
Senior cross-country and distance track runner Bibiane Mahy said having Ryan to help coach both seasons showed her a great example.
“It’s amazing how she finds time to still be there next to us. We are always in touch and it’s like we’re never apart,” Mahy said. “I see how much she does, and I try to help out as much as possible. Why wouldn’t you want to be more like her?”
Leadership, togetherness and work ethic are qualities Ryan said she illustrates in all fields of her coaching.
Fjeldheim said she brings this to nordic skiing, and more.
“Jenny has brought a lot of stability to the program and I’ve learned a lot from Jenny,” he said. “Having a female coach working with a group of women – I saw a huge difference right from the beginning.”
The relationship between Fjeldheim and Ryan has brought many honors to both teams.
Since Ryan’s involvement with the ski teams, they have competed at the NCAA Ski Championships each year and produced 13 All-Americans and one National Champion.
The cross-country team has also reaped the benefits of the combination. It has earned NCAA D-II Championships six times. The program has shaped 10 D-II All-American runners, two GLIAC conference championships and one D-II Great Lakes Regional Champion. Now with Ryan heading the cross country team she hopes to follow in the large footsteps of Fjeldheim.
“I wanted to see what I could do and what kind of a team I could build,” Ryan said. “Sten built this team to a high level, and now I would like to rebuild the team back to that level.”

The GLIAC meet

To prep for the upcoming GLIAC race, Ryan said she’s been ending practice with speed work — doing shorter and faster intervals than the team did in the beginning of the season.
In Tuesday morning’s rain, the team ended with six 200-yard controlled sprints.
“They have the fitness now, and we’re just trying to maintain it,” Ryan said. “We do longer intervals earlier in the season. So now we try and keep the speed, but not tire them out so much.”
The team Ryan will send to compete this year will be led by four freshmen.
At NMU’s last meet, freshmen Nora Kiilunen, Rebecca Holmquist, Stephanie Enderby and Erin McCulloch were the top point-earners.
This year’s team is also missing Mahy and Jennifer Wiedmeyer due to redshirts.
The two were top point earners in last year’s fifth place finish at the GLIAC.
The 2008 season has been a rebuilding year, but Ryan said that shouldn’t be an excuse.
“I think we could have some really good results if everybody runs to their potential, which I think they can,” she said.
Fjeldheim said he is certain Ryan’s knowledge of the sport will help the team at the GLIAC meet, as well as throughout her career at Northern.
He added the type of student athletes Ryan has recruited can succeed at a high level within their training system.
“We want [athletes] that want to be here – the ones that are going to crawl across a quarter-mile of broken glass to get here,” he said. “Those are kids Jenny and I coach, and want to coach. Even if they’re a little slower we will make them faster.”

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