Of all the runs, workouts and wins during his years as a University of Colorado runner, one image stands out for Edwardo Torres, a three-time cross country All American and one of several past CU stars who spoke to BuffZone.com about the enduring pride they feel in being part of the lineage now in its third decade under head coach Mark Wetmore.
Torres and the other runners also gave some insight into what fuels CU's success.
"What sticks in my mind is the stretching circle at Balch Fieldhouse," said Torres, head of the USATF long distance committee and Longmont resident. "One by one the students come in and transition to runners. Wetmore walking the perimeter with this calm yet exciting feel to him. In his mind I think he's thinking another day to make this team that much better than the rest of the nation."
As CU cross country teams prepared for Saturday's NCAA championships in Lexington, Ky., some of the big names that preceded them at CU "have their back," so to speak.
"I am very proud of being a Buff and what the program accomplished while I was at CU, and the success they continue to have," said Sara Slattery, a two-time NCAA track champion and later Pan American Games 10,000-meter gold medalist. "I have always been excited to watch the teams continue to succeed."
And what keeps the success coming?
"Coach Wetmore," Slattery said. "He is able to take his teams and get them ready at the right time for the last 20 years. He is able to get his athletes to buy into working hard and working as a team. Most importantly he makes you believe in yourself and your team."
That was seen early on, said Clint Wells and Alan Culpepper, two of the early Wetmore-coached runners. They started at CU under the late head coach Jerry Quiller and finished their collegiate careers under Wetmore, who became head coach in 1996 after three years as an assistant under Quiller.
"We had great teams and athletes throughout CU's history, but with coach Wetmore's influence the program elevated to a new level of consistency and excellence," said Culpepper, a two-time Olympian who tells some CU stories in "Run Like a Champion," his 2015 book. "I am proud to have been a part of that legacy and hopefully helped establish the culture and standards that are still prevalent today."
Added Wells, now coach with the Boulder Track Club, "It's fun for us to see the legacy Mark has created."
Adam Goucher was the first prep star to sign with Wetmore, followed by Jorge Torres and then Dathan Ritzenhein. All won NCAA cross country championships at Colorado and went on to run in the Olympic Games (Ritzenhein will be going for his fourth Olympic berth Feb. 13 at the marathon trials in Los Angeles) and to have long professional careers.
One of the latest CU post-collegians to burst onto the national scene is Laura Thweatt, who earlier this month ran the second-fastest debut marathon ever by an American woman. The fastest? That would be another ex-Buff, and another two-time Olympian, Kara Goucher.
"It is exciting to follow CU year after year and see how they do," Thweatt, 27, said. "It is really impressive when they do it year after year, and with some local athletes as well," referring to runners like Kaitlyn Benner from Monarch High School, where Thweatt coaches.
"A lot of runners have come out of CU to run professional, and they leave (CU) still wanting to run," added Thweatt. "It is really impressive what Mark has done year after year and speaks volumes about his coaching abilities."
Steve Slattery, Sara's husband, was a key cog in CU's rise. Now living in Phoenix with Sara, where they are raising their two children, Slattery takes "a lot of pride in what the team is achieving now. I know the work that myself and my teammates put in to bring CU its first NCAA title (in 2001), and we always ran knowing the guys before us put in just as much.
"It is great to know that these guys are running so well and carrying on the tradition. Every year I watch the NCAA results for anticipation of another title."
CU has won five NCAA men's cross country titles, along with two on the women's side. As such, said Edwardo Torres, "The team has now become a dynasty and with that the expectation are high. It's like nothing will be good enough unless it's a national championship."