After her first practice as the new girls cross-country coach at Apple Valley High School on Monday, Heather Kampf issued this message on Twitter: “Today was my first day as HEAD COACH for @AVCCGirls! So excited to empower them to confidently chase down big dreams, on and off the grass.”
I don’t know if there are any other professional runners who also serve as high school head coaches in Minnesota. And I don’t know how much the cross-country athletes at Apple Valley know about their coach’s running pedigree, which is quite impressive.
Kampf (who was Heather Dorniden before getting married) won Class 2A state track championships at 400 and 800 meters for Rosemount High School, where she graduated in 2005. She finished as high as 15th in three appearances at the Class 2A state cross-country championships.
She was a nine-time all-American runner at the University of Minnesota, winning an NCAA indoor title in the 800 in 2006. In her time with the Gophers, she was the only team member who competed at every NCAA championship in cross country, indoor track and outdoor track. She set school records in nine individual and relay events.
As a professional runner Kampf, 30, has become one of the nation’s top milers, winning four U.S. championships in one-mile road racing. She finished seventh in the 800 at the 2012 U.S. Olympic trials and was third in the 1,500 at the 2014 USA Indoor Championships.
She worked as an assistant coach at Apple Valley for the last seven years, taking over when head coach Raedi Zimmer retired over the summer.
“Raedi had been grooming me for a couple years, I think,” Kampf said Wednesday morning between high school practice and a chiropractic appointment. “She had retired from her job in the building and I think she was ready to be completely done. We talked a little this summer and decided it was time.”
Before Kampf signed on as an assistant in 2010, she was in Belgium for a race when she received an email from Zimmer. “A year turned into another and turned into going on eight years now,” she said. “You fall in love with the kids.”
Kampf was a three-sport athlete at Rosemount, which is in the same district as Apple Valley. Her first sports love was gymnastics and she set a school record in the pole vault at Rosemount.
Asked about her high school memories, she said, “I was a pretty busy kid. Most of my memories involve the coaches and the things they taught us about character building and lessons for life.”
“I’ve never heard anybody say a bad word about her,” said Chris Harder, boys and girls head cross-country coach and assistant track coach at Rosemount. “She knows her stuff and she’s been through a lot of experiences. She’s just a great person with great character.”
Harder recalled a memorable moment from Kampf’s sophomore track season, when she false-started and was disqualified from the 400 meters at the section championships. She had not run many 800s that season, but it was her next event that day.
“The silver lining was she was fresh for the 800 in a very good field, qualified for state and ended up placing fifth at state,” Harder said. “She kind of showed herself that she could run the 800, that she could overcome adversity. She’s really positive, she has a can-do attitude. She saw that not as a setback but as opportunity.”
As a professional runner, Kampf occasionally must travel for races. This weekend she will be running the Falmouth Elite Mile on Cape Cod.
“This is the one odd time when I have to go for a couple days during the season,” she said.
Having a professional runner as a coach leads to scenes such as what took place after Apple Valley’s workout Wednesday morning. The coach was preparing for a professional race and the high school runners were preparing for an intrasquad race.
“I think they really appreciate having that connection with someone who’s still competing,” Kampf said. “After practice we were all saying ‘Good luck!’ to each other.”
Harder said Kampf has the perfect coaching combination of knowledge, work ethic, compassion and attitude.
“She always had time for people and she never acted like she was better than anybody else,” he said. “She always encouraged everyone to do their best. After races she always shook hands with everyone, no matter where they finished.
“It doesn’t surprise me that she’s a coach. I think she could coach a lot of things because of the type of person she is.”
Kampf studied kinesiology and psychology in college. She isn’t sure what life will hold when her professional running career comes to an end, but it’s a safe bet that coaching will remain part of it.
“I definitely want to stay connected with youth running,” she said, “and somehow give back and hope kids in this area have a role model to look up to and see what they can do if they work at it.”Follow John on Twitter: @MSHSLjohn