Former Longhorn runner returns as coach

Julie Thompson

When Steve Sisson considered where he would go to college, he wanted more bang for his buck. A Texas state high school champion in the 3200 meter run, Sisson had plenty of options — West Point, UCLA, Oregon and Dartmouth among them. In the end, he decided to attend Texas.

“There is this power to Texas, that if you grow up in the state, and you aren’t already an Aggie, you want to go to Texas,” Sisson said.

Sisson has returned to Texas as a track and field assistant coach and the head coach of the Texas cross country team.

“I bring to the table a lot about Texas, the spirit, the attitude and what I call bleeding orange,” Sisson said.
Sisson was a three-time All-American. In 1993, he finished third in the 5,000 at the NCAA indoor meet and fifth in the 10,000 meter run at the NCAA outdoor event.

“I know the pressure. We are a team that is always vying to win a national championship,” Sisson said. “I can bring to the table an understanding of the pressure.”

After graduating from UT in 1993, Sisson moved to Colorado to train with legendary coach Joe Beehill. Sisson competed in the International Association of Athletics Federations World Half-Marathon Championships in Brussels.

“He has said that going from high school to college is exponentially more difficult, but going from college to the world level is unclassifiably different,” Sisson’s long-time friend John Schrup said. “In that one particular race, even though it takes a little more than an hour, you blink and that hour is gone.”

But training was intensive and led to a severe case of anemia for Sisson.

After giving up on professional running, Sisson taught English in Japan and worked at a subsistence farm in Ecuador before returning to Austin.

Since his return, Sisson worked for RunTex and then started his own company, Rogue, which trains older runners. His own difficulties as a professional runner have inspired him to coach a post-collegiate team of athletes that are working toward Olympic and national goals.

“Only a handful of runners in the world are considered millionaires,” Schrup said. “You are talking about running a couple of hours a day, every day for years. That means you don’t get to go out and party, you have to live this monk-like existence, and running becomes an hourly rate job.”

After founding Rogue, Sisson began coaching at Texas on a volunteer basis in 2005. He was hired full-time in August 2006 and compromised the amount of time he spent coaching older runners.

“I jumped in as a collegiate coach at the age of 36, which is very unconventional because you don’t usually get to jump into an assistant coaching position at a school like Texas,” Sisson said. “I said this is something I want, and I’ve always been someone that follows my heart.”

Pursuing his goals with heart is something Sisson hopes to instill in his athletes.

“The most important piece of my job is making sure these girls walk out of this collegiate experience being wonderful human beings and tougher women,” Sisson said. “Life is similar to distance running, you have to put a goal out there, work for it every day and fight over the tough points.”

His proudest moment as an athlete came during his senior year, when he returned after a year off to place in three events and helped his team win the conference meet. Now his goals include an NCAA Championship and encouraging his team to pursue what they think is impossible.

“He has been known to have a quiet motivation,” said runner Mia Behm. “He makes you feel confident in yourself, he builds you up and makes you feel like the work you put in will bring you success.”

After all the ups and downs of his career, and juggling coaching at Texas and running his own business, Sisson still feels as though he is living the dream.

“Personally it is a pride issue. I feel so proud to have been able to represent my University as an athlete, a student and now as a coach.”