“This Team’s Never Flustered”

Followers of Grinnell volleyball are already aware that the 2019 season was a record-smashing tour de force — the best in the program’s 46-year history.

The campaign was topped off by a first-ever trip to the NCAA Division III national tournament after winning a Midwest Conference title gained in the Pioneers’ first championship playoff match.

Icing on the season’s cake included three victories over the MWC’s perennial goliath Cornell College, ending the Rams’ domination over the Pioneers dating back to 1996 and nixing Cornell’s 44-game conference winning streak.

Grinnell’s 26-5 season may have ended at the hands of eventual final-four powerhouse Carthage College, but by then it was clear that the Pioneers' run was anything but a one-off. Rather, it was yet another intentional step forward for a process-oriented program of learning, commitment, and hard work.

Committed to success

“After three seasons, we’ve gotten just a little bit better every year with every practice and every match,” says Eric Ragan ’12, who assumed head coaching duties in 2017. “It really has been growth for our women coming into the gym every single day and working hard to get better knowing that the process — and letting it rip every single match — is going to lead to outcomes we want.”

Kaylin Kuhn ’21, Grinnell co-captain and first-team all-Midwest Conference outside hitter, explains, “We do things a little bit differently than I have ever done with any other team. We do more game situations — not just repetitive drills, but tough, complicated situations at every point in our practices, which makes us more prepared in games.”

Kaylin Kuhn '21, co-captainTeam culture meetings and workshops aimed at developing a competitive mindset “have made us better volleyball players, better teammates, and raised morale and enjoyment of the game,” adds Kuhn, who owns school records in multiple categories including kills per set both in a season (4.78) and in a career (4.16).

“One thing that strikes me is how level-headed we are,” Kuhn says of her team. “If we get down in a set, we know that all we have to do is change our mindset a little bit. We aren’t worried at all. This team’s never flustered. We’re very committed to each other, to ourselves, and to being successful.”

Calm, composed, confident

Erin Labasan ’11, who returned to Grinnell as assistant coach this year after a two-year stint as assistant coach from 2014 to 2016, says this team has “created a turning point” in the program.

“When I came back last summer, the biggest difference that I noticed was this sense of calm and composure in their play and a lot of confidence that hadn’t been there consistently before,” Labasan says. “I think so much of that has to do with the groundwork that’s been laid in the practice gym over the last three years.”

Julianna Roth ’22, co-captain and second team all-MWC setter, says she sensed things coming together in Grinnell’s first match against Cornell in an early season tournament.

“They’re this big, scary, amazing team with a reputation of being unbeatable,” Roth says. “We played so cleanly that game. We didn’t let the fact that they were wearing Cornell jerseys affect how we played at all. We stayed really calm and collected.

“We had worked so hard in preseason working on our culture as a team, and I think that was like a moment in which it all seemed to pay off.”

Building something special

Success breeds enthusiasm, and Ragan credits the entire Grinnell volleyball community for upping its support. “Our recruiting has changed in the last three years from us chasing talent to talent finding us,” Ragan says.

“We’re building something special here, and that’s because the women who are in the program are being authentic with what this is and living it,” Ragan says. “It’s fun to see how recruits love spending time with our team and how this group of women is attracting some incredible future Grinnellians.”

“Another cool piece of this is how much alumni and community support we’ve had in this growth,” Ragan says. “Our women see how big of a deal this is for our community and our program. They know they’re playing for more people than just the 15 women on the roster.”

Roth affirms that Grinnell volleyball is “unlike any sports experience she’s ever had.” She says the environment of confidence and trust created by coaches and teammates has allowed her to thrive.

“When you trust in yourself, in your teammates, and in the process — in life and in volleyball — you can get the outcome,” Roth says. “I feel like there’s really no limit to how far we can go.”

Finish Line Just Ahead

Will and Evelyn Freeman came to Grinnell in 1980 to interview for the head coach positions for track and field and cross country. They had never been to Iowa, never heard of Grinnell College, and had no idea what to expect. They met with President George Drake ’56, athletic director John Pfitsch, and student-athletes from the cross country and track and field teams.

Evelyn thought they had bombed the interview with students. “Every time they asked us a question and we answered, there was no response back from them. There was no smile. There was no nodding, there was no frowning, there was nothing. So, we didn’t know how we did.”

The Freemans landed the job.

Now, almost 40 years later, as they transition to senior faculty status at the end of the 2019–20 school year, they are looking back on how they created a home in Grinnell and built a program that has had a profound impact on generations of Grinnellians. If Evelyn was unsure how the students felt back in 1980, she can now rest assured. The Freemans have become an institution in Grinnell, mentoring scores of young student-athletes on their journeys through college and beyond.

Individually Advised, Individually Coached

In September, a host of alumni returned to campus for the Cross Country and Track and Field Alumni Reunion Weekend, joining current student-athletes to recognize the Freemans’ contributions. Many more expressed their gratitude in the form of letters, dozens and dozens of them, presented to the Freemans at the reception.

A common refrain among those at the reception was an appreciation for the Freemans’ athlete-centered approach to coaching. The Freemans treat their student-athletes as more than just runners, jumpers, or throwers, electing for a holistic approach to coaching the whole person.

For the Freemans, success is not measured in terms of championships (of which there are plenty), but rather in the personal growth experienced by members of the teams.

For Emma Luhmann ’18, the Freemans’ athlete-centered model is more than just an abstract coaching philosophy. “I always felt like an individual with them. They have these big teams, and so many athletes go through the program. But I think they know each person very well as an individual. That says a lot about them.”

Terran Mott ’20 echoed the sentiment. “Will and Ev’s priority has always been to help people grow as people first and athletes second, and they literally see us as their children. They designed their house to accommodate teams of people.”

For Mott, who sees herself as “a pretty mediocre runner,” the Freemans’ commitment to holistic coaching has enabled her to grow beyond athletics. “They’re very successful at helping people grow. And that’s why they have had such a big impact here.”

Team: Another way to spell community

For most Grinnell student-athletes, formal athletic competition fades after graduation, but the lessons learned from their experiences continue long past their time at Grinnell. And so too, do their memories. Track and field and cross country might not be as visibly team-oriented as other sports, but the Freemans have managed to sustain an intense spirit of camaraderie and belonging among their student-athletes.

Perhaps one of the most impressive markers of the Freemans’ legacy is how they managed to create a community among their student-athletes, both current and former. Being on a team coached by the Freemans conjures up remarkably similar feelings among graduates from the 1980s up to current student-athletes.

In the Freemans’ vision of a successful team, there’s a place for everyone. Sophie Neems ’16 found her place on the team as the “self-dubbed captain of enthusiasm.” In high school, Neems noticed a divide between the fast runners and the slower ones. At Grinnell, she found a different dynamic.

“We were all part of the same team. Our practices were the same and the coaches treated us the same, whether you were winning the race or not. I think that really made a big impact on team culture.” Even though there are talented individuals, Neems says, “the community of the team is what matters the most.”

It can be a challenge to create and sustain traditions in a college environment with new students every year, but through annual sleepovers at the Freeman house, tattoos — temporary or permanent — and Evelyn’s “affirmation week,” the Freemans and their student-athletes have built a shared experience that extends through generations.

Traditions like those create bonding experiences, but perhaps the real binding agent is the Freemans themselves. Josh Jensen ’19 says of the Freemans, “Will and Ev are the type of people that you never forget. I think their personalities and the way they impact your life and the way you approach everything like beyond running is just kind of astounding. That always sticks in the back of your mind.”

The Freemans’ spirit will surely live on, in their student-athletes and through the next generation. Sophie Neems put it best, “Once you run for Grinnell, you always run for Grinnell. Once you’re a beast, you’re always a beast.”

To hear from Will and Evelyn about their reflections on four decades of coaching at Grinnell, listen to episode 7 of season 2 of All Things Grinnell, available wherever you listen to podcasts.

The Buffalo River Trip

During fall break for the last several years, 10 intrepid Grinnell students spend five days paddling 45 miles down a pristine national waterway in the Arkansas Ozarks. Professionally supervised by the Grinnell Outdoor Recreation Program (GORP), the Buffalo River trip is to a large extent student-planned, student-run, and student-led.

There are no grocery stores, electricity, or restroom facilities along the way. Participants take only the food and supplies their canoes can carry. While the opportunities for good times are ubiquitous, the trip is much more than a wilderness “vacation”; it’s an outdoor experience heavy on situational awareness, critical thinking, and leadership development.

Cooperative experiential learning

The Buffalo winding through low hills“We want people to have fun, but our end goal is to provide experiential learning for students,” says Dave Zeiss, director of outdoor recreation at Grinnell. That includes opportunities to handle challenges and to look at real and perceived fears objectively.

“Some of the best experiential education happens on extended trips like Buffalo River,” Zeiss says. “It’s a powerful thing to have one group working together 24/7 to achieve something. It forces some group dynamics issues because you can’t keep little issues buried for five days; they come out and force people to deal with them. But it does it in a very cooperative, noncompetitive fashion.”

Identify emerging leaders

Three-year veteran Ceci Bergman ’19 says being a participant on her first trip, a leader-in-training on her second, and a team leader last fall was a “very cool transitional experience.

“When you go out into the wilderness and you don’t have the distractions of your phones or emails or school, you’re really forced to sort of ‘look in’ on the people you’re with,” Bergman says. “Sleeping in a four-person tent with people you just met a few days ago is a close experience that brings people together in a special way.”

It’s also a relaxing escape that features swimming, floating lunches, and open-fire cooking, but what Bergman considers most valuable is the focus on intentional cooperation that helps develop universal work and social skills.

“Every day we’re responsible for making sure that we eat well and drink enough water, and for keeping our bodies and minds healthy,” Bergman says. “But, for example, when you’re put in a place where it’s not necessarily easy to get water or access filtration, that extra intention focuses people’s responsibility to care for themselves and for the group.”

Safety is a foremost consideration, and Zeiss says all GORP student leaders are first aid-and CPR-certified (Bergman is additionally wilderness-certified). Buffalo River trip leaders are also largely responsible for identifying emerging leaders for future trips. Bergman says she looked specifically for participants who demonstrated “the emotional intelligence to assess the needs of the group” and a long-term commitment to the process.

Navigate a deeper experience

Two paddlers in a shared canoeRose Caplan ’21, a leader-in-training on the 2018 trip, says the system works well both in keeping the program sustainable and promoting a sense of community.

“When you’re setting up camp, gathering firewood, or cooking meals, you’re sharing everyday experience on a level that’s much deeper than in a regular setting,” Caplan says. “When you’re so exhausted, you also can easily have conflicts with people. You have to navigate those because you can’t exit the situation; you’re in the middle of nowhere with only each other.

“Having the trip entirely student-run allows you to become part of the process,” she says. “It builds confidence that you’re not that different from the person who’s leading you through the wilderness.”

Beautiful, quiet, peaceful

Five to six hours of paddling per day are necessary to complete the journey, which leaves time to enjoy the surroundings. According to all sources, the aesthetics are what one would expect from a waterway in the national parks system. Some years the weather is better than others, but ‘gorgeous’ is a commonly used descriptor.

“It’s insane,” Caplan says. “The water is so clear. It’s a really beautiful teal color, and you can see straight to the bottom of the river. There are beautiful white sand banks and giant bluffs. When we go down in October, the trees are just beginning to turn a beautiful orange and it’s a crisp, perfect time of year.

“It’s also really quiet,” she says. “You’re talking to people, but there’s no noise of cars on the road or anything like that. You’re just floating and seeing beautiful surroundings and hearing the sounds of nature. It’s just nice to be there and be peaceful.”

The Hammer Thrower

Agné Lukoseviciute ’21 beat her own school record for the hammer throw multiple times during the outdoor track season. With a throw of 181 feet 1 inch at the Midwest Conference Outdoor Championships May 10, 2019, Lukoseviciute threw the second-best in the country in Division III competition. 

“A big part is the technique,” she says. “I obsess over the technique.” 

During the season Lukoseviciute also broke the Lithuanian national record of 177 feet 7 inches, held since 2007 by Vaida Keleciute. Lukoseviciute was born in Lithuania and moved to the United States with her mom and brother when she was 12. She started throwing the hammer in April 2018, during her first outdoor track season for Grinnell. 

Pioneer Tennis Honors Its Own

Distinctive for a tradition of lifelong connections among alumni, Grinnell’s athletic teams instill an abiding sense of community that Ishan Bhadkamkar ’13 understood before he even enrolled.

The Bay Area native was a high school senior when he first visited campus. He had been attracted to Grinnell because of the strength of its academics, its small liberal arts setting, and the tennis program. But it was the weekend he spent talking with senior all-American tennis captain Dan LaFountaine ’09 that had a life-changing effect.

“Dan talked about the tennis program, the College, and about life in general. It left a big impression on me. I remember thinking that if there are people like Dan LaFountaine at this school, then this is definitely the place I want to be,” Bhadkamkar says. 

LaFountaine graduated and began a career in New Mexico before Bhadkamkar arrived as a first-year student, but the two exchanged contact information and stayed in touch. Over the next four years they developed an enduring friendship, connecting in person at alumni tennis matches and on the team’s annual spring trip to Florida. 

Lifelong family

“Dan became someone I considered to be a mentor and even a ‘big brother,’” Bhadkamkar says. “You wouldn’t think that kind of thing would be possible between two people who didn’t actually go to school at the same time, but it is really a testament to him as an individual, as well as to Coach [Andy] Hamilton ’85 and the Grinnell tennis program. 

“I grew to appreciate that when you play tennis at Grinnell you’re entering a lifelong family,” Bhadkamkar says. “I feel that even more so now that I’ve graduated and kept in touch with those who are both older and younger than me. Dan cared so much about the Grinnell tennis program. It’s fair to say he is the best representation of that type of connection.”

Honor his legacy

When LaFountaine died in February of 2013 of a health complication while traveling for business, the shock rippled through the Grinnell tennis community. Last summer, that community had a collective epiphany: It resolved to combine the effort to upgrade the Grinnell tennis facilities with a commemoration of the player who had inspired and unified consecutive four-year cohorts of Pioneer tennis players through his passion for the game and for the College.  

“We all knew the College needed to upgrade the old courts built in 2003. I immediately thought about the impact Dan had on the tennis program as an all-American and team captain,” Bhadkamkar says. “Rallying alumni to fundraise for the new facility seemed like a great opportunity to honor his legacy.”

Outpouring of support

With the help of Grinnell’s development team and a gift from the LaFountaine family, Bhadkamkar and Hamilton, now athletic director, spearheaded a campaign that drew an outpouring of support from tennis alums and their families. A silent donor added an exclamation mark. In four weeks, $50,000 was raised to commemorate the No. 1 singles court at Grinnell in the name of Dan LaFountaine, the teammate and mentor his closest friends and colleagues knew as DLaf.  

The court was dedicated in a private ceremony in September with more than 30 tennis alumni in attendance. Technology made it possible for the LaFountaine family to be present in real time. 

“It was fortuitous timing because our tennis alumni reunion is on Labor Day weekend,” Bhadkamkar says. “Dan’s teammate, Juan Carlos Pérez Borja ’11, was being inducted into the [Athletic] Hall of Fame, so we had an unusually large number of tennis alums on campus. Being able to commemorate the court and pay our respects to Dan really meant a lot to everybody.” 

Make others shine

Indeed, Pérez Borja says, “It’s incredible that I got into the Hall of Fame, but I wouldn’t have done it without Dan’s help throughout my Grinnell career. 

“Dan was a very special person in my life,” says Pérez Borja. “One of the things I cherish about him was his willingness to put others before his own personal interests. He was always willing to give up his star position to make others shine. He allowed me to play as the No. 1 singles player at Grinnell, he helped me find a job, and he was supportive of my foundation [Teach for Ecuador].

“Today, in the work that I do, it is crucial to serve others and be guided by that effort. That is something I developed chiefly because of my relationship with Dan and seeing how he handled himself in front of the world.

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If you are interested in court named recognition opportunities, please contact Dinah Zebot.


Anybody Can Do It

From the bleachers, water polo looks challenging. 

“It’s unlike any sport I’ve ever played before,” says Camille Hall ’19, women’s team co-captain. “It’s so multifaceted.” 

Players tread water as they pass and catch the ball one-handed, swim while pushing the ball in front of them, or power up out of the water to whip the ball through the air to score.

Water polo goal keeper has ball

Play is fast-paced and loud, with players hollering at each other — the ear protectors on the helmets make it a little hard to hear. Communication is crucial because it’s hard to see well. Players’ heads are the only things consistently above water. 

“Knowing who’s open, who you should pass to, that’s a big thing,” says co-captain Olivia Konieczny ’21, who is also a varsity swimmer. 

At a glance, the game can look a little intimidating with 14 people in the pool at once. 

“Anybody can do it,” Hall insists. 

As a club sport, water polo is open to anyone who wants to participate, which means the players have very different levels of experience with the game. And that makes coaching a lesson in embracing and appreciating differences.

Since club sports don’t have coaches, the team captains do much of the coaching, although players have a say too. It’s all very self-governing.

They must be coaching each other well. During the spring 2018 season, Grinnell finished first in its conference, qualifying for the Women’s National Collegiate Championship for the first time. 

Hall says of the 14 players who went to nationals, 11 or 12 had never played water polo before that season, and the team lost just two seniors.

During the student organization fair in August 2018, Hall and Konieczny recruited new players. “I think a lot of people are really eager to try it out,” Konieczny says.

During the upcoming season, which runs from late February to early May, the team will practice three times a week for an hour and a half each. They’ll warm up by swimming a few 50-meter laps. 

“We’ll do passing and shooting drills,” Konieczny says. “We practice how to move around, where to go, or random scrimmages.”

Moving around in their set up is akin to running a play in basketball. And similar to basketball, when a team has possession of the ball, it has 30 seconds to try to score. 

Konieczny says water polo also teaches how to play under pressure. “When you’re getting pressed by a defender, it’s easy to not know what to do.”

The women’s water polo team plays three other schools in the region — Carleton College and St. Mary’s University in Minnesota and Knox College in Illinois. 

“That’s more fun because we get to travel and meet other people,” Hall says.

Another plus — “Practices aren’t mandatory, tournaments aren’t mandatory, it’s all for fun. It’s a lot more flexibility with your schedule,” Hall adds.

“Which I love,” Konieczny says. 

Rarified Air

Roger Sayre ’81 race medalsDuring his first semester at Grinnell College, Roger Sayre’s Norris Hall friends dubbed him “a menace to society,” or “Menace” for short. “I hadn’t really taken up running yet, so I had all this excess energy,” Sayre says by way of explanation.

Long retired from bouncing off walls and pulling pranks, the 60-year-old Colorado resident remains strenuously youthful. And when Sayre laces up his cross country spikes or racing flats, only a handful of sexagenarians on the entire planet can match strides with him at distances from the mile to the marathon.

Though he dabbled in field events while attending high school in Iowa City, Iowa, it was viewing the 1976 Montreal Olympics on television that inspired Sayre to get into running. “I thought (U.S. Olympic 400-meter hurdle champion) Edwin Moses was the coolest guy, and I wanted to be just like him,” Sayre recalls with a laugh. But after being “blown away” in a few Iowa City all-comers meets, Sayre traveled an hour west to Grinnell that August without a single track medal to display in his dorm room.

The blond freshman was spotted running around campus during New Student Days by the late beloved coach and academic adviser Ray Obermiller, who tried to interest Sayre in cross country. Obe got a no-nonsense reply: “I told him ‘Nah, I’m not a distance runner,’” Sayre recalls. “’Those guys are crazy, running 10 miles a day and 15 on Sunday. I’m not doing that.’”

During his first indoor and outdoor track seasons as a Pioneer, Sayre gradually realized that he was no hurdler or sprinter, and that endurance was his forte. He joined the cross country team the following fall and, nagging injuries notwithstanding, developed into a strong varsity runner, capping his Grinnell career with All-Midwest Conference honors in the steeplechase at the 1980 outdoor track and field championships.

Armed with an anthropology degree, Sayre left Grinnell determined only to return to his native Colorado and improve his running. But he eventually completed a master’s in rangeland ecology at Colorado State University in Fort Collins and a doctorate in biology at the University of North Dakota in Grand Forks.

As to running, Sayre did indeed improve once out west. He notched a pair of mid-2:30s marathons at altitude while in grad school at Colorado State. But a lengthy injury following his second 26.2-miler prompted him to take up cross country skiing as a winter alternative, and for 20 years he avoided racing longer than the half-marathon distance.

During his thirties and forties, Sayre focused on running from early April through October. His “off season” was devoted to almost daily skiing, with a little easy running mixed in. The Sayre family — wife Tamara and two sons — lived in Fairbanks, Alaska, between 2004 and 2014. Although competitive skiing took slight priority during those years, Sayre did some fine running while living in the 49th state, including several age group wins and records set at the grueling Equinox Marathon.

“Alaska was a fantastic place to live and raise our two sons,” Sayre says, “but we were ready to get back to Colorado and a milder winter climate.” Returning to Colorado also appealed to Sayre due to the unmatched running scene in the Boulder/Denver region and easy access to high quality masters competition.

“Last summer I thought about turning 60 and having goals on the local and regional level, maybe going after some state records,” he says. “And then I looked at the times the top 60- to 64-year-olds were running and I thought, ‘Hey, I could be up there with those guys.’”

So far in 2018 Sayre hasn’t merely been “up there,” he’s been the nation’s dominant 60-year-old distance runner with age group victories at several major road races. In late February he was overall masters (age 40-plus) champion as well as 60–64 age group winner at the prestigious Gasparilla (Florida) 15K. He also won titles at USA Track & Field-sanctioned 8K and half-marathon national championship events and at the 40th annual Bolder Boulder 10K, one of the world’s largest road races.

Sayre’s finest performance thus far in 2018 was at the Shamrock 8K in Virginia Beach, where he completed the 4.97-mile race in 28 minutes 10 seconds, an agonizing 3 seconds off the age 60–64 American record for the distance. His exemplary performances this year have enabled his team, the Boulder Road Runners, to contend for the national 60–69 team championship in the yearlong USA Track & Field grand prix.

Not everything has gone smoothly for Sayre of late, however. Horrendous weather — “the worst conditions I’ve ever raced in, at any distance, anywhere” — during the Boston Marathon in April had him hypothermic at 22 miles. Sayre fell well off his goal pace and crossed the line in 3:12:41, but savored the experience nonetheless. “Even though I struggled at the end,” he says, “to get fourth in my age group in such a big event under terrible conditions was a bonus, and I fought for it every step of the way.”

That fighting, youthful spirit is really what has enabled Sayre to excel for so many years, though he prefers challenging himself to beating others. With the prospect of more national titles and even a few American records later this year or next, Sayre is taking everything in stride. “I don’t know that I’m all that competitive,” he explains. “I just like the process, getting out there and doing it. The competing just kind of goes with it.” 

Dean of the Cage

Deep in the heart of the Bear Center, washing machines and dryers hum like a mechanical chorus in the equipment room. Known as the “cage,” a nickname left over from when steel meshwork secured all things athletic, it is where uniforms for 20 varsity sports are cleaned, prepped, and organized for their next public appearance. Travel bags for road trips are packed on staging tables. Ball gloves are relaced, racquets are restrung, and helmets are restored to battle readiness. Towels for every kind of athletic activity come in and go out by the hundreds.

At sunrise on a typical day, the cage room is just beginning to stir. An early visitor anticipating the musky aroma of a locker room would instead be delighted to get a whiff of something reminiscent of grandma’s kitchen. 

“The first thing I do is get the building opened, and then I make waffles for my student workers,” says Roger Bauman, whose official title is equipment room supervisor. “They get up early to come in here, and I figure that’s the least I can do. Early mornings aren’t really a student’s thing, you know.”

Like a big family 

Short-order cook is not in Bauman’s job description, but since switching from farming to the cage in 1985, he has become expert in everything from dry-fit fabrics to athletic equipment repair. In his own words, he’s “sort of a jack of all trades.” He helped design the custom storage cabinets, and his mechanical skills are frequently needed for repair jobs around various athletic facilities. When it’s time for Friday swimming, Saturday football, or Sunday tennis, he takes care of all the “fall-between-the-cracks-type” details that make game day seem automatic to the casual spectator. 

More than that, Bauman is a friend, colleague, and consultant to the athletics administration, staff, coaches, and students. Ask a Grinnell coach or athlete whom they first remember meeting on campus, and the answer is invariably “Roger, down in the cage.” 

“The coaches bring nominees for coaching or their prospective students through here,” Bauman says. “They tell them, ‘if you need something, just look up Roger.’ I try and make prospects feel comfortable. I want them to feel like this would be the place they’d like to go. I tell the parents, especially, that it’s just like a big family here. You’ll never find coaches that care about their kids any more than what these coaches care.”

Bauman makes sure that sense of community extends to things like helping students with the logistical aspects of their many fundraising and service activities. He says he never set out to be a counselor or mentor. Rather, he just wants to “help take some pressure off” students who are stressed over studies or adjusting to life away from home. 

So much good

Over the years, Bauman has hosted a number of international students at his house during winter break. Others have come by just to relax in a country setting or plant shrubs for a day. He still “dabbles” in farming, and students who’ve never seen a hayfield will show up to help with baling. One student interested in Peace Corps work even sought out agricultural experience on Bauman’s farm, assisting with … the anatomical modification of pigs. Every fall, Bauman invites the football team to his pond for a fishing derby and barbecue. 

“There were four boys from Afghanistan one year,” Bauman recalls. “They told me their stories about when Russia invaded Afghanistan. During a family gathering, a sniper shot and killed one of their family members in their home. At 17 and 18 they’d become freedom fighters, shooting bazookas and blowing up Russian tanks. That’s how fast they had to grow up.”

Bauman offered one of the students a place to stay during break when everyone else was going home to family and friends. “I told him I could never replace any of his family members, but if he wanted to stay with us over break that my home was his home, and he should always remember that,” Bauman says. “When that student graduated, he came up to me and told me he would never forget those words. It just did me so much good.

“It’s really amazing to see students come in here for the first time,” Bauman says. “You wonder if some of them are going to make it, but you turn around and next thing you know, they’re out there making world decisions.”

There are so many moving parts to his job, officially and unofficially, that Bauman jokes he’s “washed his hair twice some days because I couldn’t remember if I did it the first time.” Still, he says if he had known what he was getting into, he’d have done it 20 years sooner. 

“I’m going to be 70 this summer and my goal was to retire at 70, but now I’m not sure I want to,” Bauman says. “Being around the students honestly does make you feel younger. It’s a great job. I like the kids. You know, it’s just fun.”

Real Heroes of Pioneer Athletics … According to Roger

“Facilities Maintenance has a fantastic crew,” Bauman says. “People don't realize how much they do. If you look at our facilities, the actual playing fields, and compare it to facilities at other schools, you've got to be proud of what we have here, because I would say we're pretty much second to none.”

“I come in a little before 5:30 and the kids start coming at a quarter to six, but the custodians have been here since 4:00. Students from athletic teams come and say, ‘Roger, what can we do for you?’ I say, ‘You know what I'd like for you to do? Just make a simple thank you card for the custodians. They’d appreciate the fact that you notice their work.’ 

“That locker room can be a terrible mess when they get here. Nobody sees it, but they need to be recognized. Most Fridays, the custodians in this building and one or two others will come over for lunch and I'll go get pizza. Some of the custodians make dishes to bring and we eat together. It really is like a family operation.” 


Full Effort

Madeleine Pesch ’16 likes to joke that she would never have found Grinnell if it weren’t for the “amazing pool” she first saw in a swimming-and-diving brochure. She went on to record plenty of stellar accomplishments in the Russell K. Osgood pool during her four years, but the double major in chemistry and gender, women’s, and sexuality studies (GWSS) meant taking academics just as seriously. Pesch’s balanced effort won her both the Honor G Scholastic Award and the President’s Medal, which is presented annually to the senior who exemplifies the ideal Grinnell student in terms of scholarship, leadership, poise, maturity, responsibility, and service.

Pesch’s sights remain set on becoming a women’s health care specialist, but a funny thing happened on the way to medical school. A surprising silver medal performance in the amateur world triathlon championships in Rotterdam, Netherlands, last September qualified her to compete as a professional against some of the world’s most elite athletes. She talked about the opportunity from her home in Madison, Wis., where she was preparing for her first pro triathlon season. 

GM: What led to your becoming a professional triathlete? 

MP: Triathlons started with encouragement from Erin Hurley, my coach at Grinnell. In the spring the swim team always put on a triathlon as a community service fundraiser. I really enjoyed it, so Erin encouraged me to start doing triathlons in the off-season because I was burned out on swimming year-round. I trained for the Olympic distance* triathlon in summer of 2013 and qualified for nationals, so my first nationals was my second triathlon ever. I totally felt intimidated, felt like I didn’t belong there, but I ended up qualifying for the world championships for my amateur age group. 

The rest of my college career, I trained for swimming between September and February;   from March to August, I focused on triathlon. After college I thought my athletic career was over because swimming was over. I had planned to take two gap years and then go to medical school, but it was devastating to me not to have an athletic goal in my life. 

Through Erin, again, I got connected with a high-performance triathlon coach, Siri Lindley. Working with Siri has been the opportunity to pursue athletics on an entirely new level. Having a coach and without NCAA restrictions on when I could train, 2017 was a breakout performance year for me. Siri coached me to the national championship, and then I took second at the world championships. I just had to seize the opportunity when it came. It was a hard decision because I didn’t know if I was going to improve or not, but taking that risk and putting my full effort into it took me to the point I’m at now. 

GM: What does it mean to have professional status as a triathlete? 

MP: I’m racing in the professional field for prize money as opposed to the amateur field for age group awards and rankings. I am pursuing sponsorships — I’m already sponsored through an Elite racing team called Tri365; but as a professional athlete there is no guaranteed compensation and no guaranteed sponsorship. I have to seek that on my own. 

GM: Your Rotterdam time of 2:10:55 last September was only 11 seconds behind first place. Do you think about where those seconds could have been made up? 

MP: Ultimately I don’t focus on that. Let’s say I was in transition 2 and someone says, “If you do this faster then you’ll win.” Obviously I would have done something to make that difference, but you just don’t know in a race that’s two hours long. I focus on doing my very best in every moment. I feel confident that I did that the whole time. I wasn’t expecting to get the silver medal, so it was a big accomplishment.

GM: Do you study your competitors and try to strategize about who is stronger in what stage? 

MP:I really don’t. What I’ve learned from my coach is that you have to expect the competition to be strong. My performance is totally focused on what I’m doing, what my pacing is, and what I can do to go faster. I would never hold back on a certain discipline because I think I have a strong lead. You just have to stick to your own plan.

GM: How do you approach training for the three segments? 

MP: My training schedule in-season [March through November] is very balanced, with swimming about five times a week, running four or five times a week, and then cycling about four times a week. The beauty of triathlon is that there are three disciplines and there’s so much variety in your training schedule.

GM: Do you focus more on running and cycling because you’re a strong swimmer? 

MP: Swimming is my strongest, but my running and cycling are quickly catching up. I do very intense running workouts — those are the hardest on your body and the highest injury risk, so I’m grateful to also get in intense sessions with the bike or the swim. Just because I’m a strong swimmer doesn’t mean I spend less [focus]; I actually spend quite a bit. I use swimming for intense sessions where I’m improving my speed and strength but also as a recovery component. When I need to recover from an intense running session, I go to the pool and get my muscles working without the pounding of the pavement. 

GM: Do you strength-train?

MP: I do strength sessions twice a week. I’ve been working on my lateral stability and strength as well as strengthening muscles that I don’t necessarily use in the motions of triathlon. Running and cycling are all in the forward plane of motion, so I have to work on my balance and on the muscles that stabilize so I don’t get injuries. 

GM: How much do you eat? 

MP: I definitely eat a lot, but I don’t count calories. I don’t believe in portioning things out. A big part of my sport is making sure that I am in tune with my body all the time, so whenever I start feeling hungry I eat. I eat balanced meals throughout the day and never let myself get too hungry. I always have food along on workouts if they’re going to be over 90 minutes. My coach tells me that nutrition is the easiest thing you can do for your body. The hard thing is excelling in the session, but if you don’t have proper nutrition you’re throwing out that session because you haven’t given your body what it needs to perform at its best. 

At the same time, I make sure that I’m enjoying what I’m eating. I love dessert, so I pretty much have something sweet every day. I just don’t eat things that I know are going to make me feel bad during my workouts. 

GM: How much do you rest? 

MP: During the season, every other week or so will be a full rest day. I have days that are very light for active recovery. If I have a really hard run the day before, I’ll have a long, easy ride on the bike so my muscles get a chance to stretch out and get the blood flowing to them.

As I’ve become a more serious athlete, I do recovery things every daily, like foam rolling, stretching, and massage. At Grinnell I never had time to foam roll in the evening; I had to do my studying. Now I’m able to do things that really pay off in training the next day.

I also sleep a lot. I try to get about nine hours and keep that schedule consistent. I always slept pretty well at Grinnell, more than a lot of other students. It’s just the difference between priorities in my life now and what they were in college.

GM: What does your pro schedule look like going forward?

MP: In the off-season, I’m training at a more relaxed schedule, focusing on the relationships in my life and having balance. I raced my first half Ironman distance* race in January in Naples, Fla., and I won the HITS Triathlon series race to start off 2018. When my competition season starts up, I’ll have about one race per month. Most races are going to be Olympic distance, and then I’ll do a few half Ironman distances. Other professional races I have planned for 2018 include St. Anthony's Triathlon in April in Florida, IM 70.3 Chattanooga in May, Escape Philadelphia in June, and the New York City Triathlon in July, the Real Racine triathlon in Wisconsin in July, IM 70.3 Boulder in August, and more races into the fall. I am most excited for the Real Racine triathlon in Wisconsin since it is close to where I live in Madison, so many of my friends and family will be able to watch. Right now I’m doing what I can to build my confidence, because my competition field is going to be the highest it’s ever been in my athletic career.

GM: What are your goals for your first professional season?

MP: The goal of my season is to do the very best I can and establish myself in the pro fields. My long-term goal is to get into draft-legal*, big-distance racing at the pro level. 

GM: What, specifically, attracts you to triathlon?

MP: Triathlon has given me a platform to grow in confidence and belief in myself. I have learned to challenge myself, take risks, and push myself beyond what I think is possible. I’ve been able to achieve things in triathlon that I never thought I was capable of. I’ve learned that progress is not linear, and that if you keep putting in your full effort, it will pay off in the end. That lesson translates to the rest of my life as I work toward my future goals, what I want out of my life, and what I can do in my community and for other people. I have less anxiety about the future, and I’m able to see the process of working toward goals. 

Also, I am an ambassador for USA Triathlon, so it is my job to recruit new individuals to the sport. I want to use triathlon as a platform to motivate other women to go beyond any preconceived limits they have for their own athletic ability and mental strength. This is a way for me to continue part of what I learned as a GWSS major at Grinnell in my athletic career.

I also wish to motivate other former collegiate athletes to try triathlon or other endurance sports. Swimming, cycling, and running are all lifelong sports that former collegiate athletes can continue throughout their lifetimes. When I left Grinnell, I felt a bit lost without athletic goals to pursue after having so much of my identity revolve around being an athlete. This is something many athletes struggle with following retirement. I wish to help other former competitive athletes continue to stay healthy and motivated toward athletic goals post-college. Athletic goals help structure the rest of our lives as we in turn become more motivated toward our other goals as well, in our careers, relationships, and in our larger communities. 

Finally, I would like to increase access to the sport of triathlon for low-income individuals. One way I do this is by volunteering once a week coaching a youth triathlon team for low-income middle school kids. My goal is to find avenues to help those who otherwise couldn't afford it get the equipment and financial resources necessary to train for and participate in triathlon. It's not just about the training and racing for me. It's also about the community connection and the ways that it allows me to be a leader in my community. 

GM: Are you setting deadlines for your triathlon career prior to medical school?

MP: My life used to be a lot about structure. I had the two-year timeline for medical school. Now, I’m learning to take opportunities as they come. I don’t have a deadline for triathlon as long as I feel I’m continuing to grow in it. It’s something that I’m passionate about, and I’m going to take it as far as I can. 

I’m always about giving my full effort forward. When I go to medical school I want to give it my all. I know that everything I’m doing in triathlon is preparing me to be an even better doctor, through the lessons I’m learning and the ways that I’m able to connect in the world. In our changing world, I think we can’t really follow linear career paths. Those paths are a lot more individualized and fluid. When the right moment comes to transition to medical school, I’m going to be totally ready for it.

*A Triathlete’s Lexicon


Olympic: 1,500 meter (.93 mile) swim, 40 km (24.8 mile) bike, 10 km (6.2 miles) run. 

Half Ironman: 1,900 meter (1.2 miles) swim, 90 km (56 miles) bike, 21.09 km (13.1 miles)  run. 

Draft-legal: a style of bicycle racing that allows athletes to reduce drag by following the lead bike’s slipstream, typically resulting in athletes riding in packs. Most triathlons in the United States are nondraft, requiring three bike lengths between competitors except when moving to the side to pass. 

Foam rolling: self-myofascial release or self-massage; the application of pressure to trigger points that aid in returning muscles to normal function. 

Follow Madeleine Pesch’s triathlon career at

Conversation with Greg Wallace

For the first 20 of Greg Wallace’s 28 years at Grinnell, he was head football coach. He has also coached golf and baseball, and he is an associate professor of physical education. For the past eight years, Wallace has served as director of athletics and recreation. 

Wallace is currently developing a new approach to recruiting student-athletes at Grinnell. He is laying the groundwork for a five-year senior faculty project that will begin after he retires as athletics director this fall and becomes coordinator of student-athlete recruitment for the Office of Admission. We asked him about his plans:

Is this a new role? 

It absolutely is a new role. I tested the waters last fall. I did some of my high school visits at that time and scheduled meetings with athletics directors at high schools in Kansas City, St. Louis, Minneapolis, Chicago, and Los Angeles. 

How did you come up with this idea? 

I felt like we needed to get our name out there, because a lot of schools I visited knew of Amherst, or maybe Oberlin or Pomona, but we weren’t necessarily in that same conversation. My hope is that when somebody is looking at one of those schools, either the athletic director or a coach will say, “If you’re looking at those schools, you ought to look at Grinnell.” 

So, you are giving schools the tools to point students to Grinnell? 

Exactly right. And as you go through the process, you learn a little more each time you go to the school. One of the things I tried to do at all of the schools was not only to visit the AD [athletics director], but also to stop in and introduce myself to people in the counseling office. 

Where do you recruit?

It’s interesting. We really don’t have very many of what you would call feeder schools. The whole key is name recognition. We want to be in the same conversation for student- athletes whether they’re looking at a NESCAC [New England Small College Athletic Conference] school or they’re looking at an Ivy school.

Are there NCAA rules specific to this kind of role? 

Once students become juniors in high school, you can have direct contact with them. That’s not always been the case. Now, juniors can actually come to your campus to visit in the spring of their junior year. 

By invitation or on their own?

Either way, but in most cases it would probably be by invitation from the coach. I think it’s a good thing simply because schools like Grinnell are really working hard to get early-decision students, and you can’t get early-decision students unless you’ve made contact sometime during their junior year. 

How does this dovetail with other recruiting efforts?

Many of our coaches are going to academic elite camps and showcases where junior athletes are participating. A lot of times there is academic information available to coaches who attend those. As soon as we get that information, we bring it back and put it into our system, which automatically takes it to the admission office so students will start receiving information from Grinnell College, as well as from our athletics program.

Does Grinnell actively recruit students who are pursuing Division I athletic programs?

We send our coaches to some of the Ivy League camps, because if there are 150 kids at an Ivy League camp, that Ivy school may sign two of those. That leaves 148 of them who are looking for someplace to go. 

A lot of our coaches in team sports are getting YouTubes [YouTube videos] that the kids have put together themselves or that show game highlights. Coaches are getting a pretty good look at the potential of student-athletes in competition. The recruiting of student-athletes has always been intense, but it takes up so much of our coaches’ time and energy now that they are working as hard or harder during the recruiting process as [they do] during the coaching of their actual sport. Recruiting never stops for us. 

How else is the recruiting process different for a Division III school?

Division I and Division II have a national signing date the first week of February, so they have their class at that time. We’re recruiting all the way up to May 1, when students have to declare what schools they are going to attend. If we’re only working on seniors at that point, then we’re not doing justice to the next year’s class. So we’ve got to have a plan to address this year’s class and also a way to monitor and communicate with next year’s class.

Have student-athletes changed over the years?

I think student-athletes are the same, but there is more information available to them than ever before. For example, the Midwest Conference was one of the first Division III conferences to require webcasting of home contests in football, basketball, and volleyball. That’s been a big recruiting tool. 

We do webcasting now for almost all of our contests, so I can assure parents that they’re not going to have to miss a home contest or an away conference contest. It’s a big plus, even for prospective students who are able to watch and say, “I think I can play there,” or “I can see that guy’s graduating so that position’s open next year.” 

Final thoughts on your new endeavor?

I’m just very excited about it. I’ve had some very good response. I think it’s a good opportunity for us to get the type of student-athlete that we want at Grinnell College. It’s a way to get the brand in front of more people so that more coaches will say to students, “You could probably play at Grinnell. Have you thought about that?”