The longtime coach was honored Wednesday with the Inspiring Coach of the Year award from Brooks Running, one of two coaches in the nation to receive the honor this spring.
Gwen Robertson has always tried to get kids to set goals, work hard and be their best in everything they do.
It’s a philosophy she believes she wrote down as part of a final requirement to get her coaching credential from the University of Nebraska at Kearney, but she can’t locate that document.
“I would love to find that because I don’t think it’s any different than it’s ever been,” the longtime Issaquah track and field and cross-country coach said.
A bronzed sneaker is proof her philosophy works. Robertson, who has coached at Issaquah since 1984, was presented the award Wednesday as the Brooks Running Inspiring Coach of the Year.
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The native New Yorker landed at the school because her husband of 40 years, Lawrie, is a Seattleite. The coupled met at a track and field meet in Ohio. Not having children, running and coaching filled their lives, only taking a break in 2015 for a trip to New Zealand as Gwen, 61, retired from head coaching and transitioned to being an assistant.
Robertson is credited with inspiring 20 of her former student-athletes to also coach the sport on various levels, including current Issaquah track and field co-coach Tracy Silva. After graduating from Issaquah in 1988, Silva competed at Washington State and returned to see not much had changed with Robertson.
Wherever the Eagles are headquartered at meets is where Robertson sits. She’ll pat a space next to her for an athlete to sit and talk post-race. The first question is usually, “what do you think you did?” Then she’ll offer her feedback.
“She always made us kind of reflect,” Silva said. “I love to overhear her conversations with the kids and how she handles the success and the failures and how she tries to encourage the kids.”
Typically, Brooks selects one national Inspiring Coach of the Year. Due to the volume of strong candidates, the shoe company will honor four this year. Mark Anderson of Cary Grove High outside of Chicago joins Robertson as track and field coach representatives.
Two cross-country coaches will be awarded in the fall. All will receive $10,000 in Brooks gear and their team will receive $2,500 in cash.
Brooks lined part of the Issaquah track with blue and white balloons, had approximately 150 student-athletes wear blue T-shirts with “Thank-you, coach” on the back and blared music to celebrate Robertson. She high-fived every student as they took their seats in the stands for the brief ceremony. Joining them were about 15 former athletes.
Robertson spoke briefly, telling the kids, “You make me happy.”
In January, Robertson was named the state’s U.S. Track & Field and Cross Country Coaches Association Coach of the Year. She officiated the 1984 Summer Games, won a combined four state titles in track and field and cross country and was inducted into the Washington State Cross Country Coaches Hall of Fame.
But she’s most proud of Wednesday’s honor.
“There’s no book to tell you how to be a head coach,” Robertson said. “Every coach would like to be known as inspirational. I’m not trying to be, but when people think that, it means a lot.”
“Gwen has been that coach that I’ve really needed to stay focused on the big picture,” said senior Nikki Stephens, who signed Wednesday to run at Florida. “I knew Gwen had been around for a long time, so I figured she’s racked up a few points, but I didn’t know all of these other things. That’s amazing to me, having a coach be that big of an influence.”