STAFF WRITER JENNIFER FIERRO
After the beloved Anthony Torns resigned as the Marble Falls High School head cross-country and girls track coach, district officials knew they needed to find the right person to lead the school’s distance runners.
After spending weeks interviewing applicants, they decided on a coach with a proven track record of success. Chris Schrader is someone who made a living as a private running coach. He has coached 78 high school gold medalists in the University Interscholastic League, the Texas Association of Private and Parochial Schools, and the Texas Christian Athletic League.
Four of his athletes, including Llano High School sophomore Anna Casey, captured gold medals in last year’s state meet. Casey won gold in both the 800 meters and 1,600 meters.
“Running is something you have to find your soul in, I think,” Schrader said. “You got to figure out that, at some point in time, you can achieve great things if you start with a humble beginning and you don’t try to overload yourself.”
Until a conversation with Marble Falls athletic director Rick Hoover and girls athletic coordinator John Berkman, Schrader wasn’t considering leaving the private coaching world after 33 years.
However, the men saw eye to eye on virtually every topic they talked about that day. That convinced all three that Schrader was the right coach for the job.
“I had a really good feeling,” Schrader said about the conversation and coaching at Marble Falls.
His hiring was approved by the Board of Trustees in July.
Schrader was born in Sri Lanka and lived there until he was 10. From there, his family moved to Australia, where he lived until he was 19.
Schrader began coaching when he was 17 after he recruited a training partner. He said he saw another runner on the track and asked him what he was doing. The runner said he was a sprinter. Schrader then challenged him to a race.
“I’ll give you a 10-yard head start,” he recalled saying. “If I beat you, you become a distance runner with me. I need a training partner.”
Within four months, that training partner was the state cross-country champion.
Schrader said he became a runner because “I opened my big mouth when I was in high school.”
“I told a bunch of people I was going to beat them,” he said. “Needless to say, I got a thrashing, so I had to back up the talk and start working out.”
In a short time, Schrader knew he had found his sport. He wasn’t overly tall or muscular but could move smoothly. Soon after, he joined a running club then his school team.
He competed as a high school junior and excelled as a senior. In Australia, he placed in the top four in the steeplechase, the top six in the 1,500 meters, and the top 10 in the 800 meters.
He earned a scholarship to the University of Houston and arrived in the United States knowing he wanted to pursue a career in coaching, but his SAT score wasn’t great. That forced him to go to a junior college, a decision he would not regret because he met his wife and best friends there.
Shortly after arriving in the U.S., Schrader suffered some injuries. He noted that, in Australia, where the high school season is a month long, most of the running is on grass and dirt. In the United States, the running is on pavement and roads.
He underwent three foot surgeries over a period of years.
“One minute you’re running, the next you’re injured,” he said. “So it was a constant cycle of running and injury. I would run through an injury. Whereas, when a kid says, ‘I have foot pain,’ I stop him right then. I’d rather take no chances and give him a couple of days to heal up and do the right therapy.”
He later attended Texas State University (then-Southwest Texas State) and coached several Round Rock High School runners as a student-coach. After completing his student teaching, he graduated in 1976 with a degree in physical education and a minor in history. He began interviewing for jobs at school districts and discovered how little educators were paid.
So he made the decision to find a different kind of job and keep coaching on the side.
One of his biggest coaching influences is Ray Weinberg, one of Australia’s best hurdlers, who was a member of the 1948 and 1952 Olympic teams and ranked in the top 8 for four years. He held the national 110-meter hurdles record for 20 years and had the fastest time in the 220-meter hurdles in the world in 1952.
Schrader recalled getting invaluable advice from Weinberg on training and other coaches from whom to learn.
“At the age of 17, I’d coached three gold medalists in the state meet and a silver medal and two state records,” he said. “It never left me.”
He obtained American citizenship four years ago.
“I’m proud to be an American,” he said.
Schrader said he has spoken to 2004 Marble Falls High School graduate Leonel Manzano, who won the silver medal in the men’s 1,500 meters at the 2012 London Olympics, about being a bigger visual role model.
“Some of the kids don’t necessarily know who he is,” Schrader said. “When he won his medal at the Olympics … some of these kids were little tots at the time. He’s a great guy. I’ve got him on the radar to deal with some of the kids at a later point during the season before district.”
The coach has been working with Marble Falls High School head groundskeeper Mike Scearce on adding to the cross-country course, namely a 600-meter loop around the practice fields that’s grass and dirt and very similar to the district, regional, and state meet courses.
He credits Marble Falls Middle School coach Brenda Gonzales for the number of eighth-graders who are running.
“I’m looking at them as potential,” he said. “Will you be with me in four years? They’re slightly built, most of them. I want to make sure we develop a program from the ground up. We’ve got potential here, and we’ve got a great cross-country course.”
The high school team will race in the District 17-5A meet Saturday, Oct. 6, in Pflugerville.