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Monday, January 29, 2018

St. Ursula Track and Cross Country Coach Dan Bird

Inspiring Hundreds of Girls to be Courageous, Resilient and Passionate

By Julie Isphording

Coach Dan Bird volunteering with his St. Ursula Cross Country Team at the W & S Thanksgiving Day Race packet pick up at the Running Spot.  Meg Harsh, Sophia Garcia, Bird, Annie Jackson, Alexa Carlton and Lauren Fleming.

If you look, you can find extraordinary leaders in the most ordinary places.  
How about St. Ursula High School on a Monday afternoon and Tuesday afternoon and Wednesday afternoon and…?  That’s where head coach Dan Bird meets with over 90 high school girls to begin cross-country practice. He’s always there - every season of the year. He’s never late.  He’s never tired.  He’s never sitting.  He’s always smiling.  

His assistant coaches Kimberly Flynn, Danielle Meiners and Jeff Hileman join him, but the girls always turn to “Bird” for the important stuff.  
And Coach Bird always turns to the girls for his inspiration, determination and incredible results. 
“I want the girls to believe in themselves and do more than they think they can,” said Dan Bird.  “Some of that self-esteem and determination can come from me, but most of the time it comes from the whole team and the day-in-day-out practice.”
The daily running is usually a long trek down Madison Avenue in East Walnut Hills or over to the Withrow track in Hyde Park.  Each day is different, but all the days bring out the best in each of the girls.  
And, boy, do they look like they are having fun.

Dan Bird being interviewed by Mike Brown after his great performance at the Western & Southern
Thanksgiving Day 10k.
“I want them to be fearless and pretty darn ferocious at the meets, but kind and considerate on the run and off the run,” said Bird.
Coach Bird is completing his seventh year as Track and Field and Cross Country Head Coach for St. Ursula Academy, and his 19th year overall as a coach. He started running at the age 37 and found out quickly it was a sport he was passionate about.  He has a huge list of accomplishments, including the USAT&F National Championships, 20 marathons, three Boston Marathons and a huge list of local race age-group wins.  But at the end of the day, he will always go back to his coaching.   
“Being able to coach the team and run with the girls is very important to me, and it’s very fun,” he said. “I can challenge them and also see firsthand if they are having a good or bad day on a workout. As a coach this is valuable, I can adjust their training to be a bit more difficult or know when they need to back off.”
“Maybe it’s just me – but I love the fact that Bird is involved and caring enough to look at just one day at a time and do what makes sense,” said St. Ursula junior Lily Dunn of Mt. Lookout. “I know he’s looking out for more than just trying to fit in a single workout, but instead he focuses on more long term goals - like keeping us healthy and uninjured.” 

The coaches at St. Ursula Academy are committed to making all the sports at the high school a great experience for the girls.  “We want them to have fun and to get better at other things beyond sports,” said assistant coach Dani Meiners.
Playing any team sport is a great opportunity for the kids to learn about teamwork, discipline, courage, commitment and hard work.  The coaches who drive the spirit of this team also prioritize activities outside of training and running.
They all volunteer throughout Cincinnati as mentors, workers and tutors. Many of the girls volunteered at the Western & Southern Thanksgiving Day Race helping at packet pick-up at the Running Spot, giving out medals at the McDonalds Kids Run and cleaning up after the race.

“Helping the girls see the team as a family and doing many team bonding and family activities makes for better people,” said Bird. “I want the friendships the girls develop on this team to carry on well beyond graduation.” 
The parents praise the program and the coaches and stay involved, too.  
“I love having my daughter around such positive role models - the coaches and the other girls.  Sophia has learned so much about teamwork and discipline and attitude,” said Marge Garcia who volunteered alongside her daughter at the race packet pick-up day. “She is really having fun and so am I.” 

The cross country program has never been judged on win-loss records, but rather on teaching good attitudes, implanting character, fair play and good sportsmanship and, most importantly, teaching young women to live up to their potential – no matter what it might be. 
“Everyone cannot be the star, but everyone can contribute in their own way to the team,” said Bird.  “I think when the girls see the results of their hard work, they gain a sense of pride and accomplishment in themselves and each other.”

St. Ursula Academy freshman Sophia Garcia, coached by Dan Bird, finishes her first cross country meet.
Look at that smile!
Many coaches will tell you it’s hard to make a great athlete out of a person who isn't potentially great; but, on the other hand, it’s always possible to make a great competitor out of anyone who wants to work hard enough. This builds leadership which, in turn, can lead to a great future, which is way more significant than wins and losses. 
In the real world, real leaders are ordinary people with extraordinary determination. 
Beyond running and coaching, Dan and his wife Deb - who is also a runner - have two adult children, Dan and Lindsey, and a granddaughter, Annabelle. He also works at Good Samaritan Hospital with the same drive and commitment. 

He never sits down. He never sits still.

If you could write a thank you letter to one of the coaches in your life, 
what would it say?

- You taught me how to believe in myself.   

- You taught me more than just skills and strategy.  You taught me how to master hardship, rebound from failures, trust my teammates, good sportsmanship, honesty and integrity.

- You taught me how to keep the game in perspective.  

- You took the time to get to know me as a person and took an interest in my life beyond my athleticism.   

- You were flexible and strong at the same time.  When I didn’t respond to your coaching, you tried another way. 

- You carefully listened.  

- You were a role model - always inspiring, always inspired.

- You handled big issues quickly -  like bullying, ostracism and petty jealousies - so we always felt safe. 

- You pushed us outside our comfort zone physically, mentally and emotionally, and then helped us discover that, in fact, we can do better than we first believed.  

- You challenged yourself.  

- You were passionate about coaching. 

- You were honest and full of character and class in everything you did. 

- You made it fun. 

- You instilled in us the understanding that mistakes and failures are nothing more than feedback about what we did wrong and, specifically, about what we need to do differently next time. 

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