A Gold Medal at the Thorpe Cup, two athletes on the podium at the USA Track & Field Championships, hosting the world-record holder in the decathlon… it’s been that kind of year for the newly formed Santa Barbara Track Club.
At the reigns is Josh Priester, a multi-events coach with the vision of establishing Santa Barbara as an elite training destination for some of the world’s best track & field athletes.
“We are providing a home for young women and men to pursue their lifelong dream of competing for Team USA as well as other countries,” Priester said. “Perhaps some of our athletes will even realize their ambition of competing in the Olympic Games.”
One of those athletes is Barbara Nwaba, a former UCSB athlete who placed second at the USA Track & Field Championships in the heptathlon in June. Nwaba, a prospect for the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, continued a strong summer with a record-setting victory in Germany last week at the Thorpe Cup.
“What separates (Josh) from other coaches is his passion for the sport and his patience,” Nwaba explains. “He knows our potential and he really believes in us. I think that’s the most important part of a coach is having someone who believes in you.”
SPORTS FIGURE OF THE MONTH
Each Month, Presidio Sports recognizes a local sports figure
for their extraordinary contribution to the Santa Barbara
athletic community. It is our way to recognize those who
are making a lasting impact in our sports community,
whether it is an inspirational athletic performance,
a lifetime achievement award, or perhaps a great
example of leadership.
Santa Barbara Track Club began as the Women’s Athletic Performance Foundation in 2012, established to train elite female heptathlon athletes looking to compete at the international level. By opening up the program to male athletes and youth athletes, the Santa Barbara Track Club was born in 2013.
The notable accomplishments are already stacking up both near and far.
SBTC recently saw two of its athletes, Nwaba and Tom FitzSimons, record top-three finishes in the multi events at the USA Track & Field Championships. Lindsay Schwartz won the Sam Adams Invitational and earned a silver medal at the Pan American Multi-Events Cup in Canada. Nwaba, Schwartz and Megan Tice combined to win the team title at the Jim Bush Southern California & USATF West Region Championships.
SBTC has been finishing alongside, and in many cases defeating, athletes competing for Nike or Adidas, among others.
“Santa Barbara has a legacy in the decathlon and heptathlon through the work of Coach Sam Adams,” Priester said. “It is exciting that we can begin a new chapter for our community. My hope is that people in Santa Barbara will embrace the work we are doing throughout all levels of the club.”
SBTC’s effort to connect with the local Santa Barbara community has been expressed by establishing multiple All-Comers Meets at Westmont College this summer and hosting a summer youth camp. The idea is to increase the number of opportunities for the local track community to compete and interact while promoting the sport in general to those not exposed on a regular basis.
“Whether or not they choose to pursue track & field or athletics when they get older is really beside the point, I am confident that our programs inspire kids to dream and to make a connection between hard work and success,” Priester explained.
In the spring, SBTC helps bring Olympic champion and world-record holder Ashton Eaton to Santa Barbara to train.
“Having Ashton Eaton, Brianne Thiesen-Eaton, and coach Harry Marra come here and train for the past few years has been incredible. Because in addition to being great athletes, foremost, they are great people,” Priester said.
Eaton shares Priester’s passion for the sport and has been great at being available to local youth.
“It’s just about showing kids that there’s other options. If you don’t like basketball, volleyball or soccer, then there’s this other thing called track & field that you can do a lot of stuff in if you want,” Eaton told Presidio Sports earlier this year at Westmont.
“People see Lebron James or whatever on TV, and they want to be that guy. They don’t really see track & field on TV so they have no idols there.”
Eaton, the Lebron James of track & field, also said Santa Barbara was the perfect place to escape rainy Eugene, Oregon during the wet spring months.
“It’s been great for our preparation. We started in 2012, the year I won the Olympics, and I think I lend a lot of that to some decent training here.”
Priester helped establish the Sam Adams Combined Events Invitational at Westmont College, an event that has attracted some of the worlds best multi-event athletes, including Eaton.
“A number of Olympians, Olympic champions, world-record holders, national record holders so it’s turned out to be quite the event,” Priester said. “At the end of the day, people want to be here in Santa Barbara to train and to compete.”
Keegan Cooke, from Zimbabwe, decided to join SBTC this year and train with Priester.
“I was in the States but I didn’t have anywhere that I was based, so I was kind of moving all over the place hoping for a really good situation and this has turned out to be more than a really good situation,” Cooke said.
Find past Sports Figures of the Month HERE