Just for Fun

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A Cupola Dozen: Donn Behnke '75

Donuts. Roses. Many enjoyable things come in twelves. That includes the new Q&A feature, A Cupola Dozen. The second installment presents Donn Behnke ’75, legendary coach of the Stevens Point Area High School Boy's Cross Country Team.

1. New Year’s Eve party or quiet celebration at home?
Given that I don’t think I’ve ever attended a New Year’s Eve party, I’ll have to go with a quiet evening at home.

2. Favorite class(es) while at Point, and why
I  enjoyed several of my English classes, but history classes were my favorites. There is nothing quite like listening to great lecturers and storytellers like professors Wick, Walker and Wrone, among others from the UWSP History Department.

3. Best thing about having been a Pointer athlete
I really appreciate the fact that I was able to pursue my passion for distance running, meet a lot of very interesting people and build some lifelong friendships. I have great memories of road trips in the “Blue Goose” and the “Green Weenie,” being part of a conference champion track team in ’73 and having the chance to run in the national track meet that same year. The brown bag lunches were pretty sweet too.

4. What might you write in a letter addressed to yourself as a Pointer in the 1970s?
I would definitely want to remind myself that my struggles in the classroom  and my many failures as an athlete would serve me well in my career as a teacher and coach. I would also want to tell myself that despite a huge amount of evidence to the contrary, I would one day morph into a reasonably normal human being, have a very successful career and a wonderful, loving family.

5. If you moved to a remote island for a year, what three to five books would you take with you to pass the time?
For some reason, the first book that came to mind was “Lord of the Flies.” Beyond that I’d say anything by Kurt Vonnegut or Stephen Ambrose. I’d also have to take a copy of Harry Potter because I once promised one of my students that I’d read it if I were ever sentenced to prison or stranded on a desert island. I’d also want to take a copy of the book I wrote about my favorite coaching story. It’s called “The Animal Keepers” (shameless plug) and it’s available on Amazon, Barnes and Nobel, and directly from me.

 6. Recommended/go-to pre-race meal
I never really had a favorite pre-race meal. I pretty much ate whatever they served up at the Debot Center and followed it up with eight or nine root beer floats and a half pan of Rice Krispies treats. I will admit to having six Snickers bars and six Cokes before a race once, but that was definitely a failed experiment.

7. Shorts or sweatpants for training?
Having run thousands of miles in the baggy and highly abrasive gray sweatpants we were issued back in the 70’s, I would definitely go with shorts, hopefully of the nylon variety.

8. Favorite method(s) for avoiding “bonk”
We didn’t have things like sports drinks, supplements and power bars when I was running competitively, so we simply packed in 8,000 calories a day and assumed our blood sugar level would carry us through. We did try carbohydrate loading at one time, but we found it really wasn’t very helpful at any distance short of a marathon.

9. Coming in first or posting a personal best?
As an athlete who never actually won a race in high school or college, like so many runners, a personal best was always my goal and the best I could hope for.

10. Which past/present athlete(s) do you admire, and why?
As a young person I really looked up to Bart Starr from the Packers and Bill Russel of the Celtics. I admired them for their athletic ability but even more so for their leadership skills, the way they lived their lives, how they conducted themselves on and off the field of play and the fact that they were not just “dumb jocks.” I also looked up to my brother Glenn (a college All-American and national champion) who showed me that even those of us who are not all that physically gifted can be successful if they are persistent and dedicated enough. It’s a lesson I’ve passed on to hundreds of runners during my 47 years of coaching.

11. What would you do with your winnings if you hit the lottery?
I might be inclined to splurge on a 14-foot fishing boat with a 5 HP outboard and a trolling motor, and take my family on a trip to Europe, but I’d also want to do a few nice things for the community of Stevens Point. I’d start by adding some scholarships to the one I already have in my name at the Community Foundation of Portage County, and then do something to upgrade the athletic facilities at our high school and UWSP in the hope that future generations might have the kind of educational and athletic experience that were such big, important parts of my life.

12. What do you feel it takes to “go the distance,” in running and life?
This one is really a big old soft ball right down the middle for me. As I tell all my runners, it’s important to surround yourself with good people who will accept you for what you are, appreciate you and bring out the best in you. As my brother showed me, success is found by those who set their goals, form a solid, well thought-out plan and have the determination and stubbornness to stick to that plan. As I frequently remind my runners, what’s best for you is not always what’s easy, and what’s easy is not always best.