“Why don’t we win the state championship?”
It was a question worth asking, especially in 1994.
The girls’ cross country team at University High School had not claimed a single state title up to that point. And then newly hired Jim Tracy, merely an assistant coach 19 years ago, showed up.
Tracy, a high-caliber Bay Area runner himself in his prep and collegiate day, answered his own question.
“I realized that when talent comes your way, you ought to be able to recognize it,” he said, winning his, as well as his team’s, first state title two years into his University coaching career. “I think that’s a key thing.”
So he recognized and developed that talent.
University has 10 Division V titles now, the most in California cross country history — every one of them under Tracy.
And having qualified for the CIF Cross Country State Championships in Fresno on Saturday with a labored fourth-place finish in last week’s North Coast Section meet, Tracy and his girls will have a shot at an unprecedented — yet unlikely — fifth straight and 11th overall state crown.
“Unfortunately for my team this year, my star runners really have graduated,” said Tracy, realistically aiming for a third-place finish. “And I’m at the point now where I’m developing some runners, but they’re pretty far down the pipeline.”
Some of those runners include junior and No. 1 runner Grace Euphrat Weston, freshman Simone Jacob, Mika Takamori and Lucy Daro.
But to develop, time is needed. And time Tracy may not have. He was diagnosed with ALS in 2010, an incurable and unpredictable nerve disease that cripples all things physical in the body.
“I’m just one guy of many who’s been saddled with this nuisance disease,” said the 63-year-old Tracy. “If I can survive track season, I might be ready for cross country [next year], but the truth is, if track season takes too much out of me, this could be my last season. This could be it.”
Robbed of his ability to run or walk, Tracy sits in a wheelchair now. He makes every meet, but the progression of his disease has forced him to bring in three assistant coaches, as well as his successor, Carin Marrs.
“I have acquired this gal to do a lot of the things that I don’t have the energy to do,” Tracy said. “She is basically going to take over as soon as I tell them I can’t get out of bed in the morning.”
But rise by himself he still can. And talk he still can — something that 30 percent of people in his state can’t do. And for the moment, coach he still can.
“I think I’m a tough coach in that I want everyone to not waste their time. And to not think that there’s going to be a free ride somewhere,” he said. “I do make them face the reality that what they are doing is going to give them the results that will make their life different. Make their life special.”