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Beth Schield, pictured here with her daughter Anna, was named the Section 7A assistant coach of the year for cross country. She coaches the Two Harbors contingent of the Cook County/Two Harbors cooperative cross country team. 2010 file / Lake County News-Chronicle

Schield named assistant coach of the year

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A decade after initiating the cooperative cross country team between Cook County and Two Harbors, assistant coach Beth Schield is earning some recognition for her hard work.

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She was named the Section 7A assistant cross country coach of the year at the end of October, an honor awarded by her peers.

"There would be no Two Harbors program without her," assistant coach Chris Hegg said.

Schield has been a runner since high school, where she participated in track and cross country, but says she was "never very good." Her cross country coach made every team member feel important, though, whether they were coming in first or bringing up the rear -- a philosophy that stuck with Schield.

"The experience sort of changed my life. It boosted my confidence," she said.

She coached at her high school while she was attending college and continued to run afterwards. It was when she was settled in Indiana with her husband and young children that she again had the opportunity to coach. Her oldest son's school needed a track and cross country coach, so she signed on.

Then, the family moved to Two Harbors -- a town lacking a cross country team. Her son, a sophomore in high school, wanted to continue running so she approached the Cook County team about starting a cooperative. Hegg who was the head coach, agreed. He said the arrangement has worked out flawlessly.

Schield coaches the Two Harbors kids during the week and they meet with the rest of the team every Saturday for a long run.

"She is really dedicated to the kids and she's been very good taking direction from Grand Marais and translating and using it with kids at Two Harbors," Hegg said.

Not only does Schield translate the workouts for the kids -- she does them herself, right alongside the high schoolers. It's a unique philosophy that Schield learned from her high school coach; the Cook County team also values the approach. Hegg and head coach April Wahlstrom workout with the kids, too.

"Part of my coaching philosophy is to run with the kids because then I know what they're experiencing. I also race so they understand that I understand what that's like," she said.

As a team, the Vikings focus on three pillars -- having fun, building a team, and individual improvement. Schield embraced that credo.

"All of us want to provide the opportunity for the kids and think running is a great activity. Beth epitomizes that," Hegg said.

After her oldest son graduated, Schield's three younger kids joined the sport, so she kept on coaching. Her youngest daughter graduated last year, but Schield said she couldn't just leave this year's nine Two Harbors runners.

"It is really a volunteer gig that she's been doing for many years to make that program happen," Wahlstrom said.

Schield said running has taught her many valuable lessons and is the perfect biblical metaphor for going through life.

" ... that ability to keep going when things get difficult, to put one foot in front of the other, to do the best that you can and not worry about what everyone else is doing. It just builds character," she said.

Schield had to apply those lessons in 2009-10 when she had breast cancer. Treatment was a struggle, but she focused on getting through each day, even walking a mile or two after chemotherapy. As soon as her treatment ended, she was back to pounding the pavement.

That first post-chemo run was just a half-mile-- depressing for someone who had undertaken countless 5-kilometer races and much longer runs.

"It helped me as a coach," she said of having to start from scratch to rebuild endurance. "Getting yourself back up and running will take more mental fortitude than getting over the injury. It just takes time."

All four of her kids have gone on to compete in running at the college level and many of the students she's coached have caught the running bug, too.

"I think running is good for kids because everybody can do it ... because it can be a lifelong sport. You only need a pair of good running shoes and you can do it anywhere, anytime," Schield said.

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