Aged 94 and 79, coaches still leading track program

Cameron Smith

To say that George Rowswell and Kay Thomas have been coaching track and field for a long time is an understatement. After all, when Rowswell first started, Franklin Roosevelt was still in the White House.

North Thurston track coaches Kay Thomas and George Rowswell

That fact alone qualifies the duo for special recognition in 2011, as they complete a 70th season on the track sidelines. What's more impressive, however, is that since 1956 the two have coached at the same school together.

According to Gail Woods of the Tacoma News Tribune, Rowswell first met Thomas in 1956, when both first arrived on the campus of North Thurston (Wash.) High. They've stayed there ever since, Rowswell both working across disciplines. Thomas, who is now 79, even continues to occasionally give demonstrations of how to correctly compete in the hurdles or other events.

Rowswell, 90, is now too old to walk without the help of a walker or a wheelchair, but he continues to prowl the sidelines every afternoon and offer encouragement to discus, javelin and shot put throwers or runners of any distance, whether on wheel or foot. That those athletes are more than 70 years his junior hardly affects his ability to connect with them.

"I love the kids," Rowswell told the News Tribune. "They've changed over the years. But down deep they're still the same.

"It's always been about teaching kids principles. It's about teaching them how to handle life. That's what keeps me coming back."

Thomas' connection to his budding pupils is just as strong, with his goal at the end of the day to see North Thurston athletes surprised in their own progress.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the current North Thurston head track coach was once a star pupil of the men who are now his assistants. Coach Brett Warner was a star runner in the 1970s, and says that Rowswell and Thomas' instruction during his own track career was inspiring, just as their presence is today.

Clearly, current North Thurston athletes feel the same way about the two octogenarians.

"They both know a lot," said Caleb Richards, a junior who throws the shot, discus and javelin.

"I think everyone respects what they say. They always have stories to tell us. Everything they say really helps me a lot."

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