Katie Kowal ’17 was awarded a Rhodes Scholarship this month, considered by many to be the most prestigious graduate scholarship in the world. Angie Epifano ’16 and Katharine Keith ’15 were Rhodes finalists in 2016 and Tamma Carleton ’09 became a Rhodes Scholar back in 2010. What do all of these accomplished alumnae have in common? They all ran track and cross country at Lewis & Clark.
Keith Woodard has been coaching at LC for 16 years. He has a distinct coaching philosophy which both Kowal and Carleton attribute to their success in track and in their personal and academic development.
“Keith instilled in our program that (track) is about building you into a better human and this is about you as a person,” Kowal said. “His rule before every race, and I really needed this because I get a little intense and achievement-oriented, was you get a hug before and after every race, no matter how you perform. That still makes me teary. Having that kind of leader and mentor to look up to, that’s how I approach every other situation with people and not forcing them into my picture of success.”
Kowal is among the top 10 all-time sprinters at LC in three events: the 100 meter, the 200 meter, and the 400 meter. She also led two relay teams, the 4x100m and the 4x400m, to top five all-time LC marks. She was captain of the men’s and women’s sprint events.
“I think that some of the qualities that go into making you an individual athlete are some of the same qualities that lead to being a top student,” Woodard said. “They’re self-motivated, they’re well-rounded, they are overachievers, they have all those kinds of qualities and they kind of translate back and forth (between sports and academics).”
Carleton explained that the LC track program enabled her to find a crucial balance between academics and athletics that allowed her to succeed in both.
“I was recruited by multiple D1 schools to run and chose LC for many reasons, because I wanted to emphasize academics, but also having a visit and understanding Keith’s philosophy was a really big part of it,” Carleton said. “He understands that we are all there because we want an outstanding education, but he also has the expertise to make you a national-class runner. So there was this combination of totally supporting you as a whole person and believing you can make this bar so his expectations for you are very high.”
A defining characteristic of Woodard’s coaching style is the support and flexibility he provides students. Both Kowal and Carleton suffered tremendous losses during their senior year. Kowal’s beloved physics mentor, Shannon O’Leary, with whom she was conducting research for her physics honors thesis, died in a car crash with her husband in December 2016. This loss, combined with a back injury she suffered in the weight room, led to Kowal deciding to quit track her spring semester of senior year.
“Keith was so close with me through that and he was like ‘you need to take care of yourself right now,’” Kowal said. “He never judged me. And I judged me so hard.”
Carleton explained how Woodard’s unconditional support for her in her personal life and in her athletic career helped her succeed after college.
“I lost my dad my senior year and I spent most of the time that I was going through that in Keith’s office,” Carleton said. “He’s also the person who made me work the hardest and push the hardest in my running career. So his ability to do both of those things for students who are changing and growing a lot in college is a really big part of how these people go on to go to Rhodes or these really big awards. You’re supported as an athlete and driven but you’re also supported in all these other aspects of yourself. A lot of the awards that we have been winning are not just about running or just about academics, they’re about the whole person, and I think Keith does a great job of acknowledging that people at Lewis & Clark are there to be multifaceted people, not just one or the other.”