Paula Schnurr’s journey to Cross-Country Coach of the Year
Photo C/O Maxine Gravina
When you are one of seven kids, there are not many activities that are easy for all seven kids to participate. For the Schnurr family, running was the one that worked.
At the age of seven years old, McMaster’s cross-country coach Paula Schnurr found herself in a running club for the first time. Joining the Burlington Running Club, Schnurr soon found out that she was actually quite good at the sport. Fast forward to university, and Schnurr got a spot on McMaster’s cross-country team.
“There's something about running that makes you feel good physically, mentally and emotionally, especially being a part of a team,” said Schnurr. “When I was at McMaster as a varsity athlete, I made lifelong friendships from being part of the team.”
Aside from the forever friends that running gave her, being able to continually challenge herself and the nature of competing is what Schnurr really fell in love with. Her competitive edge led her to make the national team and represent Canada at the 1992 and 1996 Olympics for the 1500m, as well as two World Championships. Schnurr went on to win a silver medal representing Canada at the 1994 Commonwealth Games.
When her time as a runner came to an end, Schnurr turned to coaching. Starting her tenure with McMaster in 2009, her expertise has guided the Marauders to great success. Most recently, the men’s team found success in the 2018 cross-country season, coming in first at the Ontario University Athletics Championship, and third at the U Sports National Championship.
Her team’s triumphs led her to be named the OUA Men's Cross-Country Coach of the Year, making her the first woman to ever win the award, and McMaster’s second recipient of the award ever.
“I was very honoured because it is an award that the coaches vote on,” said Schnurr. “Winning that award is really a reflection of the kind of athletes that are on our team. Because, when your athletes are winning, it makes your coaching look good. So I’m honoured on how lucky we are and that we have a great group of student-athletes.”
The group of men and women she has the honour of coaching are a tight-knit group who often compare themselves to a family rather than a team. For Schnurr and her assistant coach Peter Self, who also happens to be her husband, they can not exactly pinpoint why the student-athletes who join their program all mesh so well together, but they are grateful for a team that enjoys being together on and off the track.
“I guess it's a bit of a reflection on the people that we are. We try to make good decisions on treating people well, and when athletes show up and work well, we're going to reward them by helping them be the best athlete they can be,” said Schnurr. “We feel good that athletes, whether they're winning championships or just making personal times, can walk away after their time here and reflect that they had a great experience while at Mac.”
Although some couples may find it difficult to work together, the two retired professional runners find balance in both their differences and their passion for running.
“I mean, we do disagree on certain things when issues come up, but we have a lot of respect for each other. Pete is very good at making suggestions on how we can change things for the better,” said Schnurr. “He pays attention to more of the details, and I'm more focused on the athletes and managing them. I'm the day-to-day person that they see and interact with, but he's the support.”
Winning such a high honour as Coach of the Year and coming in first provincially and third nationally, the thought of pressure would stay at the back of most people’s minds, but not for Schnurr.
“I don't feel a lot of pressure but I know the men put a lot of the pressure on themselves,” said Schnurr. “ Will there be a bit of pressure next year? Probably, because they are the OUA-defending Champions, but that's okay because the pressure is what makes athletes better.”
Instead of worrying too much about next year, Schnurr and the team’s next focus is the 2019 indoor track season. Unlike the outdoor track season, team goals begin to shift to individual goals. Whether it's running a certain time or making nationals, the men’s team again have top contenders for doing well this season.
“Our women’s team is still young and developing, but it's the men who are looking towards making nationals, as well as our relay teams,” said Schnurr.
Using invitationals like the Don Wright Team Challenge that took place at the Western University this past weekend, and competitions in Michigan and Boston to compete against some of the top American runners, the Marauders are doing whatever it takes to stay sharp. This way, by the end of February for the OUA Championship, and the second week of March for the U Sports National Championships, they will be ready to hit the podium once again.