Two traits quickly became clear about UR women’s cross country and track and field coach Barb Hartwig when I got a chance to sit down and talk with her this past week.
First of all, the Wisconsin native has a candidness that is too often hard to find. When I asked about her life growing up in the Midwest and her experience as a coach, her answers were honest. She made no effort to hide the fact that a year-round coaching position can be exhausting at times ‘By 6:30 p.m. on Friday, I’m toast.” and talked genially about her experience in high school running with the men’s cross country team.
‘I think with title IX they knew they had to give me a chance,” Hartwig explained with a smile. ‘And what can I say, I’m stubborn.”
The second characteristic that immediately struck me about the Midwesterner was how passionate she is about cross country and track. Hartwig’s career as a runner and now as a coach has been a testament to the concept of doing something because it’s what you love to do. When she described how she originally had to join the boy’s cross country team in high school because her school didn’t have a women’s team, Hartwig claimed it was never about anything more than the simple fact that she loved the sport.
‘I didn’t want to make a statement,” she said. ‘I just wanted to run.”
Hartwig grew up on a dairy farm, where, she claimed, ‘I got used to hard work.” She started running at a young age, which she joked was more out of necessity than anything else.
‘I always had older brothers who chased me,” she said. ‘So, in order to save my life, I needed to run fast.”
In high school, she joined the track and field team and competed with the men’s cross country team for one fall before her school created a women’s team. By that time, Hartwig was hooked. After graduating high school, she went on to run for the cross country team at the University of Wisconsin La Crosse.
‘I had no idea what I was getting into,” she explained. ‘I just knew that I had really gotten the cross country bug and knew I could be a lot better if I just had the opportunities and more preparation and everything. And it was true I just got better every year.”
Hartwig went on to teach for six years after she graduated and then got a master’s degree in athletic administration from Ohio State University. In 1988, she migrated from the Midwest to the East to try her hand in coaching at UR.
‘I loved teaching, but I wanted to go to the next level and see if coaching full-time is as interesting as it looked,” she said. ‘And it is.”
In her 20th season as a Yellowjacket, it is clear that Hartwig has really found her niche. Twice in 1990 and 1991 her track and field team has won University Athletic Association titles. Last season, both cross country and track completed incredibly successful seasons. The indoor track team won the New York State Indoor Championship and the cross country team sent an individual to the NCAA National Cross Country Championships.
And even after all these years, she has still not lost enthusiasm or sight of why she began running the sport in the first place. In 2006, Hartwig’s passion for the sport inspired her to take over as president of the United States Track and Field and Cross Country Coaches Association a challenge that has proven to be extremely rewarding for her.
‘You really learn a lot, and you learn a lot about yourself and how you react in certain situations,” Hartwig said about the leadership position.
It has been a fulfilling journey forHartwig, who has made a career out of her passion a passion that has manifested into a deep appreciation for not only what her runners are capable of, but also what she is capable of accomplishing.
Hilfinger is a member of the class of 2010.