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10 Questions with Tolsma's Last Disciples

May 5, 2020  Lynchburg, Va.  RSS
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Brant Tolsma coaches Michael Ginder in the pole vault.

Brant Tolsma coaches Michael Ginder in the pole vault.

Brant Tolsma's 34-year run as Liberty's track & field head coach is coming to an end, with Lance Bingham scheduled to officially take over as the Flames' Director of Track & Field and Cross Country on Monday (May 11).

Tolsma announced his retirement on Feb. 29 at the conclusion of the ASUN Indoor Track & Field Championships at the Liberty Indoor Track Complex, a meet which proved to be his last as head coach. Liberty swept the ASUN men's and women's team titles, bringing Tolsma's final total to 116 conference championships at Liberty.

Multi events have been at the heart of Liberty's program throughout Tolsma's tenure as head coach, as he saw eight decathletes earn All-America honors. During his final years as head coach, Tolsma spent a majority of his time coaching the Flames' youthful group of multi-event athletes.

Four of Tolsma's "last disciples," including sophomore heptathletes Jamie Gray and Abby Thorpe and freshman multis Michael Ginder and Myiah Scott, recently took the time to answer 10 questions about their retiring head coach.

1) Coach Tolsma has coached a lot of successful multi-event athletes over the years. What makes him a successful multis coach?
Jamie Gray - What makes Tolsma such a successful multis coach is that he has done all the events himself and knows his athletes very well. It gets tiring doing all the different events sometimes, and he knows when we need a few minutes to joke around and laugh to get our energy back up.

Abby Thorpe - I think that Coach Tolsma is such a successful multis coach because he's done it all! He knows how much time and endless hours multis put into their events, and he understands the victories and struggles that we face.

Michael Ginder - Coach does a great job balancing a good time and fun with hard work and getting things done. That balance creates a great environment to really improve and enjoy doing it. He also is amazingly technical with nearly every event. On my very first visit and meeting with him, he was explaining in-depth sprinting technique and mechanics to maximize our potential. That's how it is with every event. He just has so much knowledge for every event and how you can do things in the best possible way.

Myiah Scott - What makes Coach Tolsma such a successful multi coach is his approach to motivate, to bring out the best in each of his athletes and coaches, and his knowledge of the sport from an athlete's perspective. He saw my potential in a way that I could never on my own. He would push me out of my comfort zone and have such an encouraging mentality. Because of this I was able to accomplish way more than I thought I could. I think since Coach Tolsma has competed in the multi, it gives him an extra edge in the sense that he knows how to put athletes in an environment that they can thrive in. Coach Tolsma understands the mental aspect of the multi. His coaching style is so successful because he keeps a positive environment for training and doesn't add unnecessary additional pressure. He coaches in such a way that keeps the environment relaxed, yet competitive. He would tell us personal stories and stories from other athletes about how when stress is added or when you try too hard, mistakes are made. He would always tell us when you tell someone not to foul, that is when they foul.

2) What are some of the most important lessons you have learned from him as a multi?
Jamie Gray - As a multi, one of the biggest things I've learned from him is that your career as an athlete is mostly up to you and God. Only you can control the work that you put into your training and trust that God is the one who brings results. Another big thing that he taught me was that workouts are supposed to be hard. They do not get easier because you get better!

Abby Thorpe - Some of the most important lessons I have learned from Coach Tolsma would be that your body is capable of way more than what you think it is, and how everything is temporary. I can remember running workouts when I had no idea how I was going to get through them. And then we would have to do these same workouts the next week, but faster! Sometimes it felt overwhelming but being able to see results that come from your hard work is always very rewarding. With that being said, another valuable lesson I learned is that everything is temporary. Coach Tolsma had mentioned this to me sometime during my freshman year. He talked about how everything "comes to pass." It doesn't matter if it's the worst performance of your life or the best, it's only temporary. Because it doesn't matter if it's your worst performance or your best performance, you're going to want to keep getting better. This whole mindset really helped me get through without having to feel so much pressure. All I can do is my best and that's all that Coach Tolsma asked from the multis.

Michael Ginder - I learned how important doing the little things right is.

Myiah Scott - The most important lesson I have learned from Coach Tolsma as a multi is to never take anything for granted. Every Tuesday was our hardest workout day. There was one Tuesday workout I remember when Coach told us, that as we run this workout think of the person who will never get the opportunity to run. Think of the man without legs. Run this rep as if you are him given the opportunity to run after not being able to. Imagine how excited you would be for the opportunity to run. I think this lesson applies to many different aspects of life. It has encouraged me to do everything whole heartedly, with a positive mindset, and a grateful outlook. It is important not to take things for granted as you never know what may happen in the future.

3) What are some of the most important things you learned from him about life in general?
Jamie Gray - One of the biggest things that Coach Tolsma taught me about life is that a life that is led by Christ is so much better. Being in the Word of God changes your heart and being in the Word is one of the most impactful and important things you can do with your time.

Abby Thorpe - Coach Tolsma really liked to laugh. He would always quote Proverbs 17:22: "A joyful heart is like good medicine to the soul." It didn't matter what our day consisted of, we always were laughing and having a good time.

Michael Ginder - It sounds basic, but Coach teaching about the importance of reading the Bible and memorizing scripture has changed my life this year. I never read the Bible at all before joining the team, and he motivated me to do that and also got me started on memorizing scripture. Where last semester it was a task, now it is something that has changed the way I live my life and think. 

Myiah Scott - The most important thing that I've learned from Coach Tolsma is to always put trust in God and to lean on Him through all situations. Coach Tolsma is such a God-driven individual, who is an inspiration. Coach Tolsma demonstrates what it means to be a follower of Christ through his actions and words. In my short time with Coach Tolsma I saw the amazing things that Christ was able to do within the program. By seeing these things I realized that this carries over to life outside of track. I was able to learn more about the true power of prayer, being invested into scripture, and how it really does transform your entire life.

4) Do you have a favorite Coach Tolsma story?
Jamie Gray - My favorite memory about Coach Tolsma would probably have to be when we were throwing javelin balls against the wall in the indoor track and one of the balls got stuck in one of the metal beams that was about 20 feet off of the ground. While we were busy laughing about the predicament, Coach Tolsma had taken matters into his own hands and climbed up on the beam to get the ball. By the time we looked up he was already halfway across the beam, so we did what any supportive training group would do, and got a crash pad from the pole vaulters and carried it under him as he made his way back across the beam. I remember Coach Pete saying, "Who let him get up there???" and we just laughed.

Abby Thorpe - Something funny that I remember about Coach Tolsma was how someone had given him a fidget spinner last year and he was obsessed with it. He took it everywhere he went and was always spinning it. On our spring break trip last year the whole bus ride consisted of him giving it one big whirl and then he would bust out his timer to see how long he could get it to go, and of course if anyone could beat his record. One time Coach Tolsma seriously came up to me saying how he calculated that if my hair hypothetically weighed five pounds and we shaved my head, theoretically I would be able to jump two inches higher in the high jump. There are honestly too many stories to name but there are a lot!

Michael Ginder - So many good stories, but it was one of the first weeks we were in the weight room and doing this exercise called a pullover. I'm not a small guy but 70-year-old Coach hopped right in and did 20 more pounds than me! Quite a humbling experience, and it gave me my first taste of Coach's insane level of fitness.

Myiah Scott - I love when Coach Tolsma tells stories about the track program. It's incredible because he basically built the program into what it is today. My favorite Tolsma story is when he told us about the old indoor track named the "Tolsma Track Center." I was fascinated by the fact that he designed it all by himself with his engineering skills. When it was time to build the new indoor track, they tore down the old indoor track. As they were demolishing the old track, an article was written and the headline was "Tolsma is being gutted." We were outside and he did an impersonation of himself getting gutted. The reason I love this story so much is because of his passion for the track and field program. Although the old Tolsma Track Center was gutted, an incredible facility was made and it is something that he is very proud of.

5) Do you have a favorite Coach Tolsma quote?
Jamie Gray - My favorite Coach Tolsma quote was from a practice when we were throwing shot put. After I threw one he said, "Ya know, it's really impressive how far you threw that considering how many things you're doing wrong." I remember not knowing if I should have taken it as a compliment or not, but we just laughed it off.

Abby Thorpe - "It's not pain, it's just a chemical reaction in your body." "Yeah, this isn't a fun workout today." "I can't wait until I can be in Heaven so my body will be able to bend like that again."

Michael Ginder - "She probably would've been better off if she had married me."

Myiah Scott - My favorite Coach Tolsma quote is "No one has ever died from a tough Tuesday workout." Tuesday was our hardest workout day of the week. Every week he would remind us that nobody had died from one. It was our weekly reminder that we would get through Tuesday alive!

6) Does a specific Bible verse come to mind when I mention Coach Tolsma's name?
Jamie Gray - Hebrews 12;1-2a: "Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith." This verse reminds me of Coach Tolsma because his life is a great testament of throwing off the things of this world that weigh us down and running toward Jesus as hard and fast as he can.

Abby Thorpe - Matthew 6:33: "Seek first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness, and He will give you everything you need." This verse comes to mind when I think of Coach Tolsma because he always put Jesus first. I think that's why he was such a successful coach. He knew that his purpose in life was to show others the love of Jesus. He did that in everything whether it was his team, his family or his colleagues.

Michael Ginder - Proverbs 17:22a: "A cheerful heart is good medicine!" During a hard workout or especially long practice where I/we wanted to quit, you could always count on Coach to say or do something to make you laugh and feel better.

Myiah Scott - 2 Timothy 4:7: "I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith."

7) If you had three words to describe Coach Tolsma, what would they be?
Jamie Gray - Storyteller, impactful and diligent

Abby Thorpe - Wise, witty and competitive

Michael Ginder - A jovial wise jokester

Myiah Scott – Wise, humble and gracious

8) What was your reaction when Coach Tolsma announced his retirement to the team?
Jamie Gray - I was so shocked. I was so sad when he announced that he was retiring because of the huge impact that he has had on my life, not only athletically, but spiritually and emotionally. I was happy for him because I could tell how much peace he had about the decision and how much he is looking forward to his next season of life.

Abby Thorpe - I was very shocked when I found out that this was Coach Tolsma's last season with us. I think that it was in the back of everyone's mind just because he had been coaching for so long, but I didn't think it was going to be this year. I was very happy for him and sad all at once. It was a bittersweet moment and he came to reassure the multis that we would all be in great hands, and that we would be seeing him around the track still.

Michael Ginder - I was shocked and about cried. I figured it was coming in a few years but not right now. It was very shocking.

Myiah Scott - I was mesmerized by Coach Tolsma's speech about all of the reasons he was happy about winning the conference titles for the men's and women's team. Coach announcing his retirement was his final reason as to why he was happy about winning the conference championship. I was caught off guard. I was shocked. I was so emotional, tears started streaming down my face. All of the memories from the year started coming to me. Even though I had only worked with Coach Tolsma for seven months, I couldn't imagine what next year would hold without this great and inspiring leader.

9) What will you miss about working with Coach Tolsma on a daily basis?
Jamie Gray - The thing that I will miss about Coach Tolsma being my coach is the stories that he would tell us. Almost every day, Coach would tell us a new story about either his life before being a track coach, or stories of different athletes on the team before we got there. They were so fun to listen to and laugh about with him.

Abby Thorpe - I'm going to miss getting told the brutally honest truth all the time. I will miss laughing throughout practices, and most of all I will miss being under his leadership and being able to be a part of his ministry.

Michael Ginder - His happy nature. His constant jokes and ability to make fun of us in a way that was still loving. His ability to combine that with serious life lessons and what's really important.

Myiah Scott - There are so many things I am going to miss about working with Coach Tolsma. I am going to miss talking to Coach Tolsma every day, because he always had the wisest advice and the best stories. He was such an amazing mentor because of the way he motivated, guided and encouraged me. Each and every practice was so fun and special. Practice never felt like work because of the positive, energetic and Christ-centered environment Coach Tolsma created. I'm going to miss him always getting on me for talking too much. There would be days at practice where we would get so deeply into a conversation and for some reason it was always at shot put. I would still be talking in the ring and Coach would say SCRATCH, and all my teammates would join in saying you took up your 10 seconds. So that became the joke when we were working on shot put.

10) What does it mean to you to be part of the last group of multi-event athletes ever coached by Coach Tolsma?
Jamie Gray - I think it is a pretty cool group to be a part of. We got to see Coach Tolsma as he was giving it all he had for his last season as a coach. It means the world to me that I got the opportunity to be coached by him during my college career. 

Abby Thorpe - I am very thankful to have been able to be a part of the last group that Coach Tolsma trained. It means so much to me and I will forever hold all the memories in my heart.

Michael Ginder - I honestly just think of it as such a blessing that I was able to even have one year with him and get to really know him as a person. I know I would've heard plenty of stories if he wasn't here but it just wouldn't have been the same. Such a blessing!

Myiah Scott - Being part of Coach Tolsma's last group was something historical. It's something really special and is something I will forever be grateful for. Being placed under Coach Tolsma was 100 percent God working in a way that I could have never imagined. I was initially placed in the hurdles group. Through divine intervention and a smart coach, I was moved to the multi group. This transition was way more amazing than I could have ever imagined. Coach Tolsma made me feel welcome and part of the group from day one. I learned so much in such a short time. Being part of his group will have a life-long impact on me. Coach Tolsma has so much knowledge and many stories that he has acquired over all of his years of competing and coaching. By the time it was my turn to train under him, he basically had the art perfected. I'm so fortunate and blessed to have been given the opportunity to train under Coach Tolsma.