Sporting Life

The end of a long, fine run

Bruce Fellman is a former managing editor of the Yale Alumni Magazine.

Julie Brown

Julie Brown

Mark Young ’68 has coached at Yale since 1980. In 2008, when his position was endowed by an anonymous donor, he became the first Mark T. Young ’68 Director of Cross Country and Track and Field. View full image

Late at night on October 4, 2003, a high school distance runner named Lindsay Donaldson, who was visiting Yale to decide whether to apply, was watching baseball with her host, runner Vanessa Mazandi '05. When Trot Nixon of the Red Sox smacked a walk-off homer in the 11th, Mazandi called another Sox fan to share the joy: "She picked up the phone and called Mark Young, the coach of the women's track team," says Donaldson. The time? A little before midnight. "The fact that she would—and could—call Coach told me everything I'd need to know about what running here was going to be like," says Donaldson. She came to Yale with the Class of 2008 (and had a stellar career).

Next year, running will be different. Young, who has headed the women's track and cross country teams since 1980 and inspired decades' worth of Yale runners, is calling it a career. "When I was an undergraduate, I lived in Stiles and could look out my window and see Ray Tompkins House, where my office has been for 31 years," says Young, who graduated in the Class of 1968. "So in my life, I guess I haven't made much progress. You could say I've moved only about 50 or 60 feet."

In fact, Young's career has taken at least two giant leaps: in the 1970s, he was a teacher and then a lawyer. But he was also the volunteer coach for a women's track club. "I realized that I needed to be a professional at one thing or the other," he says, "so I gave myself a year to find a real coaching job."

Yale had an opening, and thus began Young's long run. Along the way, his teams won six Heptagonal cross country championships and snared four ECAC titles in cross country. He was named national cross country coach of the year in 1987, and he helped lead the U.S. Olympic track team at the 2000 summer games in Sydney, Australia. Nineteen of his runners have achieved All-America status in cross country, 17 in track.

One of the best was Kate O'Neill '03, an All American seven times and a member of the 2004 U.S. Olympic team in the 10,000 meters. O'Neill, still an elite runner, credits Young with helping her both to achieve success and to set life priorities. "Coach does a remarkable job of finding the perfect balance between intensity and fun," says O'Neill. "And he's a great role model. Remember, coaching is a second career for him and one he took a huge risk to achieve. Sometimes, when we were at the golf course getting ready for a run, he'd be smiling, even on a miserable day, telling us how happy he was to be outside doing something he loved. It was a terrific life lesson about following your passion."

When his Yale stint ends, Young will be moving to Massachusetts. True to form, he plans to look for new coaching challenges there. "I'm every bit as enthusiastic about working with runners as I've ever been," he says.  

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