Interview: Bob Koppenol

The men’s and women’s cross country coach on ditching Wall Street, being bitten by the running bug and how he got the coaching gig.

Since his arrival in 2009, Koppenol has produced the first Drew runner to compete in an NCAA championship.

Since his arrival in 2009, Koppenol has produced the first Drew runner to compete in an NCAA championship.

By Christopher Hann

Tell me about your background on Wall Street. I started out of college with Merrill Lynch and moved on to Morgan Stanley. By the time I left I was managing director and chief compliance officer for North and South America.

Why did you quit? After 27 years, I just reached a point where I think I’d accomplished what I wanted to.

You opened a store, Starting Line Sports, in January 2006. Was that your intention when you left Wall Street? Yes. I think we brought something to the Madison area that we never had. We do running shoes, running clothing, swimwear, goggles, swimsuits and clothing for triathlons.

When did you start running? I ran in high school, both cross country and track. I was bitten by the bug early on. It was one of those things where training became part of your lifestyle.

How did you start coaching at Drew? When my kids were little we’d pop over to campus and watch soccer and basketball games. I got to know the coaches and athletic trainers. We had a lot in common in terms of philosophy. When the cross country job opened up, they asked if I knew anyone qualified. I said yes—me.

Last season was your most successful since you started coaching in 2009, with Jennifer Van Wingerden becoming the first Drew runner to compete in the NCAA championship. That must feel good. You feel very proud. I think one of the most rewarding things is seeing the improvement that the kids make. Week by week, virtually everyone was setting their personal records.

What are your goals for Drew’s cross country program? I would like to get more runners into the program, to see them enjoy the sport and just grow the program.

Do Drew runners shop at your store? (Laughs) It’s not a requirement. Some do, some don’t.

Do they get discounts? A small discount. We’ve got to be careful. We don’t want to violate any NCAA rules.

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