The Team Behind the Team: Volunteer Assistant Dusty Lopez
Dusty Lopez

Sept. 12, 2013

During each week of competition throughout the cross country season, we will highlight a member of our support staff that helps the Wolverines succeed on and off the course!

Meet Volunteer Assistant Coach Dusty Lopez:

How did you get involved in distance running and eventually coaching?
I got involved with running when my parents took up road racing. I was in elementary school and enjoyed doing the 5Ks and fun runs for kids. Then in high school, with about 45 kids in the whole school, everyone did every sport, and it turned out that I was better at running than anything else. Even so, I was not good enough to be heavily recruited, so running at Williams in Division III gave me an opportunity to continue with the sport. I was also fortunate to have great coaches in high school and college who mentored and encouraged me in the sport.

When I graduated in 2001, running had become a big enough part of my life that I considered coaching and gradually worked into a graduate assistant position at Syracuse to coaching at my alma mater and then to a head coaching job at a very small, developmental Division III program in Saint Louis. When my wife, who grew up in Toledo, Ohio, got a job opportunity in this area, we moved here and I contacted coach Gibby about the possibility of helping out with his team. He was good enough to let me be part of the program, and I hope to be part of it for a long time.

What do you enjoy most about your job?
Coaching here allows me to be part of a team that is very serious about getting better. The leaders of this group are very familiar with difficult training, and yet complacency is not part of the mindset in the locker room. Instead, what you find is an intense focus on being ready to make progress every single day. It is great to see how that is communicated and passed on to the younger guys. And almost needless to say, everyone on the roster takes a good deal of pride in representing the University of Michigan. Being around this group and trying to contribute something on a daily basis is by far the most rewarding part of my work, and I'm grateful to coach Gibby for giving me the opportunity to assist here.

What is the biggest challenge in your job?
The biggest challenge for me is to keep life balanced. Everyone here works hard and the hours can be long and sometimes unpredictable. My wife and I have three young daughters, and the weekends and afternoons are very busy times both at home and for team. Like anyone else, I often wish I could be in more than one place at the same time.

What makes working for Michigan special?
The spirit shown by everyone associated with Michigan Athletics is really amazing. From coaches to administrative staff to fans, it is an incredibly committed, and very large, group of people. When you combine that with the tremendous resources and support available to Michigan coaches and student-athletes, it is easy to see why the words "leaders and best" have such meaning around here.

What do you tell prospective student-athletes about what makes Michigan cross country great?
I tell them that the experience they will have here is truly singular. We talk about how Michigan offers objectively outstanding academic possibilities in every area of study. That is not an idea made up as a marketing concept; it's a fact reflected in the high rankings earned by so many of the academic departments here. And from the perspective of athletics, it is just great to be a Michigan Wolverine. From coast to coast, people recognize the block M. In just my first year traveling with the team, from Virginia to Southern California, I saw people asking for pictures with the team, drivers shouting "Go Blue" out their car window as we ran by, and people wanting to sing "The Victors" with us. Carrying the banner for Michigan is the clearest lesson many student-athletes will get about being part of something larger than themselves.

What is your favorite memory from your Michigan coaching career?
I haven't been at Michigan all that long, and I don't think anyone would say we've reached our goals yet from a competitive standpoint. It's fun and encouraging to watch individuals run to new personal records, but so far the team memories dominate. It's a special feeling at training camp as everyone comes together for the first time to open a season, or after a particularly challenging workout or long run when everyone has come through and taken another step forward in their development, and that feeling is what I will remember best.

What is your favorite memory from you own running career?
There are so many great memories that it's hard to pick just one, but I'll go back to my college days for this. I ran for four years at Williams College, and as an NCAA Division III school, we didn't do a lot of flying to competitions, so it was very special to fly from Massachusetts to my home state of Washington to run at the national championships in cross country. It was my senior year, and lots of friends and family from my tiny town drove across the state to Spokane to watch the race. On race day at the start, the temperature was in the 20s and there was snow drifted up all over the course, so the conditions were a little challenging. We bounced back from a disappointing 11th-place finish the year before, earned fifth place as a team, and had three individual All-Americans. It was a great time with a team I very much enjoyed, and I knew even at the time to appreciate the moment.

What do you enjoy doing away from work?
I enjoy spending time with my wife and daughters, reading about history and current events, and being outdoors.

• Past Entry: Strength and Conditioning

Contact: Whitney Dixon (734) 763-4423