COVER STORY

Experiencing other cultures through coaching


Published: Wednesday, June 1, 2005 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Tuesday, May 31, 2005 at 2:58 p.m.

You shouldn't expect to see much of men's track and field coach Mike Holloway, 45, or softball coach Karen Johns, 39, this summer.

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University of Florida head men's track coach Mike Holloway and University of Florida head softball coach Karen Jones at Percy Beard Park.

In 1996, Holloway first traveled overseas as a UF coach when he went with Olympic medalist Dennis Mitchell for a track meet in Zurich, where enthusiasm for track and field is "like an American football thing," Holloway explains.

Since then, the Ohio native and Santa Fe graduate has traveled as a coach to Greece, Australia, Switzerland, Germany, France, Turkey and Jamaica.

He credits his biggest success in coaching to the times when John Capel won the 200m World Championships in Zurich, and Bernard Williams won the 200m silver medal in the 2004 Olympics. This summer, Holloway travels to Helsinki, Finland, for the IAAF World Championships.

At international meets, Holloway says, one of his biggest responsibilities is to keep the athlete (and himself) focused, despite the "nice places you go and the lavish places you stay in."

Karen Johns echoes Holloway's sentiments on the need to stay focused when playing abroad.

"Maybe you're going to go to Argentina, and there isn't going to be air-conditioning at your hotel, so you're going to have to sleep with the windows open, and maybe you'll be right by a school, so the kids will wake you up every morning. And it's going to take you four days to find a Greek restaurant behind a Catholic Church to have a good chicken dinner," Johns says. "But the motto of USA softball is `So what.' That is what we live and die by."

In the 1990s, Johns played catcher with the world-champion National Softball Team, alongside Sheila Cornell, Michele Smith Lisa Fernandez and Dot Richardson prior to the selection of the 1996 Olympic squad She was just recently chosen to coach with the U.S. program as it narrows its pool of talent down to an Olympic team for the summer of 2008, when Johns will travel with the squad to Beijing.

Johns' emphasis on staying focused doesn't mean she believes athletes should sequester themselves. Johns says she had one of the most eye-opening experiences of her life while playing for the U.S. at the 1995 Pan Am Games in Argentina.

"I remember seeing so many homeless children carrying little baskets around trying to get you to buy things so they could get food," Johns says, remembering one boy in particular, Gabriel. She would seek him out every day to give him a bottle of soda. "it was like I'd handed him a rock of gold," Johns says, adding that Gabriel gave her a "little stuffed monkey" in return.

After sharing softball with people in less developed countries, Johns realizes that softball "can be bigger than just the sport."

"It's really simple," Johns explains. "when you walk in there and teach somebody how to do something, even if it's throw a ball or hit a ball, you empower that person."

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