From the time he was young, Chris Morlan knew that architecture would be the highway on which he would travel.
It’s funny how life can send you down different roads.
The uncertainties of his chosen career, a passion for running and an ability to reach youngsters have detoured Morlan into teaching and coaching cross country at Lewis and Clark High School.
His athletes say Morlan, who ran in the 1996 U.S. Olympic marathon trials, offers a unique coaching style.
“He’s really been an inspiration,” said sophomore-to-be Mindy Noble, who said his counsel has gone beyond running.
“I’ve gone through a lot of personal circumstances, and he’s been there for me,” said the member of last year’s state fourth-place team. “I have no father, and he’s really been the male in my life.”
David Beagle, a recent graduate who ran on the boys team, sent Morlan a note following the season.
“You’ve changed my life in ways that have far exceeded the realm of running,” Beagle wrote. “The lessons you have taught me have given me an ethic for living which is both responsible and honorable.”
Morlan said his philosophy is relatively simple.
“What I learned early in coaching is to have kids be responsible for themselves,” he said. “With the power of suggestion I can help them guide their own destinies.
“I think that’s where respect comes in.”
Destiny, Morlan discovered, isn’t always what you expect.
He graduated from the University of Idaho in 1990 with a degree in architecture.
“Ever since grade school I was fascinated with designing,” he said. “I remember looking at house plans and drawing my own.
“It’s what I wanted to be when I went to college, no question.”
He joined a Spokane firm only to become a victim of downsizing five years later.
“After five years I got caught in the layoff trend,” he said. “There had to be a better plan.”
Morlan had always been a runner even though his career at LC was nondescript. It was a way to have fun and relieve stress while in college.
“I was not very successful when I ran in high school,” the lanky Morlan admitted. “I won league races as a freshman, but the older I got, the faster all the other kids became.”
Morlan, however, discovered an aptitude for marathoning.
While running with friends in the Disney World Marathon in Orlando, Fla., he surprised himself with a time of 2:28.30.
“That’s when I figured out I didn’t just have to be a plodder,” he said. “I had never dreamed it was possible.”
He lowered his time to 2:20.40, which qualified him for the U.S. Olympic marathon trials.
In February 1996, Morlan and his friend, Stan Holman, ran in unseasonable cold in Charlotte, N.C., finishing 65th and 53rd, respectively, out of 135 entrants. He wasn’t satisfied with his performance.
“I ran poor,” said Morlan. “I was in good shape but had a stress fracture and never could get loose.”
The race whetted his appetite for more.
He and Holman continue to train in an effort to qualify again and improve their finish. They harbor no illusions about making the Olympic team.
“Our end goal is just being there,” said Morlan. “We want to go to the trials and do the best we can.”
After college graduation, Morlan volunteered to assist LC cross country coach Marty Robinette.
“I asked Marty if I could come out and run with the guys, and he said sure,” Morlan said.
Within a couple of years he was offering suggestions about workouts. Last fall, Morlan was named boys coach.
“I love it,” said Morlan. “It’s a great job.”
Runners like Noble and Beagle thrived on a style that Beagle called, “really intense yet really easygoing.
“He lets you be yourself,” said Beagle. “But if you go wrong, he lets you know.”
Both talked about his one-on-one ability to get the most out of each runner no matter their talent.
“He shows them a direct way to get to goals,” said Beagle. “He makes you aware of what you want to do and where you want to go.”
Said Noble: “I don’t see him as a coach but more as a friend. He really bonds with the kids.”
And so this long-distance runner and out-of-work architect sold his North Side home, invested in a South Hill fourplex to eliminate a mortgage payment and returned to school for his education degree.
“Being laid off and having to find work, I found I had options,” said Morlan. “Why not do what I enjoy - working with kids?
He was hired this summer to teach full time at LC. But Morlan won’t let his architect’s license lapse.
It was, after all, his road most traveled until running revealed another path.
“It’s amazing how life takes you on roads,” said Morlan, “and you never know where they will lead.”
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