Millsaps College running coach Andy Till says winning comes about when you pursue excellence instead of just going for the win.
Photo by Trip Burns.
When he was 9 years old, Andy Till ran a mile in six minutes and ten seconds. His physical-education teacher called his mom and said, "You know; there's something he's pretty good at."
Till, now 42 and head track and field coach at Millsaps College, is something of an expert at finding and cultivating the same talent that his coach first observed in him.
After 17 years of coaching schools exclusively in or near his hometown of Jackson, Till has made his mark in the area's running community. He officially began his coaching career at East Rankin Academy, moved on to St. Andrew's Episcopal School, where he coached for 12 years, and is now starting his fourth year of coaching at Millsaps College.
Till says he began toying with the idea of becoming a running coach at age 14, but he was sidelined with an injury while on the cross-country team at the University of Mississippi in 1988. He spent several years as a park ranger in the Grand Tetons, and that led him to "where it all began" he says. "Life's all about balance ... breaking away and becoming my own man with my own thoughts."
While working as a ranger, Till finished college with a degree from the School of Forestry and Resource Conservation at The University of Montana.
"During the summer of '94, I was climbing a mountain called The Nez Perce. Clouds rolled in, and lightning was popping all around us, and Jeff (a fellow ranger) and I looked at each other like, 'Well, there's really no place to go,'" he says. So they tied themselves in and waited the night out.
Till says that he realized during that dangerous night in the Tetons that it was finally time for him to pursue what he knew he was meant to do. He relates the experience to his journey as a runner. "Pain equals growth, but you can't live there," he says. "If you're living in the pain, you can't contribute."
So Till packed his bags and headed east to give back to the community he grew up in.
For Till, each school and each athlete have taught him something new and introduced new challenges to his journey. "Sometimes I'm glad I didn't know how hard (Millsaps) would be when I started," he says. "I realized I was coaching scholars who have to run for an ideal."
In a speech given by Millsaps College President Dr. Robert Pearigen, Till first heard about the Greek virtue, areté. "It's the pursuit of excellence," he says, and it is a pursuit that Till prioritizes above winning. "In our society, people get lost on what winning and losing means," he says. "If you give your best, you win."
Till is looking forward to the coming season, but that doesn't mean he is not building for the future. He says it is a huge relief to have some upperclassmen in the program this year, to help him carry the job of being a coach, mentor and captain.
"It gives me goosebumps just thinking about it," he says. "We are in the process of building something great."