Gary Holda has been at Carbondale Community High School for nearly four decades, and though he no longer teaches, he can’t seem to run away from coaching cross-country and track.
After he graduated from SIU in 1975, Holda went across town to start a long career as a physical education teacher and coach for the Terriers on the track, field and cross-country course.
“The highlight of my career at Carbondale has always been the kids,” Holda said.” As a coach, you hope you can motivate and help, and hopefully stay out of their way and not screw them up.”
Though never a runner at SIU, Holda trained many former and current Salukis through their high school years.
“Holda was my dad’s coach, my coach and now he coaches my sister,” Lucas Cherry, an SIU cross-country runner, said. “He’s a great friend too, and before I came to SIU, he taught me everything I knew about running.”
During the years, Carbondale’s sidewalks have served as Holda’s own cross country course.
“Right now I’m probably running between three and six miles a day, about five or six days a week,” he said. “For most of my career, from the time I was 25 until the time I was 45, I was probably running between 75 and 100 miles per week.”
Matt Sparks, an assistant with the men’s cross-country team, said Holda was one of the first people he met when he came to Carbondale in 2002.
“For anything you need to know about the local running scene, he’s definitely the best guy to talk to,” Sparks said. “His teams have always shared a course with our teams. He has always sent a lot of quality athletes on to be Salukis.”
Holda’s life as a runner didn’t stop between track and cross-country seasons.
“After SIU, I won four St. Louis marathons,” Holda said. “I won the Third Memorial Marathon four times, and I’ve been in four Boston Marathons. The highest place I ever got there was 111th out of seven or eight thousand people.”
As the face of the CCHS running scene through the years, Holda said he has helped countless numbers of kids, but he said they’ve always helped him out just as much, if not more.
Though no longer a teacher, Holda’s life remains a constant gym class.
“It’s kind of frustrating now, because I thought I’d never get old, and all the sudden in the last 10 years, I’ve really gotten old,” Holda said. “I thought for a long time I’d be fit and able to run fast forever, and it’s just not happening anymore. I’ll keep running even if Father Time is winning the battle.”