In It For the Long Run

By Ben Frotscher
Larry Wieczorek PHOTO: Larry Wieczorek

It’s been nearly 10 years since Larry Wieczorek (72BS) retired as the University of Iowa’s cross country and track and field program director. Even though he’s hung up his stopwatch and whistle, he has not forgotten the fond memories and the countless student-athletes that he worked with during his career.

“I still think about coaching and the athletes, but I never felt that I should be back there doing it,” says Wieczorek. “When I go to a meet or watch an event on television, I still feel it as a coach. That’s still kind of fun for me. I still have the passion for the sport.”

That love for the sport gained roots in Iowa City.

Larry Wieczorek PHOTO: HAWKEYESPORTS.COM Larry Wieczorek (right)

From the Windy City to Iowa City

Growing up in the west Chicago suburb of Maywood, Illinois, Wieczorek didn’t compete in his first race until he was a sophomore in high school.

“I loved every sport, so I played everything,” says Wieczorek. “But I kept moving further and further down the bench. I went out for cross and track my sophomore year in high school, and I found out that I could run.”

What followed was back-to-back Illinois high school state championships in the one-mile run and a lot of attention from collegiate coaches throughout the Midwest.

“I consider myself a lucky man.” —Larry Wieczorek

“I eventually narrowed it down to Michigan, Wisconsin, and Iowa,” says Wieczorek. “I’d never been to the state of Iowa until my official visit, and the deciding factor for me was Coach Francis Cretzmeyer (36BA, 38MA). I just had a great level of comfort with him.”

Much has changed for collegiate runners since Wieczorek competed more than 50 years ago, including where practices are held. While today’s Hawkeyes train and compete in the Hawkeye Indoor Track Facility and at the Francis X. Cretzmeyer Track, Wieczorek and his teammates worked out on a clay-dirt surface within The Field House.

“You had the dirt and clay indoor track that went around the basketball court,” he says. “None of us knew any different because that’s what every Big Ten school had at the time.”

Wieczorek found continued success at Iowa—becoming a six-time Big Ten Conference champion and four-time All-American as a cross country and distance runner. He once held conference records in the one, two, three, four, and five-mile runs—and continues to be in the top 6 all-time for Hawkeye distance runners in the one-mile and 5,000 meters.

“I consider myself a lucky man—to come to Iowa and be guided by Coach Cretzmeyer,” he says. “I didn’t think I’d be a great student-athlete, but he guided me well. I was fortunate to win individual championships, but us winning the Big Ten team titles in cross country in 1966 and outdoor track and field in 1967 are phenomenal memories for me—even to this day.”

Larry Wieczorek PHOTO: HAWKEYESPORTS.COM Joey Woody (left), director of Iowa's cross country and track and field programs, and Larry Wieczorek

Following in the Footsteps of Hawkeye Greats

After graduating from Iowa, Wieczorek went back to suburban Chicago for 11 years—teaching high school physical education and serving as a head track and field coach. But then Cretzmeyer’s successor at Iowa, Ted Wheeler (57BA), asked him to join the staff as an assistant coach in 1984.

Three years later, Wieczorek was head cross country coach. In 1997, he took over as head coach of the men’s track and field program, and by 2011, he was director of both men’s and women’s programs. That 2011 season was especially memorable for Wieczorek because the men’s track and field team also won the Big Ten team title.

“That was so special,” he says. “It came down to the last event. We had to beat Minnesota in the last relay to win—and we did. I still have a picture of me hugging my wife on the track with everyone around us. For me, it kind of bookended my time in Iowa City—winning the Big Ten team title in Iowa City as a junior and then doing the same thing as a coach. Thinking about it now, that championship as a coach really gave me peace and satisfaction.”

“I love being in touch with the athletes because they made a difference in my life. They truly made my life better.” —Larry Wieczorek

Wieczorek retired in 2014 after seeing student-athletes claim 79 Big Ten championships and 53 All-American honors during his time as head coach. The 77-year-old Wieczorek is still active and thinks about his former student-athletes on a daily basis. He’s a member of the Iowa Letterwinners Club advisory board, attends all home cross country and track and field meets, and communicates regularly with Joey Woody, who was Wieczorek’s assistant coach and succeeded him as program director.

“I walk 70 minutes every day—pretending I’m running,” says Wieczorek. “I’m doing jumping jacks and push-ups along the way. And if I can communicate with an alum—via phone or text once a day—that’s my goal. I love being in touch with the athletes because they made a difference in my life. They truly made my life better.”

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