In the days after suffering a stroke in mid-October, Jim McLatchie was disoriented while recovering in his bed at St. Charles Bend.
There was one thing on which he never lost focus — the daily workouts for the Summit cross-country team that he coaches with his wife, Carol.
“He couldn’t say what his name was, perhaps, or the day of the week, but he could tell me the workout,” Carol McLatchie recalled with a smile.
Jim McLatchie recovered in time to help coach the Summit girls team to the Class 6A state championship on Nov. 3, and on Dec. 1, the national championship at the Nike Cross Nationals in Portland.
The Storm became the first girls team west of Minnesota, and only the second girls team from outside of New York, to win the Nike Cross Nationals, an annual Portland event that started in 2004.
The Summit runners drew inspiration from their 77-year-old coach, a former Scottish national champion in cross-country who, along with his wife, has coached the Storm in track and field distance events since 2010 and cross-country since 2012.
“Before all our races, it was on all of our minds, and we were saying race this one for Jim and race this for the people who you appreciate in life,” said Summit junior Fiona Max, the individual state champion who led Summit at the nationals by finishing 11th. “It puts the race in perspective, and you can race for something bigger than yourself.”
The McLatchies cultivated something that was more than just a team, Max said.
“I think the major element that gave us that national championship was our team’s ability to buy in,” Max said.
“Not just training, but just focusing on cultivating a family, rather than just a team, and that’s what really put us ahead of the game.”
On Oct. 16, just 11 days before the Mountain Valley Conference cross-country championships, Jim McLatchie was at home watching TV while his wife was at a neighbor’s house playing Bunco.
“The room started spinning and I couldn’t see,” Jim McLatchie recalled.
He eventually was able to call 911 and paramedics arrived and transported him to St. Charles. He has no recollection of his first three days in the hospital, where he ended up staying for about two weeks. His coaching duties never left his mind while he recovered with physical therapy and his runners, friends and family visited him.
“There was something within my body that kept telling me I had to produce the workouts for the kids, because we had some big events coming up,” Jim McLatchie said.
He had suffered a major stroke in the right cerebellum, and his recovery went fairly smoothly, as he says he was given a clot buster drug when he first arrived at St. Charles and the hemorrhage was eventually reabsorbed.
“They kept asking me what I wanted to do, and I said I want to get the hell out of here,” Jim McLatchie said in his soft-spoken Scottish accent.
Doctors granted him a four-hour pass to watch the Summit girls and boys win districts at Central Oregon Community College on Oct. 27. The next day he scored high enough on balance tests that he was able to go home for good.
Throughout the ordeal, Carol McLatchie was aided by Summit’s seven assistant coaches.
“They really stepped up to assure me that they could take care of stuff, so then I didn’t have to worry,” she said. “That was key.”
Jim McLatchie did not miss any races, as he and his wife coached the Storm girls to their 11th consecutive state championship in Eugene on Nov. 3. Summit then went on to win the Nike Cross Northwest Regional Championships in Eagle, Idaho, on Nov. 10, to earn a spot in the Nike Cross Nationals. Teams and individuals qualified for the nationals at eight regional meets.
Winning a national title had been a goal for the Storm all season. The runners knew they had the team to do it. Max and her twin sister Isabel have been cornerstones of the team for the past two seasons, and this year, the addition of Jesuit (Portland) transfer Kelsey Gripekoven and freshman Teaghan Knox made Summit even more unbeatable. The squad included no seniors this season, so the Storm figures to make another national title run next year.
“We had a very good team this year, because they ran as a team, they didn’t run as seven individuals,” Jim McLatchie said. “When you have a bunch of kids that want to run together, it makes it easier on the coaches. We didn’t really back off; we just kept training.”
Before the start of the Nike Cross Nationals at Glendoveer Golf Course, Jim McLatchie gave his team a short pep talk. He knew they cared about him and he knew what to say to give them that extra edge toward a national championship.
“I just told them that we’ve trained really hard, and if you go run for me today, we’ll probably win the damn thing,” he said. “And I left it at that.”
It was not even close. Summit, competing under the team name of Central Oregon, won the 5,000-meter race with a score of 120. Naperville North (Illinois) was second with 186. All the Storm runners picked up their pace in the last third of the race — to “put the hammer down,” Jim McLatchie said.
“Everybody was moving up,” he said. “And that’s what we practice. We always tell them we don’t expect to see anybody passing you in the last 100 meters.”
All those hill repeats on Skyline Ranch Road in west Bend came into play as Summit won in dominating fashion, crushing the competition in the final 1,000 meters.
All the way, the girls were motivated by their veteran coach, who honed his running chops in his native Scotland. McLatchie won the cross-country national championship in Scotland in 1961, and came to the United States in 1963 on a scholarship to run for Lamar University in Beaumont, Texas.
Carol, 67, grew up in Kansas, attended Kansas State, then Rice in Houston for graduate school. She started running competitively in grad school and helped to form the first women’s track program at the University of Houston, though she did not compete on it. She went on to win the U.S. national title in the 10,000 meters in 1988.
“I started running about the time I was going to graduate from college, because there were no women’s programs,” Carol McLatchie said. “I was on the tail end of that.”
The McLatchies, who have been married for 33 years, made a life together in Houston. They started the Houston Harriers, a competitive running club for post collegians, and Jim McLatchie worked in computers as informations director for the city of Houston.
“We started it in 1975, and we had many club athletes, post collegians, go through there,” Carol McLatchie said of the Houston Harriers. “Our club had nine women who qualified for the first women’s Olympic marathon trials in 1984.”
In the late 1990s and early 2000s, Jim McLatchie worked with UK Athletics, giving coaching seminars on the steeplechase event.
Weary of working in computers and living in Houston, Jim — who has two children from a previous marriage and two grandchildren — retired and the couple moved to Bend in 2002. They volunteered to coach track at Pilot Butte Middle School for five years before moving to Summit.
The couple calls their coaching style, “good cop, bad cop.” Normally, Jim McLatchie is the good cop but sometimes the tall, slim, gray-bearded coach can come off as gruff.
“I have to just take a walk sometimes, and let someone else handle the situation,” he said. “I’ve always been honest. So if something bugs me I just say it. I’m old school. The runners we have need that, and I think they appreciate it when you treat them like adults.”
It has certainly worked for Fiona Max and the other Summit runners.
“With Jim’s accent and heritage, he comes off a bit strong at first,” Max said. “People who don’t know him very well would be shocked. But it’s mostly comedy. He has a bit of a softer side. Carol, on the other hand, keeps Jim on the leash. She’ll be yelling at us about some things we can improve on. Jim will interject, and she’ll shut him down. It’s always funny to imagine how that marriage is when they’re not coaching, but they certainly work perfectly together. They balance each other out. You can tell that this couple was meant to coach.”
Jim McLatchie claims to have “the best schedule in America for high school kids.” Their workouts include a mix of intervals while training on hills and an 800-meter grass circuit, as well as weightlifting with low weights and high repetitions, and plyometrics. They do 150-meter intervals every day to build speed for the end of races. He estimates that most of the Storm girls run 40 to 45 miles per week.
“We get contradicted a lot by other coaches who ask us how many miles they run,” Jim McLatchie said. “We don’t measure miles. We measure minutes on the feet. If you send someone out for an hour, we don’t give a (crap) if they run 3 miles or 10 miles. And we never ask them.”
Jim McLatchie knows his stroke could have been much worse. A key to his quick recovery, he said, is his health. He does not run anymore but he walks every day, lifts weights, and rides a stationary bike. He gets acupuncture each week and maintains an exercise regimen for physical therapy.
“We’re getting much stronger,” he said. “Everybody’s kind of relieved that I’ve advanced as much as I have. For me, it was a long road. But it was worth it.”