This story is about Garry Sigle and how he “Made the Decision to Win!” that has made him a successful athlete, coach and father. I have known Garry since we were young competitors, going head to head in cross country and track & field. I can attest to his willingness to always compete to win every time he showed up at the starting line. Though I beat him early on in races, his drive took him to immense heights, including multiple All-American honors and being named to the Fort Hays State University Hall of Fame. After my injury, Garry was a huge inspiration to me because of the way he transformed his life by finding a champion within and making the decision to win. He continued to find success as a teacher and coach, teaching new generations of students and athletes that they can do the same. He is and will always be a champion in my book because of his ability to help others “Find a Champion Within,” regardless of the obstacles he faced. His spirit and willingness to always improve served as a big motivator to me after being paralyzed from the chest down in the explosion, and has continued to fuel my urge to succeed ever since. Read on and I’m sure you, too, will be inspired to “Make the Decision to Win” by the time you’re done. Enjoy!
The upward trajectory of Garry’s athletic career came down to one race…one decision…the decision to win. That decision to win changed his athletic fortunes and it can be traced back to early in his senior year at Osborne High School, in Osborne, KS. His final high school track & field season started when the team competed at the Jewell Invitational on a Tuesday late in March. He recalls placing 2nd in the mile with a personal best of 4:40. His teammate, Laryl Rous, took first place. At the end of the meet, Garry came back to win the two mile race. Later that same week, Osborne attended the KSHSAA-sponsored State Indoor meet at Ahearn Fieldhouse on the campus of Kansas State University. The schedule didn’t include a two mile race, so he ran the mile with prelims on Friday night, winning the heat by tying his PR of 4:40.
To emulate USA’s Dave Wottle, the 1972 800M Olympic Champion, Garry began wearing an engineer’s hat at practice and prior to his races. He was wearing it as he walked into Ahearn prior to the state indoor meet. A competitor sarcastically remarked “Hey, Sigle, whatcha got the hat on for? To keep the sun out of your eyes?” Being indoors, Garry took it as a slam and immediately determined in his heart and mind that he was going to win the race. It didn’t matter that this particular opponent and two others in the final were previous state champions in distance races.
Garry decided he was going to show him, and in that moment he “made the decision to win.” His race plan for the finals was to follow those three guys around the track and then with one lap (220 yards) to go, to put everything into a strong sprint finish and overtake them.
By some miracle of divine intervention, that’s exactly how the race went. Garry followed Pat Blackburn (Belleville), Steve Robinson (St. John) and Steve Herrman (LaCrosse), around the track and, on the sound of the gun lap (signaling the final lap), he began his sprint. He passed one competitor on the top corner, another on the back stretch and the last one on the final curve to win his first individual state championship. But, the most amazing thing about the race was that he ran a new PR by 16 seconds! His time was 4:24.9! That’s a significant and almost unheard of improvement over the 4:40 PR from the week’s two previous races. How did that happen? Garry credits the fact that God intervened in his life when he made the decision to win.
Garry was born in Russell, KS, in October, 1956. His folks farmed 5 miles north and 3 miles east of Luray, KS, near the Cheyenne Church. He was the youngest of five kids. When he was four, his parents chose to move into Osborne, providing him and his siblings an easier opportunity to participate in school activities. With the move to Osborne, his dad drove 21 miles every day to the farm. He would make that drive for the next 15 years, until Garry graduated high school in 1974, finally moving back to the farm. When Garry was in 2nd grade the family moved into a newly built home on Second Street in Osborne, just four houses down from the city pool. He spent lots of time swimming and diving off the boards as a child.
In addition to his dad’s farming and raising cattle, his mom was a fifth grade teacher at Osborne for 22 years. She retired from teaching in 1978. Garry was fortunate to be the youngest of five kids… Arris (8 years older), Donna (6 years older), Larry (4 years older) and Scott (2 years older). He says he was fortunate because he had the opportunity to observe and learn from each of them. This advantage was very apparent when, the first time trying to waterski at the age of 9 or 10, he went right up without falling – much to the astonishment of his sister who was teaching him how to ski.
Growing up on the farm gave him automatic weekend and summer employment. It also taught him the value of a solid work ethic and he learned the importance of faith and family. Those qualities were important as he got involved in athletics. Who influenced his competitive spirit is up for debate. But, that certainly served him well as an athlete and then later, as a coach.
Garry’s formal athletic career started in fifth grade with summer baseball. He loved baseball and followed the professional standings and teams closely. He wanted to be a professional baseball player and that dream stayed with him all the way through high school, even while his strength as a runner started to overshadow all other sports. His athletic career included junior high football but there wasn’t much demand for a scrawny, 4’10, 95 pound runt.
Basketball wasn’t much better, but he played each winter throughout his junior high and high school years. Even track and field in junior high wasn’t a stellar time for him. He tried lots of events but he didn’t find any that he excelled at. The longest distance he could run in junior high was 400m which, as it turned out, wasn’t a long enough distance for him.
Garry Sigle at far left, was 4′ 10″ tall in his freshmanTrack & Field season at Osborne High School
As Garry entered high school it wasn’t a difficult decision to choose cross country over football. He continued to play basketball and summer baseball, but while he enjoyed both sports, he never found the success with either of them that he found with distance running. With running, his lack of size didn’t matter and his intrinsic desire to be successful helped him find a sport in which he could be outstanding.
Finding His Stride
He doesn’t recall being anything special early in his high school cross country career. As a freshman in track & field he won the league two mile run which helped provide incentive and spark his desire for more. During his sophomore year, Kent Litton became the cross country coach and he quickly put together a competitive team. Garry credits Coach Litton with helping him to realize the value of training for success and developing the commitment necessary to be competitive.
Coach Litton required the team to get up at 6am to run 4-6 miles prior to school starting and then he organized a breakfast for the team at the school once practice was over. His coaching and encouragement led Osborne to a 3rd place team finish and an 11th place individual finish for Garry his junior year. Later that year he finished fifth in the two mile at the state track and field meet, breaking the school record and running 9:58. His senior year he placed 3rd individually at the state cross country meet and the team once again finished 3rd overall.
Coming off a third place individual finish at the state cross country meet opened his eyes to some possibilities. It also piqued the interest of junior college and small college coaches from the recruiting standpoint. Many letters and phone calls started coming in during the winter. Garry held off making a decision in order to see how well track & field would go his senior year.
After winning the State Indoor mile, he went on to have a fantastic senior year winning nearly every race he entered, including the State Outdoor mile (4:24.1) and the two mile (9:33.1) – both of which still stand as Osborne High School records. Those two wins brought additional recruiting calls. Garry talked with Coach Dodds at Kansas State briefly, but then enthusiastically accepted a full tuition and books scholarship with Coach Alex Francis at Fort Hays State University, in May, 1974.
College Running Highs and Lows
As the summer started, he received training information from Coach Francis. He found that working on a farm and training didn’t mix well and Garry didn’t go into his initial fall cross country season with the mileage base Coach Francis demanded. He remembers the first day of practice distinctly. The team headed out toward the south and east of campus. Being the new guy he had no idea where they were going and probably didn’t even listen to how far coach said they were running. He followed along behind and, at the turn around, saw a grain elevator in the distance. In retrospect he thought the grain elevator was Victoria, 9 miles away…. and he still had to run back to Lewis Field Stadium! But, he soon learned he had turned around just 3 miles out for a total run of 6 miles.
Garry quickly adapted to college training and ended the season as the #2 FHSU guy at the conference cross country meet, finishing 8th overall. He was the #1 finisher for FHSU at the national meet, coming in at 45th place. His freshman year in track & field was certainly nothing to write home about as he was only able to match his best times from high school, instead of showing improvement.
His sophomore year he placed 6th at the conference cross country meet and earned his first NAIA All-American honor by placing 12th at the national cross country meet held in Salina. He followed that up with his second All-American honor, finishing 2nd in the two mile at the NAIA indoor national meet in Greensboro, NC with a PR time of 9:12.0. During the outdoor season he placed 3rd in the conference mile with a 4:16 PR and won the 3 mile title.
Garry’s junior year was a frustrating year. He placed 4th at the conference cross country meet but ran poorly at the national meet, finishing a disappointing 36th. Indoors, he placed out of the scoring in the two mile and then got injured running the steeplechase in the first outdoor meet. He was able to come back off the injury to place 5th in the mile at the conference meet.
His senior year mirrored his sophomore season as he placed 4th at the conference meet and earned All-American honors in cross country again placing 11th, just 6 seconds out of fifth. He placed 2nd indoors in the two mile, running a PR of 9:02 earning his fourth All-American honor. Outdoors he placed 2nd in the conference steeplechase and tied with two teammates for the conference title in the 5K.
At the national meet, Coach Francis had him run the 10K, his first time ever running it on the track. He placed 5th, earning Honorable Mention All-American honors and then came back the next two nights to run the 5K in the prelims which qualified him for the finals, placing 12th. Following graduation Garry was honored to win the Busch Gross Award at FHSU as the 1978 outstanding senior athlete.
A Career in Education and Coaching
Following his graduation from FHSU with a degree in Industrial Arts education, he was hired to teach at Riley County, USD 378. Garry followed an outstanding industrial arts teacher, John Olson, which was no easy task. Mr. Olson previously had his students build grandfather clocks, roll top desks and china cabinets – large projects which Garry had no experience with. But, with very patient students in his classes and a very understanding principal (Dan Yunk) and superintendent (Lew McGill), he hung in there. He wasn’t coaching that first fall so he continued training for the Boston Marathon which would be held in April, 1979. His goal was to run fast enough (2 hrs 23 minutes) to qualify for the US Olympic Trials in the marathon. At least it was a dream. Even though he missed that goal he felt like he gave it his best shot.
Garry coached junior high basketball and was the assistant track & field coach to head coach Ron Solt in the winter and spring of that first year. In his second year at Riley County he was promoted to Head Coach of the boys cross country team, and was thrilled to have Rich Llewelyn win an individual state cross country title, with the Riley County team finishing 6th.
Getting Married Just Before His Senior Year.
Garry was blessed to meet Linda Samuelson during his sophomore year in college. They began dating and were married just before his senior year in August, 1977. Linda had graduated the previous May with a nursing degree and she was fortunate to be hired to teach in the FHSU nursing school on campus. That put both of them on the same calendar which made things much easier that first year of marriage.
Linda has been his biggest supporter as a student, runner, teacher and coach. She has sacrificed many things to help provide for their family and to travel along with three boys to support at track meets, basketball and baseball games and to cross country meets. He certainly wouldn’t be where he is today without her support and encouragement.
In 1992, Linda transitioned from being a labor and delivery nurse to a home based business with Mary Kay. She now works her Mary Kay business full time, leading over 100 women on her sales team. It’s those hard working women who are allowing her to earn and drive her fourth pink Mary Kay Cadillac. Garry is extremely proud of the success that she has worked hard to achieve.
Together they have three very successful boys, three outstanding daughters-in-laws and four grandkids.
The Tinker Toy Story at FHSU
During Garry’s last semester at FHSU he was taking 21 credit hours so that he could finish his degree in four years. He obviously wanted the easiest schedule possible. He found that he had missed taking a freshman level course and signed up for the needed Interpersonal Communication class to fulfill the requirements needed. Garry remembers two things about that class…first, walking across campus one day with a collage describing in pictures who he was. As he recalls…that was embarrassing. The second thing he remembers was way more important to his career as a teacher and coach. It was one particular day in class that he will never forget and impacted the way he interacted with students and athletes.
On this occasion, the instructor divided the class into four equal groups. Each group was assigned to pick a leader. Each leader went out into the hallway with the instructor. Once out in the hall the instructor gave each leader a box of tinker toys. Garry and another leader were assigned to be positive leaders. The other two were assigned to be negative leaders. The assignment was to go back to their group and only say positive (or negative) things. They could not direct them as to what to do, only be positive (or negative) in what was said. The instructor gave them 15 minutes.
The leaders took the tinker toys to their group and as Garry handed his to them they began to take off the lid. His response was something like “Yes, that’s exactly what I want” or, “great job!” This positive reinforcement was repeated time after time during the 15 minutes.
At the end of the 15 minutes Garry’s group had an airplane that rolled across the floor. The other positive group had a skyscraper built. The negative groups?…They had nothing. Nothing was constructed. They were throwing the tinker toys at each other, they were arguing with each other and the tinker toys were strewn across the floor.
What did this say to Garry? It said that as a leader dealing with others….as teachers working with students and as coaches working with athletes….they’d get much further ahead in life if they were positive with their communication and dealings with other people. It couldn’t have been any more obvious to him.
The Saying in Dr. Ruda’s Metals Classroom at Fort Hays State University
Dr. Ruda’s metals classroom, in the Industrial Arts Department, had a saying right by the door that Garry looked at every time he left his classroom. It was so inspiring to him he’ll never forget it. His quote was “If you don’t have time to do it right, when are you going to have time to do it over?” He has remembered that quote and has tried to live by it in all that he does.
As a cross country/track & field team member he ran lots and lots of miles. In four years at FHSU he ran approximately 10,000 training miles. While training, Garry made it a point to not take short cuts and to “do it right the first time” as the quote from Dr. Ruda’s room said. On Mondays, Coach Francis always had the team run 440’s (400m) up a hill at the golf course which was just south of campus. They’d warm up 3-5 miles prior to the workout, run the workout, and then cool down another 3-5 miles. As the team made their way back toward Lewis Field Stadium, there was a post on the dike which was just a little bit out of the way that he always made an effort to run around.
The difference in distance between running straight in or going around the post was probably 30 meters. To Garry it symbolized that “extra effort” he was putting in at the end of the run. He recalled saying something to a teammate, Lonnie Gee, about the post and had him run around it with him. It wasn’t until recently, that Lonnie reminded him of his words: “If you want to be an All-American you need to be willing to run around the post.” He always believed that mental discipline would pay huge dividends in all phases of life.
Training Distinguished Athletes
As a coach, Garry tried to instill in his athletes that every person on the team is valued and important. To him, the better the last person on the team can be, the better the person next in line will be. That domino effect would continue to push the entire team, up to the top runner. The same thing applied to those athletes out for track and field. It’s also important to instill in the athletes that they should always work to maximize their abilities. God has given each of them talents and they should work hard to maximize them. Finally, it’s important to always be positive. He believed that if each athlete worked hard, believed in themselves and had a positive attitude, then good things were going to happen.
As the cross country coach at Riley County and as the head track & field coach for nearly all of his 33 years, he wouldn’t have been as successful if his athletes had not worked hard in practice to maximize their abilities. They believed they could be successful – and would be successful – by putting in the time and the work necessary. While he was the head cross country coach, Riley County had four ladies win 10 individual state cross country titles. Those four ladies include Amy Mortimer (4), Erin Mortimer (3), Jojo Mahaffey (1) and Annie Martin (2). Four guys won 7 individual state cross country titles. Those four guys were Rich Llewelyn (1), Dale Larson (2), Ben Sigle (3) and David Gibson (1).
In addition, Riley County won 7 girls’ team state championships and 3 boys’ team state championships. In track & field, Riley County had 56 individual state champions during his tenure as head coach.
The girls’ state champions included Hollie Lewis (800), Amy Mortimer (3200, 4 times SR) (1600, 3 times SR) (800, 2 times SR), Erin Mortimer (3200, 3 times) (1600, 2 times SR) (800, 2 times), Erin Stone ( 100HH), Jessica Reed (Shot Put), Megan Starnes (triple jump), Annie Martin (3200, 3 times) (1600), Alissa Ruggle (1600) and two relay teams (1992-4×4, Julie Schurle, Brandy Schurle, Loree Kulp, Jodie Schurle), 2008-4×8, Katie Henry, Bry’Anna Underwood, Alissa Ruggle, Jojo Mahaffey). The boys’ state champions include Rich Llewelyn (3200), Jeff Reed (High Jump), Dale Larson (3200) (1600, 2 times SR) (800), Rob Prichard (1600), Jon McGraw (Triple Jump SR), Ben Sigle (3200, 2 times) (1600, 2 times) (800), Nathan Kluttz (Long Jump), Jordy Nelson (400, 2 times) (200 SR) (100 SR), Ian Fox (High Jump SR), Bruce Field (100), Calvin Kenney (Triple Jump), Adam Larson (1600, 2 times) (800) and one relay team (1985-4×1, Doug Miller, Gary Hanus, Mark Oberhelman, John Steenbock). The Riley County girls’ team won one state track & field team title and the boys also won one state team title.
Making a decision to win was key to achieving these milestones. For 17 years in a row (1995-2011) Riley County athletes had at least one individual track & field champion at the state track & field meet.
Hall of Fame Honors
Garry has been honored professionally in the last few years in very meaningful ways. As he was retiring from Riley County, the Board of Education made the decision to name the high school track the Garry Sigle Track. What an honor! He has also been inducted into the Fort Hays Tiger Sports Hall of Fame, the Kansas State High School Activities Hall of Fame and the Kansas Fellowship of Christian Athletes Hall of Fame. Garry relates that none of this would have been possible without him making the decision to win many years ago!
I hope you enjoyed reading about Garry Sigle and his many achievements. He’s always been a focused athlete, coach and teacher with determination to be the very best. He has been a successful teacher and coach, teaching his students and his athletes that “Making the Decision to Win” comes long before they set foot in a classroom or at a sporting event. I’ve had the privilege of speaking to many successful organizations: Fortune 500 & Fortune 100 companies, corporations of all sizes, sports teams like the Kansas State University Wildcats and others – and I believe that everyone has the ability to “Make the Decision to Win!” They have to do this before they start their competition – like Garry did at the State Indoor meet – and they must keep seeing themselves winning and doing what it takes to win. As Garry has shown, our lives can be a self-fulfilling prophecy, so we should all be “Making the Decision to Win!” today and every day. We take that decision into everything we do, and take care of business like winners. Like Garry did, we can bring out that Heart of a Champion and become victorious on the field of competition. So, whatever you want to achieve in life, take a lesson from Garry Sigle and “Make the Decision to Win!”