KEEPING TRACK - Furman Elite Training Group

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KEEPING TRACK - Furman Elite Training Group

Written by Rod O'Donnell on 04 February 2016.

Thirty-eight years ago, the Southern Conference Cross-Country Championship  meet was held on the campus of VMI – the Virginia Military Institute – located in historic Lexington, Virginia.

The early November morning was cool and rainy, and the course was shrouded in fog as the teams toed the starting line. Furman University was the defending champion, with Marshall University the underdog challengers. When the race ended, Marshall had upset an outstanding Furman team.

                Nearly four decades later, the two running programs have gone in different directions. The university that the champions represented at that long-ago meet no longer sponsors men’s track, while Furman has developed into one of the best distance programs in the country. This was proven when the Paladins placed 13th at the NCAA Division I Championship in November, at Tom Sawyer Park, in Louisville, Kentucky.

                The two individuals responsible for the emergence of this excellence are former Ohio State Head Coach and two-time Olympian, Robert Gary, and California businessman and former Furman great, Chris Borch.  Gary and his outstanding staff have turned the school, located in Greenville, South Carolina, into a running mecca.  The combination of his knowledge, experience, and unbridled enthusiasm has established a running environment second to none. These ingredients, combined with one of the most beautiful, runner-friendly campuses and cities in the country, have taken the program to an elite level.  Borch was a standout on Furman’s track and cross-country teams in the late ‘70’s. After graduation, he founded the California-based electronics technology company, Micro-Mechanics. Ten years ago, he and his wife, Andrea, wanted to give back to the school that had provided him with a great education, both in and outside of the classroom. As a result of this desire to give back, the couple established the Blue Shoes Foundation, giving a substantial donation. Chris decided on the name because of a pair of blue Onitsuka Tiger running shoes given to him and his teammates when they arrived at Furman as freshmen. I am sure that many RUNOHIO readers can identify with these shoes, reminding us of the countless wonderful training runs of our youth.


I recently called Chris at his California home about the foundation. He stated, “My running days at Furman taught me lessons about setting goals, working hard, and not giving up. Through Blue Shoes, my wife and I wanted to be sure that the opportunity to run and learn such lessons would be there for other young men and women.” He went on to say that the idea of the foundation’s mission statement, “Life Lessons Through the Pursuit of Athletic Excellence,” has been adopted by the athletic department.

As a result, the foundation that was established in 2005, has grown to several million dollars in endowed money, due to the couple’s generosity, the university’s willingness to match funds, and the donations from many contributors.

                Not only has Furman’s track and cross-country programs benefitted, but the entire running community has grown. The post-graduate Furman Elite Training Group has been established. Several members include Ohio running greats, Jeff See, Cory Leslie, and Chad Balyo. Meets are held at the recently renovated Belk track complex; one recent meet featured nine 4:00 milers.            

                Considering the rapidly rising cost of a college education (i.e. Furman cost is $63,000/year),  it is critical that the Blue Shoes Foundation serve as a model that could enhance or save our sport on the collegiate level. Coaches should make it a top priority to work with their fund-raising arm to establish similar organizations.

                Those who are passionate about the sport understand its impact on the lives of its participants, and they are loyal to the schools that provided them with an education. Chris Borch fits the description of a hero and champion who made a commitment to give back to his school and team. He has set the bar high and has created an example for others to follow.

Yours in track, Rod O’Donnell,

Read more of Rod O’Donnell’s Keeping Track articles on -

Keeping Track - 2 Divisions for 120 Lacrosse teams?

Boy's Division II and Division III -

Boy's Division I -


KEEPING TRACK - Football and Track Athletes -

 The Ohio High School Athletic Association State Cross-Country Championships -

Cross Country -

 Track Faces Challenges that could have adverse effects thus causing severe damage -

Marketing Track & Field -

Student Athlete’s Questions -

The Need to Speak Up -

A new book by John McDonnell -

KEEPING TRACK - From September-October 2013 print RUNOHIO -

Random Thoughts -

Another Division I institution has dropped its men’s track program -

 Ohio University Athletic Department's Worst Decision -

Life Lessons from Cross Country -

Ten Pledges for Cross Country Coaches -

London Olympics -

 Improving as a Coach –

You Only Go Around Once -

Dear Jesse Owens –

West Virginia State Cross Country Championship –

SPIRE Institute -

Why is the OHSAA Treating Cross Country Different than All of the Other Sponsored Sports?

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