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Monday, October 2, 2023
Oct. 2, 2023

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Runner’s coach inspired him on a deeper level

Commentary: Micah Rice

By , Columbian Sports Editor

Despite all evidence to the contrary, Trent Kunz says he’s selfish.

Selfish to organize training sessions for high school athletes free of charge.

Selfish to pepper those sessions with lessons learned in a life that has been anything but easy. In 1988, Kunz was a star athlete at Prairie High School before a football injury left him paralyzed below the neck, though he regained some slight movement in his arms and shoulders.

Selfish that he got to see one of his athletes, Skyview senior Mason Scheidel, win a state track championship in the most dramatic moment of the 2016 state meet. Scheidel dove at the finish line to win the 800 meters by one hundredth of a second.

“I get to do what I ultimately love,” Kunz said. “It’s actually therapeutic. (Mason) might say it’s selfless, but it’s a selfish thing. I love what I do.”

Kunz could have gone down a dark road. During a football game against Battle Ground, Kunz broke his fifth and sixth vertebrae in his neck while trying to make a tackle.

One day, he was a 16-year-old with the world in his hands. The next, he was learning he wouldn’t walk again.

“You reach a point where there are two paths,” Kunz said. “The angry path is not a good one.”

Kunz went on to get his undergraduate degree from Brigham Young University. He earned a master’s degree in exercise physiology before entering law school.

Kunz now works as an attorney specializing in wills and trusts. He and his wife, Kristi, have two sons.

Even if he couldn’t fully utilize his own, Kunz remained fascinated by the possibilities of the human body.

He coached his oldest son Nathan’s youth football team in 2011. Then, drawing on his exercise physiology studies, he began organizing training sessions for Nathan and a few of his high school friends. Nothing fancy, just some sprinting in the streets and weightlifting in his garage a few times a week.

His sophomore year, Scheidel heard about those sessions through former Columbia River sprinter Emily Morgan.

“I wanted to get faster and be able to compete with high-level runners,” Scheidel said.

So Scheidel began coming over to Kunz’s garage after cross country or basketball practice. His ability to do a full sprint workout after running 10 miles or spending two hours on the hardwood led Kunz to dub Scheidel “Superman.”

There were exercises, but also exercises of the mind.

“He’s the one who taught me about envisioning myself doing it over and over again,” Scheidel said of Kunz. “We’d just sit there and envision ourselves doing what we want to do and what our goals are.”

Kunz couldn’t be one of those trainers who connects with his athletes by doing 30 pullups or 200 pushups. But Scheidel said Kunz inspired him on a deeper level.

“He’s in a position where everybody would understand if he was mad at everyone,” Scheidel said. “But he’s one of the most selfless and kind people that I know. That teaches me what I have to be.”

A few moments after Scheidel won the state title, tears ran down his face. There were also tears from Kunz, who was at Mount Tahoma High School to see the race.

It would be easy to assume Kunz was living vicariously through Scheidel, that he experiences triumphs through his athletes he never could on his own.

But that would be false. Kunz’s thrill is no different than any coach for whom inspiration is a two-way street with his or her athletes.

“It’s better with these guys than it ever was for me,” Kunz said. “You get to help them chase their dreams.”

Micah Rice is The Columbian’s Sports Editor. Reach him at 360-735-4548, micah.rice@columbian.com or on Twitter @col_mrice.