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A Dynamic Duo

Lynn and Ryan Ahlers, the new co-head coaches of the women's cross-country team, open up about balancing parenting, careers, and coaching.

Addy Smith

The Ahlers Family

Addy Smith, Iowa City High School

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Since day one, Lynn and Ryan Ahlers’ relationship has been rooted in City High cross-country.

“For our first date we talked in the foyer of City High while our teams, that we were assistant coaches for, were stretching after a run. I asked Lynn if she wanted to get some dinner and a drink at the Mill,” Ryan Ahlers said.

Laughing, Lynn adds, “I think we even went to the Mill in our running shorts.”

Eight years later, the couple is embarking on their next journey together as co-head coaches of the City High women’s cross-country team.

“We want to show and give the program the same amount of love as it gave us,” Ryan Ahlers said. “We know that we have the ability as coaches to maintain a high level of performance on the cross-country course and win championships, but most importantly the day-to-day coaching of a bunch of athletes is really what got us hooked on coaching this sport to begin with.”

The Ahlers’ first began coaching together in 2014 as assistant coaches with middle-distance runners on the track team at Bozeman High in Bozeman, Montana.

“That year in Montana we knew when we were coaching that group of 45 boys and girls that this was something that felt so right and natural,” Lynn Ahlers said. “Doing it together [we found out that] we have similar enough philosophies that at the heart of it we could agree on the big things. The small things that we didn’t [agree on] we really grew from and we learned a lot from each other. So, we knew. We knew right away [that this was something we loved to do]. Even the next day we were like, ‘This is fun.’”

Initially, the couple feared that their runners would pick favorites between them, but they soon realized that to their athletes, they came as a package.

“What we noticed is that the kids really enjoyed us together. Kids felt that they could talk to me and Lynn, at the same time,” Ryan Ahlers said.

Those 363 days that Lynn and Ryan spent in Bozeman played a crucial role in shaping their future coaching desires.

“We knew from day one that [coaching a team together] was something that we have to do at some point again in our life,” Ryan Ahlers said. “At that point I knew I wanted to be a head coach someday. And Lynn did too. We were like, ‘How cool would it be if we were able to coach a cross-country team together?’”

Since that realization three years ago, the Ahlers’ have since moved twice, and had two kids, August and Winnifred. Winnifred was born less than two months ago, on July 31st, the same time as cross-country pre-season camp.

“We knew that this was going to be crazy with two young girls. We kept saying, ‘Can we do this? Yes we can do this! Can we do this? Yes we can do this!’ And we know we can’t do it alone. If there’s one thing we’ve learned it’s that we wouldn’t be able to do anything without the help of our family,” Lynn Ahlers said.

A typical day in the Ahlers household begins after an intermittent night of sleep, thanks to two-month old Winnifred. Ryan and Lynn then head straight to work, Ryan to City High where he teaches Success Center, and Lynn to Southeast where she teaches Spanish. Once the final bell sounds to end the day, they each rush to practice, and take turns leaving practice early to hurry home to the kids. When asked how they are able to sustain this routine day after day, Ryan and Lynn put it quite simply.

“Don’t run out of love. During the day we both teach and then we go to practice and that entire time we love what we do,” Ryan Ahlers said. “There are challenges with it, there are stressful parts of that too, but if you can stop and think back about why you do it in the first place you end up sitting back and being able to smile.”

Lynn hopes that by diving into both mothering and coaching simultaneously, that she is inspiring those around her by proving that having multiple commitments requires sacrifice and compromise on both ends.

“For me it’s trusting my heart to know that my kids will one day understand that when I’m away it’s because I’m modeling doing something that I care about to them,” Lynn said. “I also have to trust from the team standpoint that I know that when I have to leave practice to run home to breastfeed that I’m modeling to the girls on the team that I’m being a mom.”

Not only are August and Winnifred Ahlers surely noticing their parents’ display of devotion, but for their love of running as well. When the time comes, however, Ryan and Lynn don’t want their girls to feel pressured into running.

“We want their interests to guide them to try things and not be afraid to take risks with trying new things, with activities, and athletics,” Lynn Ahlers said. “If they are interested in running, we want them to approach it in a way that feels healthy and in moderation, especially at a young age.”

Not only do Ryan and Lynn Ahlers have plans for their young family’s future, but for the future of their team as well. At the top of that list lies their ultimate goal: “[Winning] state championships and conference championships”.

“I have no doubt in my mind that we can get back there, but it takes a different level of thinking, it takes a different level of training, and it takes a different level of the way we approach day-to-day things,” Ryan Ahlers said. “One thing I want to do is show the entire team that you can have all of the fun in the world with the social aspects of the team and you can still be really stinkin’ fast and enjoy being competitive, tough, and gritty [all whilst being] nice, beautiful people. It can all come in one package, we just have to figure out how to get there.”

In attempts of figuring out how to obtain their end goals, the coaching duo hopes to diffuse some of their shared running beliefs to the next generation of competitors along the way.

“Some of the philosophies that we both share are that a person doesn’t have to fit into a certain mold to be a great runner, that positivity and enthusiasm go a long way, that mileage should progress thoughtfully, and that it’s fun to work hard,” Lynn Ahlers said.

Although they have many beliefs they hope to pass down to their runners, their coaching style is most accurately described as example-driven and laissez-faire.

“It’s up to the girls to run the races and do the workouts and it’s up to us to teach them how to do that effectively. The girls run the program–we guide it–but they run the program,” Ryan Ahlers said.

At the end of the day, no matter what lies in City High girls cross country’s future with the Ahlers’ at its helm, both Lynn and Ryan acknowledge that they wouldn’t have even been in the position to think about the program’s future without each other.

“With our family right now, with two young kids that we adore, to be able to keep our minds and our hearts constantly juggling [everything going on in our life], we need each other,” said Lynn Ahlers. “We both respect the passion and the dedication that it takes to sacrifice time with each other to be doing something for cross-country.”

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