Although Bob Thurnhoffer has been with Loyola’s cross country and track and field as an assistant coach for the past six years, a new era is dawning on the program as he takes on the role of head coach.
Thurnhoffer said that while the Rio de Janeiro Olympics recently inspired the next generation of athletes, the 1992 Olympics were the inspiration for his personal track and field career.
“My background goes all the way back to the 1992 Olympics,” said Thurnhoffer. “I was a little 11-year-old boy watching the Barcelona Olympics. I turned on the TV and saw Carl Lewis and Mike Powell in the long jump. I saw that both of those guys were jumping 28 feet and it blew my mind.”
After watching Lewis and Powell accomplish what seemed like an impossible feat, Thurnhoffer said he decided to take matters into his own hands.
“I begged my mom to get a tape measure from True Value — yes, True Value — and I dug the tape measure into the ground and pulled it out to 28 feet,” said Thurnhoffer. “And, as a little 11-year-old kid, stood there in absolute awe that a human being could jump that far.”
Influenced by the Olympians that took home gold and silver medals, Thurnhoffer joined his high school track and field team, where he was not a stand-out athlete.
Despite his lack of star quality, Thurnhoffer said he remained passionate about the sport. He joined his community college’s track team. At College of DuPage in Chicago’s western suburbs, he improved so significantly that he received a scholarship to the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC). During his senior season, UIC offered him a position to be a jumps coach after graduation. Thurnhoffer served as a part-time coach at UIC for four years before he moved to Loyola, where he began working as a grad assistant.
Thurnhoffer’s passion for the sport continues at Loyola and does not go unnoticed by his players.
Jake Mazanke, a graduate student and mid-distance runner, and Ella Tracy, a graduate student and distance runner, said they value the dedication Thurnhoffer, who rose up the coaching ranks over the past six years, puts into Loyola’s track and field program.
“Bob is young and extremely passionate about the sport — extremely passionate — and always striving to better himself,” said Mazanke. “He puts in a lot of time, which I appreciate. Loyola isn’t a stepping stone for him. He loves this place.”
Tracy said Thurnhoffer is an encouraging and supportive coach, which makes practicing with him less of a chore.
“He’s truly passionate about the sport and that’s what made it such an exciting opportunity for him to be named head coach,” Tracy said.
Thurnhoffer said he looks forward to his new position and he assures that his coaching style won’t change.
“I’m the person that sets the tone and culture of the team,” said Thurnhoffer. “You want to create an environment where positivity trumps negativity. I’m a laid-back guy. I like to have have fun. I crack a lot of jokes in practice. That will never change, and if it does, I should fire myself because you have to enjoy what you do.”
Thurnhoffer said he understands the difficulty of running a program without the proper facilities. Loyola does not have an indoor track of its own, so the athletes have to run on treadmills or outside in the frigid Chicago winter. Still, he refused to dwell on the constraints of the program and insisted they should be worn as a badge of honor.
“I love being a Rambler. I’m a Rambler at heart,” said Thurnhoffer. “The meaning of Rambler comes back to the football team not having a field. We are Ramblers. We fulfill that legacy more than any team here, and we’ve done well despite that. I appreciate it.”
The cross country and track and field teams are scheduled to compete at 4:30 p.m. on Friday, Sept. 9 at the Illinois State Invitational.