Going the Extra Mile: Coach Jusseaume Takes WSU Runners to the Finish Line

By Kendra Wynn

 

He was a tall man with a protruding stomach, light gray hair, and thin glasses framing his brown eyes. He was wearing jeans and a Worcester State jacket. He smiled ear to ear when he saw me as he walked out of Worcester State University’s athletic offices.

This was the first time that I met Gary Jusseaume. Jusseaume had recruited me to run on his cross-country team, and had been very persistent, insisting that I needed to come to Worcester State to fulfill my running potential.

Jusseaume had a folder with my name on it that included my previous 5k times, times that girls on his current team ran, meal plans, training schedules, and much more that was almost overwhelming to 18-year-old me. We sat down and looked through every page in thorough detail.

Even though Jusseaume can come on strong, he is very convincing with his knowledge and love for running. I came to Worcester State and have been running on his team for almost two years, but his running and coaching history began many years before I met him.

After only running for three years, Gary Jusseaume was already competing for the the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) Division III National Championships. That is something that even many great college athletes never get a chance to do —only the best of the best are allowed to compete.

This meet, at Ashland College, changed Jusseaume. He learned about running and, indirectly, about coaching. It is one of his fondest memories as a runner.

“That experience was revelatory,” said Jusseaume. “I learned valuable lessons that I still carry with me today as a coach.”

Jusseaume could be considered a mediocre comedian at times and a fairly well-spoken motivational speaker at others, but he is always thought of as a great coach. When his athletes described his most prominent personality trait, the common theme was his positive, understanding attitude and sense of humor.

“He’s always trying to make us laugh, whether it is with a pointless little joke to get us to smile or when he is lightheartedly making fun of us,” said Courtney Guay, a sophomore runner on the cross-country and track teams. “I would describe him as a jokester, but also extremely kindhearted.”

He gives a lot of his athletes that same impression as someone you can joke around with, but also as someone who can be serious and who you can take your problems to.

“He is silly and funny, but also serious and smart,” said Emma Cucchiara, a freshman runner on Jusseaume’s team.

Cucchiara isn’t wrong about Jusseaume’s smarts either. Jusseaume graduated from Worcester State University in 1973, with a degree in English. After graduating, he went on to further both his academic knowledge, attending two graduate schools, and his coaching knowledge. Only one month after Jusseaume’s college career ended, he began coaching. For the past 38 years, he has dedicated his life to it.

He wasn’t just getting by with coaching either—he was coaching teams to success. He coached championship winning teams at Mandarin High School and Marlborough High School. Also, he  won two championships while coaching at Assumption College.

That was his first-ever coaching job, and there he had the experience of coaching great athletes. One athlete, in particular, stood out—Rick Ouellette. While competing in college, Jusseaume used to compete against Ouellette.

Ouellette was dedicated and Jusseaume wanted to help his dreams come true. Ouellette aspired to compete in the NCAA Division II National Championships, but he was not a runner of that caliber when Jusseaume first began coaching him. They set the date for nationals and made it their goal to get Ouellette to qualify for that meet and to be able to compete on a national level.

Both Ouellette and Jussesaume had the focus and the dedication needed to qualify. After a year of diligent and strenuous training and coaching, Ouellette qualified for the national meet. The qualification happened at Bryant University, at the first outdoor track meet of the season in the midst of a heavy snowstorm.

Ouellette not only qualified, but ran one of the fastest mile times in the United States at the time. Still under Jusseaume’s coaching, Ouellette eventually competed at the National Championships at South Dakota State University.

In the finals for the mile event, he ran with the United States’ mile record holder Steve Scott, who was from the University of California-Irvine. Even though Scott won the race, Ouellette got a personal best time, which no one at Assumption College has even come close to beating to this day. Ouellette achieved his dream under the guidance of Jusseaume, and neither of them will ever forget that.

Even though winning isn’t something new to Jusseaume, as a coach or runner, the feeling never gets old. And that shows in his demeanor.

“As a coach, he is very focused on the victory and triumph of the team,” said Devin Burns, the cross-country assistant manager.

This focus on victory puts an obvious motivation in him, as well as in the athletes.

“He is a great coach,” said Shaylee Puleo, a freshman runner. “He always believes in you and pushes you to do your very best.”

“He’s very devoted in our practices, whether it be writing our workouts or timing us,” said Guay. “Also, at meets, he’s our number one fan.”

Jusseaume isn’t just coaching to get more wins under his belt—he is coaching to change lives, as well as to improve his own life and well-being at the same time.

“Coaching provides me an opportunity to stay close to the sports, cross-country and track, that I love,” Jusseaume explained. “My running days have passed, yet I get to live vicariously through the training and competitive efforts, the trials and tribulations, of my athletes. It’s exciting to see an athlete set PRs [personal records] and establish new school records. I’m especially looking forward, in the coming weeks, to recommending the first female runner I coached at WSU for induction into the WSU Hall of Fame.”  

He is not only driven by winning, but also by a passion for knowledge about the sport. When speaking to Jusseaume, he has an answer to almost every running-related question you could think of, and most likely has an answer for many non running-related ones as well. His athletes and peers respect this knowledge base and often take note of it.

“He really understands the sport,” said Cucchiara.

This is evident when Jusseaume stands on the track with his sheet protector full of pages prepared with workouts that are organized by event and individualized with certain paces for every runner—paces that he has calculated to make each runner better than she was before.

“He was smart and really knew what he was talking about when it came to running,” Guay stated when describing her first impression of the coach.

And she wasn’t the only one who instantly recognized his immense running knowledge.

“I knew right away that he was very knowledgeable about running,” said Puleo.

This knowledge also helps the athletes believe in him and his coaching.

“[I use] a combination of some old school training regimens and cutting-edge training methods,” Jusseaume said to describe his coaching. “Some of the old stuff still works, but the new training methodologies are the result of tests and trials at the United States Olympic Training Center. I adapt what works with elite athletes for a college level.”

This style has been working for Jusseaume and his team, although there is always room for improvement.  

“It changes; it depends on the team and the caliber of the athletes,” Jusseaume said. “I’ll go to a clinic again this summer, meet coaches from around the country, and find out what innovative things they are doing and figure out if they might apply here.”

His unwavering loyalty and focus on the team does not go unnoticed.

“His devotion to our team and our improvements is my favorite thing about him,” said Guay, as Cucchiara agreed with her statement.

“I love him,” Cucchiara added. “He’s a good coach and a caring person.”

Jusseaume has a personal and friendly relationship with every girl on his team. He treats them with respect, but doesn’t hold back when a chance comes up to poke fun at someone. It is obvious that he is very invested in all of their lives. He knows the girls’ schedules — when they can and cannot come to practice because of class or work– and he remembers if he needs to  come to work early to do a workout at 6 a.m. for a girl who cannot run any other time of the day.

He is invested in them, and he gets the same level of respect in return.

“Athletes have to believe that you know what you are doing,” explained Jusseaume. “You have to be honest and sincere, and come to practice prepared with workouts already programmed. And on any given day—if the workout doesn’t work—you junk it, change it, and get the most that you can out of the workout. It helps to have good athletes like we have this year. We have some good people willing to work hard.”

And, although the athletes are working hard on their own merit, Jusseaume’s positive attitude and motivation always helps.

“The personality trait that stands out to me the most is his positive attitude,” said Cucchiara. “It always gets me ready to run and motivates me.”

This motivation led the team to yet another one of Jusseaume’s victories. This year, Jusseaume coached the WSU women’s cross-country team to their first-ever win at MASCAC, the Massachusetts State Collegiate Athletic Conference championship meet.

During the two weeks leading up to the championship meet, Jusseaume was feeling more and more confident in his athletes. They were looking stronger, and more confident in themselves as well. The motivation to win was within everyone.

On the day of the MASCAC meet, anxiety washed over Jusseaume. He knew that he had coached a good team, probably a better team than had ever run at Worcester State before, but he still didn’t know if they were good enough to beat out Westfield State, who had won last year and the 10 years prior.

He watched athletes come toward the finish line and tried to keep score in his head, but it was a close one, and he couldn’t get his hopes up yet.

When the coaches found out that Worcester State had, in fact, won, Coach Jusseaume kept his cool and didn’t give away the results or let anyone read his facial expressions.

“I knew that we won before the team did, so keeping it a secret for 10 minutes was tough,” Jusseaume explained. “I don’t think that either Westfield or Worcester State knew who won, so it was fun to see them call out Westfield as second place. We didn’t react, and when they said that we won, it was well worth the wait to see everybody get excited, because it was the first time that we won the conference.”

And it wasn’t just Jusseaume who thought he did a good job of keeping it under wraps—the team had no idea whether or not they had won.

“His expression was completely straight when waiting for the results of the cross-country MASCAC meet,” said Puleo. “We couldn’t tell if we had won or lost; the suspense killed us.”

But they had done it. With the help of Jusseaume’s coaching, knowledge, and dedication, the Worcester State women’s cross-country team won their first ever MASCAC meet that day.

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