Coaches and ‘sole mates’ lead KHS cross-country team

By Denise Coffey - Staff Writer
Killingly - posted Tue., Sep. 20, 2011
Joseph Banas and Dr. Melissa Perkins-Banas coach the KHS cross-country team. Photos by D. Coffey.
Joseph Banas and Dr. Melissa Perkins-Banas coach the KHS cross-country team. Photos by D. Coffey.

Killingly High School cross-country coaches Joseph Banas and Dr. Melissa Perkins-Banas spoke to the 15 runners who sat before them on the bleachers at the new track facility on Sept. 19. In only their second year of coaching, the husband-and-wife team has managed to lay a foundation for a varsity sport that was just a club sport one year ago. They gave their young team some words of encouragement on the eve of the season's first meet with Fitch, Ledyard and Bacon Academy.

“It's supposed to hurt,” Perkins-Banas said. “It's 90 percent mental. Tell yourself you can do this. You've done the hill repeats. You've done the speed workouts.”

Stay in the moment, she said. Visualize the race. “Pretend you're tying a rope around the runner in front of you to reel her in,” she said.

Both coaches are elite runners with a long line of credits to their names. Both of them have won the John J. Kelly Ocean Beach 11.6-mile Road Race. Perkins-Banas won it four times. She was the 2002 Hi-Tek Racing Connecticut Female Runner of the Year. Banas was a member of the 1984 Olympic Torch Relay that carried the torch through Kansas, Oklahoma and Texas. When they say their lives revolve around running, they have the times, and the titles, to prove it. Now the challenge is how to share that success with the young runners at Killingly.

Perkins-Banas, a neuropsychologist, admits to relying more on visualization and mental training than her husband. “I think he thinks it’s valid,” she said, “but he doesn't emphasize it in the way that I do.”

Banas started running in the ’70s when he was in high school. “I'm from the old school,” he said. “When I started running, it was basically no pain, no gain. We worked hard and did what the coach said.” But he agrees that his runners must believe in themselves.
“They can break through,” he said. “They have to believe that they can do this. And then they get the confidence.”

The two have managed to find the common ground to work from with their teams. “You have to come into it agreeing what you're going to do with these athletes,” said Perkins-Banas. The two share the same philosophy regarding training. They agree on the need for speed work-outs and hill repeats and run recovery.

“We're distance runners,” Perkins-Banas said. “It’s easier for us to coach as a team because we share the same philosophy in terms of running.” They push a healthy diet as part of a regimen for their runners, though they sometimes lose that battle to fast food meals.

Perkins-Banas will often bring healthy snacks for her team to munch on before and after a race. “At least they're getting proper nutrition prior to putting their bodies through a considerable amount of work,” she said.

The balancing act comes when they are trying to get the athletes to reach their potential without getting injured. “We've disagreed sometimes on how much is too much,” said Perkins-Banas. “We make sure we're taking precautions so that no one gets injured. We do a lot of preventative work. My tendency is to say, ‘Okay, we'll stretch you and give you a recovery run, give you some ice, do some taping. Joe is more apt to say, ‘Oh, that's part of the game. Get going.’”

Being willing to communicate and understand each other is key. “We'll actually bounce ideas off one another at dinner,” said Banas. Then they look at the stats for the next meet. They talk about who the competition is and what they did last year.

“Our life is running,” Perkins-Banas said.

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