By Brittney Whitefield
Being a coach is more than just teaching the game, it’s about shaping athletes into well-rounded members of the community. Grand Rapids Community College cross country coach Matt Sicilia does just that.
Sicilia, 39, was born in Milwaukee, Wisconsin and raised in West Branch, Michigan. His passion for running started in high school where he ran for his school’s track and field team. His coaches noticed that he stood out in distance running, and they decided to move him to the cross country team his junior year of high school. After high school, Sicilia continued his career at Calvin College where he competed in the NCAA Division III national championship his senior year.
In the 1980s GRCC had a cross country team but the program was cut. GRCC’s cross country program was not revived until 2014 when Sicilia was recruited for the head coach position.
As a runner, Sicilia likes to push himself to the limit and try to achieve faster times every time he laces up his running shoes.
“I fell in love with the idea that the harder I worked, the faster I got,” Sicilia said.
Now he uses this concept to help coach the students of the GRCC cross country team, telling them, “the thing you can control is your effort.”
Being a coach means having a lot of influence on the people being mentored. Sicilia takes a positive outlook on coaching. He encourages his runners to become not only better runners, but better members of the community.
“We don’t want any of them to set limits on themselves or in life,” Sicilia said. “We want our runners to work hard in whatever area of life they end up in to make a positive difference on the people around them and just to make the world a brighter place.”
Sicilia is not only shaping the lives of college students, he also influences the elementary students that he teaches during physical education class. He enjoys teaching the children that it’s important to be a positive and optimistic person in the community.
At GRCC, the men’s and women’s cross country runners have a couple goals set for this season. Sicilia said that his goal for the whole team is to “improve more than they ever thought possible.” The men’s cross country team is pushing to make nationals for the third year in a row.
Two of his runners, Trystan Thayer and Sam Borisch, are in the running for All-American honors which is given to the top 40 runners in NJCAA. Borisch said how much he appreciates the effort his coach is putting in to push him toward that goal and recognizes Sicilia’s drive to push the team towards being better runners and more importantly, better people.
“(He’s) one of the hardest workers I know,” Borisch said. “He challenges us to do the best we can, not only in running, but life.”
When Sicilia isn’t teaching physical education or coaching cross country, he’s spending time with his wife and three children. Camping, spending time outside and watching movies are some activities that they enjoy doing together. He raises his children with the same coaching attitude that it is important to do something meaningful in life and do things that they will be proud of.