After the awards had been delivered to the top 3A KingCo cross-country athletes, Juanita High’s Robert Eichelsdoerfer was recognized for his 25 years of coaching at last month’s championships at Lake Sammamish State Park.
Those years mark his time spent just in the cross-country realm. Overall, the 59-year-old has coached track distance runners and cross-country harriers for 35 years, and he feels with that lofty number under his belt, it’s a good time to step away from the sports. He loves coaching the kids, but it’s now time to embark on a few trips with his wife during the months those sports are in season.
Like a true athlete, Eichelsdoerfer — who coached at Juanita High the last 10 years and at Bothell High the 25 previous years — will also get in some trail running now that he’ll have more weekends free.
He’ll miss “working with the kids and watching them improve, not only through the season but throughout their career,” he said, adding that the camaraderie between the coaches was a huge plus as well.
Juanita High coach Neil Kells threw Eichelsdoerfer a surprise retirement party recently at the Sumerian Brewing Company in Woodinville. Athletes and parents from both schools and other coaches from the area were in attendance.
“It was really cool. It was a bit surreal at times to realize that here I made a decision that I’m gonna be retiring from coaching, but it was really cool to see not only fellow colleagues in coaching there, but also parents, and then the athletes,” the coach said. “It made you feel good to realize that you had an impact on so many lives.”
Eichelsdoerfer’s wife, Petra, noted that her husband is a man of high ethical standards, displays professionalism and is dedicated to bringing out the best in all his athletes, on and off the running course.
“He truly enjoys sharing athletes’ progress during the season and after. This applies to all athletes – he delights as much in a special-needs athlete finishing a race for the first time as he does when another sets a big personal record or a top runner makes it to the state competition,” Petra said.
B.J. Dawson, a career and college readiness counselor at Bothell High, coached with Eichelsdoerfer at Bothell and said his depth of track knowledge helped motivate the athletes as they prepared for meets.
“I know it made a lasting impression on me as both an athlete and a coach and is a huge reason why I have a similar passion for KingCo and BHS track history. Needless to say, Eich may be retiring but his passion for track and distance running will never retire,” said Dawson, who ran the sprints at Bothell High.
Always an active youth, Eichelsdoerfer latched onto running cross country in the fourth grade at Crystal Springs Elementary in Bothell and never looked back. He also ran at Leota Junior High and at Bothell High, where he graduated from in 1979.
He ran road races in college and finished his first marathon at the age of 21. Over the years, he’s run 68 more marathons, 11 50Ks and more than 200 road races, with distances ranging from a mile to a half marathon. Eichelsdoerfer chuckled after he listed those mammoth accomplishments.
While Eichelsdoerfer certainly knows his own running stats, he’s a walking stat database for those he coached as well, Kells said.
For Eichelsdoerfer, running is relaxing and it gets him away from everything, although he often comes up with work solutions for his job in civil engineering as a project manager/senior engineer for King County. He attended both Washington State University and the University of Washington, where he earned degrees in forest management (WSU) and logging engineering/civil engineering (UW).
“It’s just me out there running, and just have some time to think about yourself, think about life,” said Eichelsdoerfer, adding that he enjoys the tranquility of it all and being out in nature.
The Bothell/Mill Creek-area resident always fostered a family atmosphere where the teams had pasta feeds and he would recognize athletes of the week and personal records. On the mental side of the sport, he had runners relax before races and silently visualize the course before heading out.
“No. 1 is to have fun, enjoy what you’re doing,” Eichelsdoerfer said about his philosophy, following up with, “Improvement has always been huge in my eyes.”
Juanita’s Kells said that Eichelsdoerfer opened his eyes on how to coach distance athletes, and the Rebel coach learned about using the offseason to prepare for the regular season and working with each athlete individually.
“Coach Eich has made a huge impact in the lives of so many athletes in the Juanita and Bothell communities. He made sure that every athlete was valued and an integral part of the team. That no matter how fast they ran, they were important and that their improvements were celebrated,” said Kells, adding that Eichelsdoerfer will be greatly missed.