A brisk wind chills the air as the small crowd gathers together
toeing the line. The sun has risen, but its rays don’t shine thanks
to the clouds that impede their luster. There he stands in front of
his troops, his four-corned hat pulled down to his eyes conjuring
up images of Vince Lombardi or Tom Landry, as he gives a few words
of advice: “Just go out fast and relaxed,” he says with a smile.
“Anything from 53:30 to 55 minutes is fine.” And with that he sends
them on their way, 22 men and women wreaking havoc on the county
roads of Fort Collins for the space of seven to 10 miles. This is
what he does, what he loves to do. With the passion of a
10-year-old at Disneyland he follows his athletes on their trek,
shouting out their splits at each mile mark, always smiling, giving
out words of encouragement.
“There is nothing better than watching this team run,” he says
with a smile as broad as the Mississippi. “I love to watch them run
as a team.”
He is a different breed of a coach, a dying breed if you will –
one that is often not found at Division I schools, but more suited
for Division II athletic programs. This is because his duties are
not limited to the 25 or so athletes he coaches and trains in the
fall for CSU cross country, but to the 70-80 men and women he
coaches and trains into the winter and spring as the head track and
field coach. True he has his assistants to help him along the way,
but in no sector of the Mountain West Conference, or at any other
Division I-A athletic program of note, does one head coach take on
the duties of both men’s and women’s track and field and cross
country teams. But, as said before, this is what he loves to do.
His door is always open for his athletes – be they top recruits or
walk-ons – and his years of knowledge he offers to each liberally,
without the slightest discrimination. “He tells it like it is,”
says Austin Vigil one of his most talented pupils.
“Anytime I ask him what time he thinks I can run (in a race) or
what place I can finish, he’s always within one or two places and a
But what else can be expected from a man who has spent a good
part of his years training some of the best the nation has to
offer. At one point he was the only coach in the nation to have
coached at three Division I track and field programs and taken each
to the NCAA Championships in track and field.
He has the ability to make good athletes great, great athletes
superb and superb athletes champions. All while asking only one
thing from everyone: “I have no problem with anyone being on this
team, as long as they are willing to work.”
He is Del Hessel, a teacher, a motivator and a friend to all
those who have the privilege of falling into his good graces.