By Michele Kappas
When someone has the ability to run a marathon in 2:59:22 and can claim the title “world champion,” heads are going to turn.
This is exactly what happened on Jan. 8 when Palm Beach Atlantic University hired Sonja Friend-Uhl as the new men’s and women’s cross country coach.
Friend-Uhl has been turning heads at least since 1989, when she became the Delaware State Champion for the 800 meters while still in high school.
She then earned a 16th place finish at the 1993 NCAA Championships during her college career at William and Mary.
Friend-Uhl started coaching as an assistant for cross country and track and field at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania in 1996.
She then took on the head coaching position at Western High School in Davie, Fla.
Friend-Uhl is a two-time world champion of the World Lifesaving Federation Championship Women’s 2K Beach Run. She won the races in 1992 in Shimoda, Japan, and in 1997 in Auckland, New Zealand.
I am very excited to begin working with the teams and I KNOW
they will see vast improvement as we move into the summer to prepare for Cross-Country.
— Sonja Friend-Uhl
Two of Friend-Uhl’s most recent wins include the Disney Race for the Taste 10K, in which she finished with a time of 36:33; and the Girls Wanna Run Road Mile with a time of 4:51.
It is not a question to any of the students or faculty of PBA that Friend-Uhl has phenomenal talent and experience.
However, those are not the only reasons why Athletic Director Bob White hired her.
“We had an amazing conversation where I learned she was a committed Christian attending Christ Fellowship and that she had a strong desire to get into collegiate coaching,” White said.
Committed Christian seems to be what her runners are highlighting as well.
“I love the fact that Sonja cares so much about our spiritual walk,” said junior Kathryn Tietjen, a new member of the women’s cross country team. “I’m excited to be a part of a team again, especially a team that puts Christ first.”
Since senior runner Kyle Pryce has been a freshman at PBA, there has not been a men’s cross country team.
This school year PBA decided to bring men’s cross country back and they ended up competing at the NCCAA Nationals in Cedarville, OH this past November.
“I’m anticipating not only being coached by a world class runner but also running alongside one as well,” Pryce said. “I feel our practices are going to be more intense and I’m excited for that, knowing you’re going to improve under someone that has tremendous experience.”
Friend-Uhl is the president and founder of Run Fast Promotions, Inc.
She spends her time focusing on beginning runners all the way up through advanced runners, while also working with fitness enthusiasts of all ages.
The program includes coaching, consulting, sports nutrition counseling, expos and camps.
Friend-Uhl has also had the chance to work with some of the finest young runners in the world by being awarded an assistant coaching position with the United States Youth Team in 2005 for the IAAF World Youth Track and Field Championships in Morocco.
She is married to Brad Uhl and has two children: 8-year-old Brianna and 10-month-old Alexa.
The men’s and women’s cross country teams have been training on their own with workouts that were assigned to them. Real practices begin today.
Friend-Uhl has been meeting with each runner individually to get to know them.
The team will have 20 to 25 people by the beginning of the season.
On Feb. 27, both cross country teams will take part in the Diploma Dash 5k Road Race in Stuart, Fla. This is their only road race in the spring, as the rest of their competitions will be track meets at University of Florida, University of Miami and Disney World.
“What excites me the most is the exposure that Sonja will bring to the PBA Cross Country,” White said. “And the opportunity to recruit outstanding student athletes because of her reputation as a world class runner, ultimately knowing that her leadership will bring glory to God.”