“Hey, who is that?” A teenage Zach Schroeder pointed to the life-sized mural in his friend’s garage.
“That’s my dad.” The man in the mural was Mark Covert, Olympic marathon runner and first person ever to be entered in Nike’s Hall of Fame. And this man would become one of the most important influences in Zach’s life.
As Zach spent time with the Coverts, he absorbed Mark’s infectious love for running. He took to the sport in high school, and when it came time for him to choose a college, he wanted a place where he could run hard to the glory of God.
Zach knew about Master’s then, and the school’s faithful reliance on Scripture attracted him. In the early years of his college career, he had seen how “Christian” athletic programs often functioned just like secular ones. Zach wanted a program where athletes truly performed for something greater than their sport.
At the time, Master’s Cross Country program was nominal, and Zach wanted something more substantial from a running program. So he finished his degree elsewhere, but he never forgot his admiration for the school. When a friend asked him in 2005 to help out with the team at Master’s, Zach came on as a volunteer assistant.
Within that first year, a student from the women’s team qualified for the National Championships. Not long after, Zach transitioned from volunteer assistant to head coach.
Then, in 2007, he married Amie. Though he was happy to do what was necessary for his marriage, Zach didn’t want to give up his dream of coaching. Amie didn’t want him to, either. “Amie said, ‘My dream is to help my husband to be the very best at what God has called him to do. I want to be a full helpmate to help him maximize his giftedness.’” And it was clear where Zach’s giftedness lay.
So instead of having Zach leave the team, the Schroeders decided that Amie would come on as an assistant. From that time on, the couple has been all-in for the team together.
“At the end of 2008 we wrote kind of a vision statement, which was a guiding idea of why we were doing what we’re doing . . . We called it the Master’s Distance project.” This statement laid out their idea of what it should look like to do truly Christian athletics. “We want to be a team that’s living out authentic Christianity through elite athletics. We want to merge those two things together.”
For Zach, one of the most important aspects of this vision is his own responsibility to model mature Christianity to his athletes. “We live in a time where a lot of people think like, ‘Oh, education is about what you know.’ . . . But how people live is often not just what they know, but what has been modeled to them.” So Zach works hard to create a culture of love and trust in his team.
He also works with each athlete individually to make sure they understand and have confidence in his coaching decisions. “People cannot perform without confidence,” Zach says. A large part of his role as a coach is to create a sense of direction and unity for the team. And when athletes have this, they run better.
“The greater the bond of trust between the coach and an athlete, the greater that athlete will perform.” This has certainly borne out in the program’s performance since Zach joined the team.
“We’ve now won ten consecutive conference titles. We’re one of the winningest programs in California for distance running. We’ve had an athlete contend at the US Championships.”
As wonderful as these accolades have been, though, they’re not the real reason that Zach and Amie are still here after more than a decade. A college athlete’s running career only lasts for four years at the most. Zach’s heart is for what comes after.
“My hope would be that at the end of those four years, that what they do for the forty years to come would be greater than the four years they’re a part of this program.” And in Zach’s mind, there’s no better place to be equipped for the next forty years than at Master’s.
“The Master’s University is calibrating the church and equipping athletes and students in a way that they just can’t be equipped anywhere else in the world.” He hopes that the students he coaches will, decades from now, be shining for Christ in unique ways because of what they saw modeled at Master’s.
That’s why he believes the school’s athletic programs are so important. When Zach himself was a college student, he didn’t go to Master’s precisely because the cross country program wasn’t to his level at the time. He doesn’t want any other student athletes to stay away for the same reason.
“This is my heart: if somebody has an athletic gift that has been given by God, I want them to be equipped by The Master’s University on how to use that gift for God’s glory . . . My heart is that if there is a Christian athlete, that they won’t turn Master’s down because we didn’t have the support to offer them.”
Zach and Amie are doing their part to make that hope a reality.