By Chris Lotsbom, @ChrisLotsbom
(c) 2015 Race Results Weekly, all rights reserved
(11-Aug) -- Parker Stinson now is in possession of a road map, a plan that is written down and ready to go. Nearly two months ago, after finishing as the top American at the B.A.A. 10-K in Boston, Stinson spoke at length with Race Results Weekly, expressing his excitement on becoming a professional. He was ready and willing to do whatever it took to get the most out of his running and move to the next level. Less than a month out of college, Stinson knew the transitional road ahead may be a tough one, a learning curve of sorts that would become clearer with time.
Today, the 23-year-old Texan knows exactly where that aforementioned road leads. Team USA Minnesota announced earlier today that the University of Oregon alum and six-time All American had joined their team, and will be coached by Dennis Barker. He is sponsored by Saucony.
"At some point I needed to make an investment in the next step, and this is it. I'm very excited," Stinson told Race Results Weekly, speaking exclusively over the phone from his home in Eugene, Ore. "I think the biggest thing is just the excitement, working with Dennis and the team and working together. The whole collective team's excitement, I can just feel it. Being a part of that, I'm really looking forward to that."
In the weeks after his ninth place finish at June's B.A.A. 10-K, Stinson recognized that in order to take the next step and improve as an overall athlete, he'd need to explore all options and surround himself with elites. Having spoken to Barker previously at the Payton Jordan Stanford Invitational, then again at the USA Outdoor Track & Field Championships, Stinson recognized that Barker held the keys to potential future success.
Barker was drawn to Stinson not only by his talent, but by his throwback grind-it-out style.
"His hair. He reminds me of some of the great runners in the 70s who had long hair and could hammer harder than anyone. It's the attitude that you have to push your boundaries in order to expand them," Barker wrote in an e-mail to Race Results Weekly. "His mind is open so he's able to honestly assess his races and workouts and apply it to continuing to push those boundaries."
Sold on Barker's coaching philosophy and enthusiasm, Stinson was ready to join Team USA Minnesota, the post-collegiate group formed in 2001 that has developed 23 national champions. To ease his transition into the group, both Stinson and Team USA Minnesota collaborated on a solution that would help Stinson thrive the most: he will spend part of his first year in Minnesota training along with the rest of the team, part of the year back in Eugene --where his longtime girlfriend Ashley Maton resides-- and part of the year traveling with Team USA Minnesota to training camps in warmer climates.
That is what drew Stinson to Team USA Minnesota in the first place: a team chemistry that will both push him out of his comfort zone while also nurturing him into the next echelon of American runners. He'll join a men's roster that includes Jon Peterson, Eric Finan, and Josh Dedering, as well as newcomer Abbabiya Simbassa (formerly of the University of Oklahoma). Among the team's top women runners are mile specialists Gabe Grunewald and Heather Kampf, and distance ace Meghan Peyton. Katy Moen and Megan Goethals have also recently joined the team.
"It's so important to be surrounded by positive people who give their best and encourage and support their teammates to do the same. Parker is that type of person," noted Barker. "I expect him to be competitive."
Stinson already got his first taste of success under Coach Barker. After taking a week completely off after the B.A.A. 10-K, Stinson began following Barker's coaching guidance. He jumped into the Wharf to Wharf 6 Miler on July 26 in California, finishing seventh with only four weeks of relatively basic training under his belt.
Like taking in a breath of fresh air, Stinson gained confidence and a new boost of energy from beginning with Barker. For years he'd been guided by the University of Oregon's Andy Powell, someone he considers one of his closest mentors and friends. While he achieved success in Oregon, Stinson believes the change in environment and guidance will be beneficial.
"I felt so good in that [Wharf to Wharf] race," he said. "You know, I just felt good doing it... I was doing some things that [Coach Barker] suggested and I just felt so good, so confident. I'm really looking forward to now getting excited to progress and see how I can do in these other races coming up after I've been training and doing hard workouts."
Stinson will now focus on the USA 20-K Championships at the Faxon Law New Haven Road Race in Connecticut on Labor Day. From there he will travel to Minnesota to gear up for the USA 10 Mile Championships (Medtronic TC 10 Mile) in his new backyard on October 4. To cap off the season, he's eager to race his first half-marathon as a professional at the AACR Rock 'N' Roll Philadelphia Half-Marathon on October 31.
While building goals around his upcoming races, Stinson is particularly looking forward to joining his new teammates, many of whom have been running professionally for years.
"The older guys are going to be able to do some things like longer runs, or whatever it is, they'll be able to help me in different ways," he said. "These guys are ripping the 3-Ks, the 5-Ks, and 10-Ks because they are so talented. I'm looking forward to joining that and even going farther. They are experienced."
He continued: "I think that's going to help give me the best chance of success. The best chance to transition well. I thank Team USA Minnesota for the opportunity."
Speaking for nearly 25 minutes, it is evident that Stinson is ready for the next chapter. Now is the time to push the boundaries and surround himself with elites who have the same goals as him. After all, we are now inside one year until the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympics, and are that much closer to subsequent World Championships.
"I'm ready and excited to take that next step," Stinson said. "You have a good chance to be successful when you put yourself in a good situation."