It used to be that graduate students were often pegged as scholars so entombed in their studies and their campus libraries, they rarely saw the light of the day. There was usually not time for a family or children or even a social life.
Now imagine having two young children and managing four track & field and two cross country programs and the student-athletes that entails all while pursuing a master’s degree with your spouse.
Although it seems incredible and nearly impossible, CSUN track & field head coach Avery Anderson and his wife Bridget Anderson, an assistant track & field coach with the Matadors, finally accomplished the feat on the evening of May 21 when they graduated from CSUN with their Master of Public Administration degrees with an emphasis in Leadership.
Like some of the races their student-athletes compete in, the experience was a long and grueling test which made crossing the finish line that much sweeter for the two track & field coaches.
The Andersons’ story is one steeped in college athletics. The couple met as track & field student-athletes at UCLA, married in 2009 and have two children, son Andy and daughter Avery. While at UCLA, Avery competed in both football and track & field while Bridget competed in the pole vault and javelin for the Bruins.
Avery is in his seventh season as the Matador head coach and 13th overall with the program. Before taking the helm of the program, he worked under CSUN legend and U.S. Track & Field and Cross Country Coaches Association Hall of Famer (USTFCCCA) Don Strametz. This 2017 campaign is Bridget’s 12th with the Matadors and she works with the CSUN pole-vaulters and multi-event student-athletes.
For the family, education is paramount. With son Andy and daughter Avery, the Andersons make it a priority that they spend substantial time each day working on reading, writing and other fundamental skills. So when they decided to take the plunge into graduate school after a lengthy break from the classroom, they knew they had to be fully committed.
“We like to be people who walk the walk and not just talk the talk. With all the student-athletes we’ve helped get to graduate school and beyond, we looked at each other and knew we need to be about it as well,” Bridget said. “The reality is we work for the State of California and the program at CSUN is fantastic. We have some great professors that I wanted to learn from while also setting a great example for our children. After we enrolled, I envisioned our second child, with whom I was pregnant at the time, and Andy watching us walk across the stage.”
“We had a lot of motivations to get this degree. Part of it is what we are here at CSUN, as coaches, but being NCAA coaches at the Division I level is not just about the athletic competition. It is about shaping and helping these young people become successful,” Avery added. “That’s the mission statement for our program. In doing that, we are entrenched in the university and I feel like the professors in this program are a big part of what is happening on this campus. They are really about the students here in a way that is better than at other institutions I have been at as a student-athlete and a coach. This is by far the best combination of faculty helping the students on campus succeed that I have experienced.”
The names of their favorite professors roll off their tongues like close friends and Avery is quick to point out that Bridget is graduating with a 4.0. Of course, getting there is a story in itself.
“I was looking at a coach who is instrumental on our team, handling travel and working with student-athletes, and also doing all the things at home with two young babies, including a newborn,” Avery said of his wife. “Our daughter was born on a Tuesday, we had a track meet on Saturday and Bridget was out there. This is in the middle of the master’s program. It is amazing to see how much she was able to balance because this was not easy. To have done so with the largest roster on campus all while coaching on the national pole vault summit staff, it was like watching the impossible get done.”
“Obviously, Avery and I have not slept for the past few years,” Bridget said with a laugh.
“Seeing him as the head coach of six teams, sometimes I would feel guilty asking him simple questions because I was adding to his plate. I learned that President Obama no longer chooses the ties he wears because he has to make so many decisions, it becomes too many to make. The reality was we got through this successfully because of how much we believe in CSUN and our student-athletes. They inspired us to be better and we wanted to inspire them. I would drag my body out to the track some days dreading how I was going to be energetic and positive enough for them. All that went away when I saw their faces.”
Both mentioned that managing around 100 athletes in over 20 different events is a lot like public administration. Traveling, getting hotel rooms, buses and food for a traveling party of 70 can be a daunting task. One factor that re-assured the Andersons was the support they got from their parents, something that had to increase with the foray into a post-graduate degree.
“Both sets of our parents have been instrumental and basically went through the program with us,” Bridget said. “We had to approach them before we got started to make sure we had their support in this venture. So when we had night classes, it was my mom who came to babysit.”
“We had to schedule classes together to keep our babysitters from going crazy and some nights Bridget would have to save a seat for me because issues with the team would keep me late,” Avery said.
One thing that never wavered was their commitment to their studies and to their kids’ studies.
“For me, it was important for my son to continue to learn and read every day. Bridget works with him on this every day and I had no idea all that went into it. Actually, my mom was a teacher and I just forgot,” Avery said. “Ensuring proper education is critical and Bridget is constantly doing that with our kids. It also spills over to our student-athletes through their course work and making sure they are succeeding. It is a continuous cycle of making adjustments and getting things to work, especially in the physical training regimen of our student-athletes and the nuances each individual requires. Finishing out this program became a thing where all the other things in our life drove us. Seeing my kids asleep was a motivation. We knew we had to set an example for them.”
Bridget admitted to studying in the kids’ rooms while they slept, the glow of the computer screen illuminating her face while she watched her babies.
“Something about being around them kept me from falling asleep. Avery and I had much different studying routines, but we hold each other accountable and it worked well,” she added. “We could speak the same language about a paper or a class. Through it all, we remained committed to being CSUN Matadors and to track and field because we live this and our kids are invested in it.”
All that work culminated in comp exams, a lengthy written test challenging all that the Andersons had learned over the course of the program. The date for the exams was May 12, the same day as the opening day of competition at the 2017 Big West Track & Field Championships at Cal State Fullerton. So, the Andersons sacrificed the extra day of studying that most of their peers got and took the exams a day early. Then they there were off to Orange County.
The Matadors had a sensational time at the 2017 Big West Track & Field Championships. The women’s side claimed six individual titles from four different student-athletes and won the team championship by claiming the 4x400m relay over UC Davis by a narrow .09 seconds. The team championship was the 10th for the women’s program since joining the league.
For his efforts, Avery was named Big West Women’s Coach of the Year, the second time in his career that he has received the award. The team title was his third as the Matadors’ head coach and both coaching awards and two of the team titles came during his time enrolled as a graduate student.
Now that the experience is over, neither are reticent to look back and reminisce wistfully.
“There are so many reasons to not do it, you just have to find the one reason to do it and hold on to that,” Bridget said. “We went slowly in our program and I would tell people I was slowly working away. You just have to find the reason why and hang onto it because the world will give you a thousand reasons why not.”
“Bridget is the only female coach at CSUN working with male student-athletes and she has helped guide them to conference championships in a variety of events,” Avery said. “There are not as many opportunities for her as for others, but she never allowed that to be an excuse. I am proud of her and myself for this achievement. I am more proud that we went out and walked the walk and not just talked about it.”
CSUN will be sending a large contingent of student-athletes to the NCAA Western Regional Preliminary Championships in Austin, TX on the campus of the University of the Texas from May 25-28.
While it’s unlikely the Andersons will take a victory lap for their academic achievement, they may be able to claim fatigue from walking across the stage.