U of A Graduate Puts Coaching Passion to Work While Caring for Daughter

Oct 4, 2018 | Health, Human Performance and Recreation

Michael Garrison, far left, is pictured with athletes he coaches who led pace groups at the Hibiscus Half Marathon earlier this year. Several are making a hand gesture called a shaka, which Garrison explained is one of many ways to say aloha in Hawaii.

Michael Garrison, far left, is pictured with athletes he coaches who led pace groups at the Hibiscus Half Marathon earlier this year. Several are making a hand gesture called a shaka, which Garrison explained is one of many ways to say aloha in Hawaii.

Michael Garrison is using his doctorate in exercise science from the University of Arkansas and years of experience as a collegiate coach to pursue his passion – coaching runners one-on-one – while taking care of his 2-year-old daughter every day.

Garrison coached track and field and cross country at the U of A as a graduate assistant, finishing his doctorate in 2005, and then at the University of Maryland and the University of Hawaii. He also has two years of experience as a high school track and field coach and one year as a collegiate cycling coach.

When his daughter Elsie was born in August 2016, Garrison and his wife, Pauline, an embryologist, decided that he would stay home to care for her. They had started the Hawaii Running Lab in the spring of the year before. The business model allows him to work anywhere in the world with anyone in the world by using a cellphone and laptop – along with his knowledge, expertise and love for helping individuals succeed at their goals.

His athletes, 45 and growing, range from people training for a 10K race to one who is preparing for a 240-mile race in Utah. Some he works with in person where he lives on the island of Oahu, but many he communicates with online spread throughout the United States and other countries. As word of his coaching services spread, he gained a number of clients from military bases all over the world, including several military personnel based in Hawaii who heard about Garrison from their peers who had successful experiences.

“None of them are professional runners but they all have pretty hearty goals and expectations,” he said. “I had taken some time away from coaching and I missed the coach-athlete interaction.”

Garrison takes joy in working with people to solve puzzles about how they can improve their performance, and he said patience is also a very important attribute a coach needs. He volunteered as a coach for his sister’s soccer team when he was 11 and, after an injury in junior college, worked as a sprint coach for the local high school team.

Garrison is a California native, who earned an associate’s degree before attending the University of California at Davis for a bachelor’s degree in exercise science. He didn’t know there was such a thing as a degree focusing on exercise and coaching until he saw friends who were college athletes reading their textbooks on physical education.

An athlete himself in high school, junior college and the University of California, Davis, Garrison already knew he wanted to be a coach. He wanted it so much he was willing to take several advanced math and science courses at a time when he discovered the liberal arts foundation he had gotten at community college wouldn’t suffice.

A tragedy brought him to Arkansas after he lost a close friend in an airplane crash in 1996. The friend was a U of A student and Garrison came to Fayetteville later that year to meet his friends and mourn his death. He returned to Fayetteville in 1998, earning a master’s degree in recreation and sport management and then the Ph.D. in exercise science.

“I still smile when I think of working with Michael Garrison as a doctoral student,” said Ro DiBrezzo, who holds the rank of University Professor of kinesiology and now serves as vice provost for academic affairs at the U of A. “He enjoyed learning, loved our discipline, and understood the impact that movement and exercise could have on all individuals. His real talents included connecting with people at a very fundamental level, listening, and then responding accordingly. When I worked with Michael I learned as I taught… it doesn’t get any better than that!”

Garrison worked as a graduate assistant for Lance Harter, a coach Garrison described as legendary in his own right, working in a program that boasted the most successful coach in NCAA history, John McDonnell. Harter coaches women’s track and field and cross country at Arkansas, winning back-to-back national championships in 2015 and 2016. He is the most successful coach in U of A and SEC women’s cross country and track and field history.

“I was very fortunate to be around some of the best coaches, leaders and mentors, and many of those were at Arkansas,” Garrison said. “The technical aspects of whatever you’re doing changes but coaching is coaching. My time in Fayetteville was absolutely fantastic. I have stayed in touch with former athletes and coaches. Northwest Arkansas and the University of Arkansas is an incredibly special place, and the way the entire state is behind the Razorbacks is incredibly special.”

Garrison and his wife are expecting a second child in December. He expects to also keep growing the business and to expand marketing efforts once his children are school-age.

“I foresee doing this for the rest of my days,” he said. “I love coaching, supporting others and helping them achieve whatever their dreams are.”

Interested people can follow @Hawaiirunninglab on Facebook and Instagram.

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