Student-athletes excel under longtime track coach

She sits at her desk, twisting and twirling a plastic spoon filled with a chocolate Frosty from Wendy’s as her ample awards and medals gaze proudly at their coach from atop her armoire.

Her business cards are colored with hints of white, green and orange and are emblazoned in bold letters with “AMY DEEM.” They aim straight at the door, welcoming anyone who comes to sit in the cozy and homey office that overlooks San Amaro Drive.

Amy Deem hardens her gaze and ponders for some time before starting to reflect on her success.

“You always have great pride when your student-athletes excel, not only in athletics but just in life,” said Deem, a Hurricanes track and field coach for 24 years. “After this year we’ll have two student-athletes in med school. So for me, it’s not just even Olympic sports, but to see our athletes excelling post-college in whatever their endeavor – whether it’s their job or it’s sports – to feel like you had a little part of that … it is very rewarding.”

Deem has seen it all. She coached the USA women’s track and field team at the 2012 London Olympics and became one of the first women in the country to serve as head coach of both men’s and women’s track and field programs. Deem has sprinted through the barrier of women as a minority in sports and has proved to be a compassionate coach and a proud leader.

With athletes such as Olympic gold medalist Lauryn Williams and up-and-coming freshman sensation Shakima Wimbley under her wing, Deem has coached all sorts of talent in her years at UM. Before she was elected head coach in 1990, the Hurricanes had never sent an athlete to a qualifying round. Now, Miami is one of the ACC’s stronger teams, having sent 43 students to 12 different national championships.

When Deem was named program director in 2008, she was one of only six women in that position at a Division I school. Deem was excited about the opportunity to coach both men and women, in addition to becoming a part of the growing number of women in sport leadership positions.

“There’s just not a lot of female athletes in our sport, so for me one of my focuses was to be more available to our young female coaches,” Deem said. “I can coach Artie Burns as well as a guy can, and I think there’s still a stigma out there for girls. For me it’s really about being able to be successful so that people can see that gender doesn’t matter with coaching.”

Her passion for the sport and for her peers bleeds past the athletes on the track. David Villavicencio, assistant director of athletic communications at UM, works with Deem directly every day to set up meetings and organize schedules.

“Working with Coach Deem is an interesting opportunity. She has helped mold so many successful athletes that she seems to know what it takes to make anyone successful. She repeatedly makes the good ones great and the great ones champions,” Villavicencio said.

A few years into her head coaching tenure, Deem led Miami’s first-ever track athlete to win at the 1997 NCAA Championships. 2005 was a shining year for Deem, as the team made program history twice by placing third at the NCAA Indoor Championships and ninth at Outdoors.

Her champions speak highly of her, including Williams, who thanked Deem on national television as Williams announced that she would donate her 2014 Winter Olympics silver medal to the UM Sports Hall of Fame. Deem’s student-athletes come to appreciate her not just for her expertise, but for her emphasis on making track a team sport rather than individual.

“This year at the NCAA Regionals, we ended up finishing up the best we’ve ever had in a while,” senior long distance runner Luke Fontaine said. “It was cool for once to have a full team showing, and it was my last-ever cross country race so that was really cool to experience.”

Fast-forward 16 years from the first track athlete to win a championship: Deem led 13 students to qualify for the NCAA Division I Championships just last season.

Deem ran hurdles and did long jump in high school and at Ohio University. A knee injury took her out during college and she wasn’t able to run competitively again. Her outlook remained positive when she realized that she had never planned to use her running for fame or to break records. Deem always dreamed of being a coach.

“Even though my college career was cut way short, the ultimate goal was never to be an Olympian,” she said. “I’ve always wanted to teach and coach, so it was difficult for my competitive nature, but it just took some refocusing.”

Even directly after her knee injury, Deem volunteered as an assistant coach for Athens High School, a small public school near Ohio University.

It did not take long for Deem to become a successful leader, and she quickly made a name for herself with the Hurricanes. She was inducted into the UM Sports Hall of Fame in 2006.