Spotlight: Jim Hennessy

Illustration by Lucinda Drake

It’s early spring. Along with blooming flowers and sloshing puddles, this time of year brings the beginning of the track and field season. The pole vault mat returns to its seasonal home in the bowl of the track. Hundreds of students show up to practice, veterans and newcomers alike. Everyone is excited for the prospect of improving over the course of the season, and will inevitably be surprised by how quickly the district championships arrive. No one knows this cycle better than Jim Hennessy. 

While most Franklin students know him as the head coach of the track and field team, Hennessy’s own running career holds stories of success. In his prime he was a gifted athlete and qualified for the 1980 Olympic trials in the marathon. 

When he joined the track team in junior high, Hennessy didn’t start out at the front of the pack. “I was average at best at the beginning,” he said. However, he improved throughout his high school years and qualified for state in both cross country and track his senior year. 

“My senior year I started getting college offers, and I don’t think I really considered … going to college

[before then]

,” Hennessy said. He ended up attending Central Washington University on a full scholarship for running. Without this scholarship, he might not have been able to go to college. During his senior year at Central Washington, Hennessy ran an average of 120 miles per week. “I don’t think anything I ran was slower than six minute [mile] pace,” he said.

In the week leading up to a marathon, Hennessy “flooded” himself with water in order to be sufficiently hydrated during the race. This enabled Hennessy to run faster and made the dangerous act of running such a long distance safer. 

Hennessy qualified for the 1980 Olympic trials at the Seattle marathon with a time of 2:18:04. The U.S. boycotted the Moscow Olympics in 1980, so American athletes were barred from competing. A few marathoners who qualified for the trials didn’t attend because it wouldn’t get them to the Olympics. Hennessy, on the other hand, decided to run the marathon on the hot summer day in Buffalo, New York; qualifying for the Olympic trials is quite an accomplishment, whether or not it takes one to the Olympics.

When Hennessy first coached track and field at Franklin in 1977, he was still running a high mileage. An achilles injury ended his racing career in 1984. He has now been the head coach of track and field at Franklin since 2006, over a decade. Hennessy’s favorite part of coaching is watching athletes compete. “As the head coach, I’ve learned to appreciate every event and the challenges of each of them,” Hennessy said.

Though Hennessy enjoys coaching, he plans to retire after the 2019 track season. “It’s been a lot of fun, and I think I’m gonna really miss it, but I have a lot of grandkids,” he said. Every year, Hennessy has a special day where each of his five grandchildren plants a plant. They watch it grow in his greenhouse, and eventually take it home. In addition to gardening and spending time with his grandchildren, Hennessy enjoys travelling with his wife. They recently went to a balloon festival in Albuquerque, New Mexico. 

Hennessy reflected on his many years of coaching at Franklin, saying, “Franklin kids are really hard-working and tough and kind of remind me of the years when I started running.” His advice to Franklin track and field athletes is to “keep plugging away, and maybe good things will happen.”

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