Andy Witte, the head boys cross country and boys and girls track and field coach at Archbishop Spalding High School recently traveled to Africa to cross yet another marathon off his list of “things to do.”
The 37-year-old Witte, a 13-year teacher and running coach at the Severn school, has made a personal goal to run a marathon in each of the seven continents. After the race in Tanzania this summer, he is more than halfway there, completing marathons in North America, Europe, Antarctica and now Africa.
Where did this Spalding coach get such an idea? “In 2003, I was monitoring a Saturday detention and was reading the newspaper. I read about this guy from Virginia who had just completed marathons in all seven continents and it sounded like an amazing thing to do,” said Witte.
Witte caught the running bug as a high school sophomore; he became successful in his finishing times and developed a genuine passionate for the sport. He went on to run with the Greyhounds of Loyola College in Maryland, Baltimore, and his love for the sport continues today.
That passion is evident in his coaching, as well. An excellent coach, a quiet motivator and a strong mentor, Witte places an emphasis on motivation, self-discipline and focus which are derived from his own accomplishments across the terrain of our world.
However, the finish line is only part of the race; each step along the way provides opportunities to develop physically, emotionally and socially. “My greatest accomplishment in running has come through coaching,” said Witte. “My favorite part is seeing how (the experience) affects kids. How it boosts their confidence and gives them a great group of kids to pal around with.”
The relationships are as important to Witte as the results on the course. “Just seeing kids transform over the years, from goofball freshmen to strong, confident, well-rounded and highly motivated young adults is enough for me.”
His recent two-week trek to Africa provided Witte with the opportunity to practice what he preaches day in and day out. Prior to the marathon, Witte participated in a five-day climb of Mount Kilimanjaro. “It was very, very difficult. It was just a rugged hike,” said Witte of the climb.
A group of eight hiked to 9,000 feet the first day, 12,000 the second day, and 15,000 on the third day, followed by the final ascent to the summit at 19,300 feet. Aside from the challenge of decreased oxygen levels throughout the ascent, the climb took the group through five different climate zones, leading them through an alpine desert, snow and ice.
Hiking the final leg to the summit proved to be the most difficult. “At that height, the oxygen level was less than 25 percent and any exertion was exhausting,” Witte said. “The summit was at 19,300 feet, but I only made it to Gilman’s Point at 18,700 feet. Acute mountain sickness was setting in for me, with nausea and problems with my balance,” said Witte, who headed back down the mountain after taking in the vast beauty surrounding him.
Arriving back to the town of Mochi, Tanzania, Witte focused on his preparation for the marathon, which was right around the corner. In spite of his seriously bruised and blistered feet, the hike had minimal effect on his marathon performance, and Witte can now cross one more continent off of his list.
When asked about his philosophy on life, Witte reflected on his passion for running, and offered this, “I try to tell my students to find something that you’re passionate about and then pursue it with everything you have, and then give back.”
Witte’s teaching, coaching and life experiences allow him to do just that as he uses his passion for running and for life to help young people discover their own.
And as far as next year goes, Witte is taking a break from the marathon circuit and plans, next summer, to attend the Olympic Trials for track and field in Eugene, Ore.