UMATILLA — When Josh Ego stepped down as coach of the Umatilla cross-country team at the end of last season, assistant coach Cathy Gertsch threw her hat in the ring for the job. She was hired.

It’s her first head coaching job, but she’s more than qualified.

“I used to be Josh’s coach 20 years ago at Hermiston when I was a volunteer assistant,” Gertsch said. “Four years ago, he said he needed an assistant. It has come full circle.”

Gertsch, 49, who owns Achieve Yoga & Fitness in Hermiston, also is an avid runner.

“My dad (Rudy Alaniz) was a runner and I used to run with him and his Army guys,” Gertsch said.

Gertsch ran at Walla Walla High School. She then married and started a family, but it wasn’t long before she was back on the road.

“When I turned 30, I decided to run 10 marathons,” she said. “Ten turned to 20, and then 28.”

She has run the Portland Marathon several times, and her most recent adventure was the Eugene Marathon in April.

Gertsch is Road Runners Club of America certified, and a member of Marathon Maniacs. She’s not dragging the Vikings on any 26.2-mile runs, but they have been out on the trails this summer in preparation for the upcoming season.

“We didn’t have that many kids last year, and we have just four returning, but we’ve had 19 kids show up,” Gertsch said. “We have a lot of new kids. We are also trying to get the middle school involved with some fun runs.”

The Vikings have been running at 6 a.m. Monday through Friday.

“The fact they wake up that early is something,” Gertsch said. “We have fun. There is a nature trail that goes across into Washington. There is a cave at the end of the trail they can explore.”

Being a personal trainer and yoga instructor, Gertsch offers her runners a variety of activities.

“We are trying to build a culture,” she said. “We will play Ultimate Frisbee, go through an obstacle course at my house, and do a little yoga. At state, some teams are doing yoga, and that is nice to see. I think they are learning a lot.”

Two of Gertsch’s dedicated runners are Abby Cardenas and her cousin Julie Cardenas. Julie is the sister of former Umatilla state champion Fabian Cardenas, who now runs at University of Idaho.

Though things seem to be off to a good start, Gertsch has a few first-year jitters.

“I still have a little stress and anxiety,” she said. “You hope the kids will turn out and that we will have full teams with seven girls and seven boys.”

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