Coupeville High School will turn to the past to develop the future of its cross country program.
Natasha Bamberger, one of the most successful distance runners in school history, will coach the Wolves this fall when cross country returns to the school’s lineup of athletic offerings after a 20-year hiatus.
Bamberger was the first Coupeville athlete to win a state cross country title when she crossed the finish line first in 1985. She also won state titles in track, claiming the gold in the 3,200 in 1984, 1985 and 1986 and in the 1,600 in 1984. She still owns the school records in the 1,600 (5:09.6) and 3,200 (11:23.7) set in 1984.
After high school, Bamberger joined the Air Force and flew helicopters. After leaving the service, she got married, settled down in Vermont, had two children and began her coaching career.
“The minute that my life allowed me to be able to coach I did,” she said. “I always wanted to coach and knew I would.”
A volunteer job in Vermont turned into a head coaching position and she helped the team grow from eight girls to 33 in three years. Her teams and individuals consistently finished among the state leaders.
“I wanted to coach because literally everything I had accomplished and challenges I faced up to this point in my life — flight school, SERE (survival, evasion, resistance, escape) school, even a war — I attribute to the confidence that running gave me, and especially for the love and time my coaches growing up put into me,” she said.
One of Bamberger’s most cherished moments as a coach came when one of her athletes told the coach that she gave that student the love of running.
“I expected to give to the team my experience and passion for the sport, but they actually inspired me, which I did not expect as a coach,” Bamberger said.
“Through the years, my runners would knock on my door when they came home to go for a run, and I felt honored to be invited to their families weddings.”
Bamberger’s personal success as a runner didn’t end in high school. Her athletes inspired her to keep running and Bamberger turned to ultra running (distances beyond a marathon, which is 26.2 miles), especially technical mountain running.
Bamberger was invited to join an Eco Challenge team that competed in Borneo.
“In the next five years I was asked to compete on better and better teams, got sponsored, racing in the Pyrenees, Spain, Newfoundland, Brazil and qualified in Oregon and Western Australia to finish at the World Championships in Gstaad, Switzerland, in 2004,” she said, noting she was the only woman on a four-person team.
When Bamberger, who now works for Boeing running flight simulators at Naval Air Station Whidbey Island, moved back to Coupeville, she was sad to see the school no longer had a cross country team.
“I wanted to coach and give back to the sport that gave so much to me,” she said. “I have great memories and feel so fortunate to have grown up running on these beautiful trails and roads. I want to share that.
“Cross country teaches great lessons in life. How to work hard and see it through to a goal. This builds on itself life-long.”
Bamberger added that the sport “looks great” on college applications and can lead to scholarships to “very good colleges and universities.”
The students’ four years in high school are important, she said, and she believes the athletes can accomplish anything with the right amount of support.
“Whatever I can do to help launch these kids during these most important years,” she said, “I want to help and be a part of that.”
Bamberger now has the opportunity to touch Coupeville the way it influenced her.
“We are going to have a great season. We are starting small, but I have been there before and will build a strong, fun program for Coupeville.”