University of Tennessee Director of Track & Field JJ Clark announced Wednesday that he has named two-time U.S. Olympian Sharon Couch Seagrave as assistant track and field coach for women’s sprints and hurdles.
Couch Seagrave, who will begin her duties on Monday, will fill the void left by Heather Van Norman, who resigned on Sept. 16 after one year at the helm of that event area.
“I’ve known Sharon for a very long time, and she just has great knowledge of the sport and the ability to communicate that knowledge well,” Clark said. “Those are just a couple of the traits that I look for when it comes to picking a coach. She’s very good at expressing herself and captivating the imaginations of student-athletes.
“She knows all of the sprint events well. She’s personally run the hurdles, the 100, the 200 and 4x100, so her knowledge of those events is very good. She also has the personality and ability to go out and sell Tennessee and help us build a more consistent program in the sprints area. That’s why we hired her.”
A 1991 graduate of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill with a degree in speech communications, Couch Seagrave was an All-America performer who went on to represent the United States at the 1992 Olympic Games in Barcelona, making the finals in the long jump, and at the 2000 Sydney Olympiad, advancing to the semifinals in the 100-meter hurdles.
From 1991 to 2001, the native of tiny Rice, Va., represented adidas while competing professionally around the globe. She was a member of five U.S. World Championship Teams as a long jumper. Couch Seagrave also attained world rankings of seventh (2000) and ninth (1999) in the 100-meter hurdles. It was during that time that she became keenly aware of the school and people with which she would one day become associated.
“Growing up in the South and running track, but not really knowing a lot about track since we didn’t have the media saturation we have now, my first interactions with great women in the sport came from the University of Tennessee,” Couch Seagrave said. “Dorothy Doolittle (UT head coach from 1989-97) coached me at the 1992 Olympics, and I PRed there because of her genius and technical ability to bring out the best in athletes.
“During that same Olympics, I had the opportunity to learn from and be mentored by LaVonna Martin Floreal. I’m also from the same area of Virginia as Benita Fitzgerald-Mosley, and from Sharrieffa Barksdale to Joetta Clark, who is one of my mentors, I have been impacted in my life by great women from the University of Tennessee. They have set the gold standard for what women’s athletics, specifically track & field, should be. When you think of Lady Vol track & field, you think of championships, success and of solid people, not just on the track but in the world.
“Being able to join the ranks of those women and be a part of that tradition really is overwhelming. I feel like two things in my life have been defining moments. The first was when I decided to pursue my Olympic dreams, and now the second is accepting the opportunity to represent this program and build champions at UT.”
Since 2000, the new Lady Vol aide has directed Sharon Seagrave Training in Woodstock, Ga., utilizing 10-plus years of training and performance expertise to educate coaches, athletes and trainers across the country. She created and delivered skill-specific track & field clinics for state coaches associations in Georgia, Michigan, New Jersey, Ohio and Wisconsin.
Couch Seagrave, who recently has been devoting time as assistant track & field coach for The Atlanta International School, has spent a great deal of her post-competitive years employed in various corporate pursuits that utilized her high-energy personality and competitive spirit. Among her most recent positions, she was with Masai U.S. Corporation, a physiology footwear company, serving as national director of training/retail account trainer for the Masai Barefoot Technology (MBT) brand from 2007 to 2009. And, in order to join the staff at UT, she departed a sales representative position with Cintas Corporation.
Focusing first on her competitive career and later on raising children, Couch Seagrave always felt called to enter the coaching ranks someday. The timing finally was right.
“This was a strategic choice for me,” Couch Seagrave said. “I retired from my professional career as a track & field athlete 10 years ago, really wanted a family, set out to do that and attained that. I wanted my children to get to a point where they were in school and a little more independent before I pursued a coaching position. I didn’t want to pursue just any position; I wanted one that would match my skills, abilities and experience and would maximize those for the kids I coach.
“Once I decided I was ready to give all of my attention, experience and focus to a group of young women, Tennessee was just the perfect place to do it. The transition is easy, because it is the right program, at the right time, with the right resources for me to maximize what I understand about the technicality of what it takes to be a track coach, to the relationship-building, to the business aspect, to the selling of Tennessee. I think that will be one of my strongest points, because of my personal experiences with Tennessee and of course with what we see is obvious about how great the university is.”
Looking back to her college days as a Tar Heel, Couch Seagrave was a four-year team captain and three-time Atlantic Coast Conference Most Valuable Performer while leading UNC to seven straight league titles. Among the events she competed in while there included the long and triple jumps, the 100m hurdles, the 100 and 200 meters and the 4x100m relay. She amassed all-league kudos on seven occasions and claimed seven ACC titles individually, including 55m hurdles crowns indoors in 1988, 1990 and 1991, and outdoor 100m hurdles victories in 1990 and 1991. She also won the long jump indoors in 1988 and outdoors in 1989.
A five-time All-American, she qualified for all eight NCAA Championship meets (indoors/outdoors) during her collegiate career. She was named UNC’s Scholar-Athlete of the Year and was the recipient of the Patterson Gold Medal in 1991, the first African American woman and only fourth female ever to claim those honors in school history at the time. Additionally, she was president of The Monogram Club and sat on the UNC Athletic Council, representing the school’s 800 student-athletes.
Prior to earning a scholarship to North Carolina, Couch Seagrave attended Amelia County High School. As a senior, she won five events and finished second in a sixth at the state championship meet, breaking four Virginia prep records. She also won the long jump and 100m hurdles at the USATF Junior Olympics and made the U.S. World Junior Team in the long jump as well.