Carrying a torch for female coaches before her

Courtesy of Kim Dismuke

Kim Dismuke will be the first female head coach for a USA Track & Field (USATF) men's national team.

Female coaches in charge of high-level collegiate, high school and international teams remain a small percentage in the sports world. In fact, only 2 to 3.5 percent of collegiate male teams have female coaches, a decrease since the passage of Title IX in 1972, according to a 2014 report.

Kim Dismuke is defying those numbers and making her mark on the world of track and field. She will be the first female head coach for a USA Track & Field (USATF) men's national team when she takes the U20 delegation to Tampere, Finland, in July for the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) World Championships.

"Kim was the best qualified coach for the job. She's enthusiastic, committed and has the experience necessary," says Ed Gorman, USTAF associate director of championships and programs.

Dismuke's appointment is noteworthy, not only because she'll be heading the men's team, but the U20 team, one of the most important for USATF. It's from the U20 team that many future Olympians and world champions arise, so her skillset will have an impact on the international stage.

In her veins

A lifelong athlete and runner, Dismuke stood out from the start growing up in the Chicago suburbs. "I was always that girl who beat all the guys at field day," she laughs. "I played just about every sport available to me from junior high on: softball, soccer, track, volleyball. Anything offered, I did it."

While she was good at all the sports in which she participated, it was track and field where she caught a coach's eye. "My junior high school coach saw my running talent and started pointing me in that direction," Dismuke, 51, explains. "I still remained a three-sport athlete in high school, though."

On the track in high school, Dismuke preferred the 200 and 100 meter, but her coach nudged her toward the 400.

"I fought it, but I also took on cross country so that I could improve at longer distances," she says. "In college, I moved on to the 400 while still doing some 100s and 200s and a little bit of jumping, too."

While running was always a part of her life, coaching didn't fall onto her radar until much later. "I was very focused on becoming an FBI agent," she says. "I was an accounting major because at the time, the FBI needed accountants. Unfortunately, I discovered I didn't like accounting."

She ran for five years at Illinois State University, following two injuries and a red shirt, and moved into the insurance industry upon graduation, still holding on to her FBI dream. A serious car accident a few years later, however, ensured working at the bureau wouldn't be in her future.

"I'm right handed and injured my right shoulder, losing about 50 percent of my range of motion," Dismuke explains.

Courtesy of Kim Dismuke

Dismuke's appointment is noteworthy not only because she'll be heading the men's team, but the U20 team, one of the most important for USATF.

Fate intervened soon after at the hair salon. "I was having a conversation that a high school assistant principal overheard," says Dismuke. "She (Brenda Davis) asked if I'd like to volunteer at the school. I left my insurance job, taking a pay cut, because I wanted to work at the high school in social work and coaching," she says. "I fell in love with coaching."

After 10 years coaching track and field at the high school level, Central Arizona College recruited Dismuke to head up its women's sprinting program. She's been there 11 years. As she strives to learn more about her sport and coaching, Dismuke became involved with USATF soon after becoming a coach.

"I started going to conventions, clinics and any other educational opportunities," she says. "I had mentors to guide me, too, like (women's high jump coach) Sue Humphrey."

Gorman says that the USATF appreciates Dismuke's dedication and involvement in the sport.

Coach Dismuke understands the technical aspects of the sport. She's friendly, but she also means business.
Quintaveon Poole, ran under Dismuke's guidance at the 2015 Pan Am Game.

"She's been an athlete, a coach, an official and an administrator both locally and nationally," he says. "She's also been a ref at the world junior championships."

Her qualifications made her a shoe-in for the IAAF coaching job. "At the annual meeting, we take nominations for the positions and Kim made it on the first ballot. There's absolutely no negative feedback on her." That's not surprising when you consider her level of dedication to her athletes.

"I drive an hour and a half each day to coach after my teaching job in Phoenix," she says. "I've been fortunate to have great principles who understand and allow me to leave early when necessary."

In her role as a coach, Dismuke sees athletes, not males and females. "There are no gender differences that come into play for me as a coach," she says. "I am there to be the best cheerleader, coach and mother figure possible. I will do whatever it takes to ensure the students are in the optimal situation athletically and academically so that they can step out into the world as the best individuals they can be."

Quintaveon Poole, a 21-year old runner at Wayland Baptist College in Texas, ran under Dismuke's guidance at the 2015 Pan Am Games and has remained in contact with her ever since. In the two years since earning a gold medal in the four by 400x400 relay under Dismuke -- Poole's first and only female coach -- Poole has often called on her for pointers in running and life.

"Coach Dismuke understands the technical aspects of the sport," he says. "She's friendly, but she also means business."

As she prepares to step onto the world stage as the first female coach for a USATF male team, she looks at it as an opportunity to shatter myths. "There's been a belief that women can't coach men," she says. "I truly believe that an athlete is an athlete and gender doesn't come into play. Women can get the job done, as has been demonstrated for years." 

Gorman says that Dismuke will pave the way for other female coaches to follow. "Hopefully her position will encourage more women to apply for male team coaching positions in the future," he says.

Dismuke hopes to be judged on her record as a coach, not her gender and is encouraged by the support she has received so far.

"It's been great to see how many male coaches have contacted me to express their support," she says. "I'm taking the torch for female coaches who came before me, but never had this opportunity."

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