Strengthening a Community—Literally

Former strength and conditioning coach Dawn Strout honored by endowment of position

Dawn Strout
By Alexander A. Pyles
October 2, 2019

Dawn Strout says she tried to be there for everyone at Colby.

It’s why the former USA Hockey strength and conditioning coach threw herself into learning about Nordic skiing. Why, as the coach responsible for ensuring Colby’s NCAA athletes reached peak performance, she also taught strength classes for the entire campus community. Why it meant so much when a non-varsity athlete asked for a personalized strength plan or when a former athlete told Strout how her instruction prepared her for a career as a physical therapist. 

For nine years, Strout was the head strength and conditioning coach in Waterville, lending her considerable knowledge and experience to athletes, students, faculty, staff … well, pretty much everyone.

“It was a community in the sense of there wasn’t one sport that was better or more important than any other. There wasn’t one student, or student athlete, male or female, that was any better than anyone else,” Strout said. “Everyone had the same, and deserved the same, kind of opportunity to become better. In regards to that, my door was always open.”

Perhaps that’s why an anonymous donor decided to name the endowed position in Strout’s honor. Endowed positions carry with them prestige and a dedicated revenue source and often pay tribute to individuals who left legacies—in this case, the Dawn Strout Strength and Conditioning Coach at Colby.

Now an assistant professor of exercise science at Saint Joseph’s College of Maine, Strout said she doesn’t know who’s making the gift. She doesn’t venture a guess. After helping hundreds—thousands?—in her almost-decade at Colby, how could she?

“I was very blessed and fortunate to be able to work in a place like that,” she said.

Count Tracey Cote, in her 22nd year as the Nordic skiing head coach at Colby, among those who feel fortunate to have been blessed by Strout.

Cote, a formidable Nordic skier at Northern Michigan University, said she and her teammates did “very basic” work in the weight room. She hadn’t worked with a strength and conditioning coach—as an athlete or as a coach—until Strout arrived at Colby in 2010.

But Cote sought her advice. Strout brought a scientific approach to helping Cote train Colby’s ski team. She tested athletes’ lactate threshold, studied their diets, and analyzed their ability to recover from intense exercise. 

Cote says Strout, a trained exercise physiologist, gave Colby an advantage over other programs. “At the time I started working with Dawn … I would look at what the U.S. Ski Team was doing with their athletes, and we were even ahead of them,” Cote said.  

The results speak for themselves. Cote is a two-time Eastern Intercollegiate Ski Association Coach of the Year, but it wasn’t until after Strout arrived that Olivia Amber ’17 became the first member of Colby’s Nordic ski team to be named an All-American after finishing ninth in the 15-kilometer mass start in the 2016 NCAA Division I Skiing Championships.

It doesn’t escape Cote’s notice that Strout spent so much time helping student athletes in a sport so relatively small that the NCAA holds single, all-division championships for men and women. “She didn’t have to help the Nordic ski coach,” Cote said. “Dawn never didn’t help me.”

She never didn’t help others, either.

Maddie Tight ’15, a former co-captain of the women’s soccer team, said Strout “made an impact on every single team” at Colby.

She recalls attending as many of Strout’s strength and conditioning classes as possible, and said the coach made sure each person had the support they needed to reach their strength goals.

Tight, a third-year physical therapy student and part-time personal trainer at the University of Montana, said Strout’s lessons have stuck. While studying the Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist test, Tight realized that she wasn’t falling back on her physical therapy education—she was recalling the lessons she learned from Strout at Colby.

“As a physical therapy student, I think it would have been a challenging test,” Tight said. “But as an athlete at Colby lucky enough to train under Dawn, I had been through all those protocols.”

Tight felt compelled to dash off an email to her former strength and conditioning coach.

“I just wanted her to know that ‘hey, you touch a lot of individual athletes. I hope you know what you taught us is still making a difference,’” she said.

Blaise MacDonald, the Jack Kelley Head Coach for Colby Men’s Hockey, has coached college hockey for more than 30 years. At Boston University he worked with renowned trainer Mike Boyle, whom MacDonald described as the foremost strength and conditioning coach for hockey in the country.

MacDonald places Strout on equal footing. Both coaches, he said, are lifelong learners and collaborative—unafraid to face questions about training plans. “Our players, at one point in time, were curious about the program we were doing, and she was happy to sit down and meet with them and go through the why,” MacDonald said. “It helped our players understand it and buy in at a deeper level.”

For Strout, explanation and accountability were standard operating procedure.

“I actually believe the education is such a vital aspect in what we do,” Strout said. “Anything we want to take forth to the kids in the program design, it’s important to educate them. … They wanted to know why they were doing it. They’re pretty smart. They’re not just going to do something to do it.”

MacDonald, who became the Mules’ coach in 2012, said he and Strout were always on the same page. “We never did have a disagreement,” he said. “At the end of the day, I would defer to her. My eyes would tell me that we were conditioned, we were strong, that we were really able to mitigate injuries as best we could.

“The proof was in the pudding that what she was doing was working.”

Colby men’s hockey reached NESCAC playoffs in five of MacDonald’s first six seasons, including a conference title and NCAA Frozen Four appearance in 2018. He won the American Hockey Coaches Association National Coach of the Year after that season.

He said Strout was a big part of that success. She figures she was “two percent of it.”

It would have been easy for the humble coach—floating among Colby’s 32 varsity programs and her campus-wide strength and conditioning classes that would sometimes include more than 100 students—to remain nameless, unseen, unrecognized.

She wasn’t eligible for coach of the year awards. Her contribution was more subtle, more nuanced. It was a contribution worth remembering and honoring—by forever associating her name with strength and conditioning at Colby. 

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