Jonah Koech, a native Kenyan and member of one of D.C.’s most elite track clubs, joined the GDS track and field team’s coaching staff this past winter. Koech, born in Eldoret, Kenya, has been running for as long as he can remember.
Koech was formally introduced to the sport by his high school coach, Colm O’Connell. With help from O’Connell, Koech became fast enough to run at a professional level.
According to Koech, O’Connell appreciated his skill early on. “He saw my talent and he said, ‘We are going to work on it,’” Koech said. “He is like my mentor.”
Koech’s talent eventually warranted his move to the D.C. area for better track opportunities. In the District, Koech joined the highly esteemed District Track Club. Koech’s coach at the District Track Club, Tom Brunlek, reached out to GDS’ head track coach, Anthony Belber.
“He was working out with the District Track Club, which is an elite track program for adults,” Belber said of Koech. “And their head coach, who I’ve known from the world of track and field, reached out to me and said, ‘We have this new young member of our team and he’s looking to get a start in some coaching.”
Soon after Brunlek’s call to Belber, Koech came to one of GDS’ fall cross country practices and introduced himself to the team, joining them for a run. Koech was then offered a job as the assistant distance coach for the winter track season.
With the hiring of Koech, Belber said it is clear that GDS is investing in the best coaches and resources for its athletes. “[GDS Athletic Director] David Gillespie has been really supportive whenever I asked for assistant coaches here or there, whether they’re working for specific events,” Belber said. “David’s been great at hiring people.”
Not only has Koech worked to help GDS’ runners improve, but according to Belber, he also added esteem to the team. “People take him seriously because they know he is running at a very high level,” Belber said.
Koech recently placed seventh in the 800-meter race at the U.S. Track and Field Indoor Championships, with a time of one minute and 49 seconds.
Belber also emphasized Koech’s involvement in coaching all of the team’s runners. “He’s not just interested in our top athletes; he wants to see everyone progressing and improving,” he said. “He recognizes that everyone gets something out of running.”
Koech knows his impact on the team and recognizes GDS runners’ skill. “What I see about GDS is that it’s like a family, and they have people that are very talented here,” he said. “It’s a special place to be.”
As a coach, Koech said that he wants to do all that he can to help the school’s developing runners. “I want to help those people who are young because there are some other things that they were never shown,” he said. “I’m ready to show them what they’re supposed to do.”
Several runners who spoke with the Bit said that they felt Koech was a huge help to the team. “He really inspired us,” sophomore Rand Poellnitz, a distance runner on the winter track team, said. “There are some older members [of the team] who watch his runs—watch his races. We can all see someone who’s really talented at work, and we can use that to inspire how we work.”
“Ever since he came, he has been a real inspiration to all the team members,” sophomore Abel Elias, a distance runner on the winter track team, said. “His story and where he comes from—he’s a real inspiration to us all.”
Koech’s time with GDS’ running community will last longer than just a single winter season, as he has accepted a coaching role for the spring. According to Belber, Koech has had a delayed start in the season due to personal matters, but is expected to return in coming weeks.