On the morning of last week's Maryland High School State Indoor Track Championships, Ed Bowie, the 32-year-old chain-smoking ex-runner who coaches Central High School, had a breakfast of 10cups of coffee, twp-thirds of a pack of cigarettes and one quarter of a submarine sandwich left over from the night before.
It didn't matter that his Central girls were expected to walk over their competition. "I'd be nervous if we were the only team in the meet," Bowie said before the event.
A sandy-haired, goateed, lanky former American record holder in the 600-yard run, Bowie candidly admits that he has an obsessive interest in track and field. In fact, he adds, it caused his marriage to crumble.
"Except for his daughters (Alisha, 3, and April, 2), I'm not sure he thinks of anything other than track," says his assistant, Rich Grabisch.
Since Bowie took over at the Seat Pleasant school seven years ago, his boys and girls teams have won eight team titles between the indoor and outdoor seasons and have finished second five times. In addition, Central has had 31 individual state champions--an average of more than four a year. Only a few area coaches can match that record.
With a week left to go in the indoor season, Central's powerful foursome of Pam Carter, Robin Benjamin, Pam Gaddy and Karen Woods is leading the nation in the 1,600-meter relay, with a swift 3:55.0 clocking. The same foursome also has the nation's third-best performance in the 800-meter relay (1:46.5).
Bowie is successful, he says, because "I've never done anything else. . . . It's almost a lifestyle. If I didn't do this, I probably wouldn't know what to do. It's not like work, though there's a lot of self-imposed pressure."
Central runners do not participate in track meets, they compete. "We are at a meet to excel, not just to be," Bowie tells his runners. Similarly, Bowie doesn't chit-chat with other coaches during a meet. He stays mostly to himself and his team, concentrating on his runners. "I try not to interact with them (other coaches). Coaching can't stop at the last practice. I coach all the way through a meet."
It is the third event of the meet. Karen Woods, Pam Carter and Pam Gaddy have just completed a 1-2-3 sweep of the 600-yard run, giving the Falcons the lead in team competition. Carter and Gaddy are going to compete in the next event, the two-mile relay, a tough back-to-back double.
Bowie stands in front of the bleachers behind the final turn of the 220-yard indoor track at the Naval Academy's Halsey Field House in Annapolis, nervously pacing back and forth. A victory in this event is essential if Central is going to win another state title. Bowie is fidgety, rubbing his right hand through his shoulder-length hair, as the gun sounds to start the two-mile relay, a 32-lap ordeal. Bowie has given up smoking, for about eight hours, the length of the meet.
Central's foursome is unusual. Gaddy and Carter are tested competitors. Bowie knows that Carter will come through, if she's still in the thick of the race. Gaddy, although not as consistent, can usually be counted on for a solid performance. The other two runners, Andrea Clark and Diane Barino, are unproven; they never have run on a relay team in a state championship meet.
Gaddy leads off and stays with the pack of runners for a lap. On Bowie's command to "make it go," Gaddy surges from about 20 yards behind to the lead, and by the time she hands the baton off to Barino, she has opened a 15-yard lead. While Gaddy is running, Bowie nervously pounds his fist against his left leg. He breathes a sigh of relief after her 'leg'--one down, three to go, he seems to be telling himself.
Barino quickly loses the lead to a runner from Franklin High School in Reisterstown. Bowie now is making strange contortions with his face. Assistant coach Grabisch is on the far side of the track, telling Barino to run loose. With a lap to go, Bowie tells his runner to move. She evens up with the Franklin runner, and as instructed, surges to a 10-yard lead on the final turn.
Bowie already has worked up a noticeable sweat, stalking the sidelines, pacing back and forth, and the race is only half over. He may be getting more of a workout than his athletes. Clark takes the baton and holds onto the lead, but Northeast High challenges, pulling to within five yards after her first lap. Bowie yells for Clark to move. She responds, somehow managing to block out the voices of the 1,700 other screaming fans, hearing only Bowie's voice. She gives Carter a 15-yard lead.
Bowie wipes his brow. Barring an unforeseen fall, the race is Central's. Carter has won several individual state titles and is one of the top quartermilers in the Washington metropolitan area. Before she's finished the first of her four laps, the smooth-striding senior has extended the lead to 75 yards. She crosses the finish line with a 120-yard victory.
Bowie has just gone through 10 minutes, 19.4 seconds of torture. Now an ever-so-slight smile emerges onto his face.
But still, for Bowie, the meet is not over. Almost, but not over. He won't rest, he says, until the trophy is on the Central team bus.
By 1 a.m., the trophy is being passed around to the Central athletes on the ride home. Bowie's girls have won eight of 11 events, including sweeps in the 600 and the 60, to beat runnerup Fairmont Heights 112-50. Karen Woods has scored 38 points on her own, taking the 600-yard run, 1,000-yard run and 60-yard hurdles, and adding a second-place finish in the 60-yard dash behind teammate Robin Benjamin.
"Ed has an extreme singlemindedness about track. It is the overriding concern in his life," says Suitland High Coach Bob Rothenberg. He and his wife Anne made Fairmont Heights a powerhouse for 11 years before moving to Central to coach with Bowie last year. This year, they both moved to Suitland and are coaching its boys and girls track teams. "Some people might think that is narrow-minded and unhealthy, but in our society, that's what you must do to be successful. His intensity carries over to his athletes. Because he works that hard, he can demand the same from his athletes. You can only do that and get results if your athletes know you care about them as both people and athletes."
Bowie deals with his athletes like a skilled accordion player. He is them, and they are him. "He deals with them more on an emotional level, so he knows how to play the game of when to back off and when to push. It's a tremendous love-trust relationship," adds Grabisch, former Laurel head coach.
But, according to teammates Woods and Carter, Bowie does not have a "winning is everything" attitude. "He always tells us that if we get beat it's okay if we've given it our best effort," Woods says. "We can sit and talk with him about anything," adds Carter.
Anything, she is asked? Even female problems? "Yeah," one runner says, "if you get cramps, you can tell him and he won't push you hard. Sometimes, he even sends you home."
Surprisingly, Bowie says he has no burning desire to coach at the college level. "I wouldn't be comfortable as a recruiter and I'm not a technical coach. I know the stuff and I think I could be adequate on a college level."
But mere adequacy is not Bowie's style. Underlying his reluctance to move up to the college level is an aura of insecurity about Bowie as a person. It appears he is fighting to prove his worth to himself, although one would not see this from his tough exterior. "I'll admit I'm afraid to lose," he says. "Any time you win time after time after time, you fear losing," says Anne Rothenberg.
"I know I could stay at Central indefinitely," says Bowie, a physical education teacher. "Ideally, I'll move on to a small college. Maybe have a social life. But I can live with what I'm doing here because I do more good here than I would at the collegiate level."
Few coaches put in the amount of time into track that Bowie does. But what distinguishes him from other hard-working coaches, his fellow coaches say, is his sensitivity to what an athlete needs.
While not taking anything away from Bowie's coaching skill, Anne Rothenberg says the magic Bowie has with his runners "is partly Ed and partly the girls. For all the superstars he has, they are the most down-to-earth, pleasant group you could work with. There's no pettiness about them and there are no prima donnas."
With one event left in the state meet last week, and Central an easy winner, Bowie's mind turned to something he had not thought about since his 10th cup of coffee 14 hours earlier. He was asked what he will do when he gets home. "Tonight," he said in the cold Halsey Field House infield, "I'm gonna eat very well."