When Ron Helmer took the lead as head coach of IU’s cross country and track and field teams in 2007, he was ready for the challenge of rebuilding a program.
With the program’s glory days of the 1990s and running legend Bob Kennedy behind it, Helmer was faced with teaching a young men’s team how to win and teaching the women’s team to be consistent.
“It was a challenge to rebuild something, but rebuilding is sometimes easier than building,” Helmer said. “Somebody at least associates success in cross country and track and field with Indiana University because there had been success here, which is why I felt this was the challenge I wanted.”
Prior to having success with the Hoosiers, Helmer was already an established coach in the running world.
After being named the high school Virginia Cross Country Coach of the Year twice in the 1980s, Helmer took an offer to help build the women’s cross country team at Georgetown University.
In his 16 years with the Hoyas, Helmer helped the team to 22 top-ten finishes at the NCAA Championships, including a streak of 15 straight, as well as 342 All-America recognitions for his athletes.
“My initial job at Georgetown was to develop the women’s program and it didn’t have tradition and it wasn’t successful,” Helmer said. “So we took that program from virtually being non-competitive to being a Big East Conference Championship team and seven times in the top four at the National Championship.”
When he took the job in Bloomington, he inherited a men’s team with seven freshmen, including recent graduates De’Sean Turner and Ben Hubers.
Helmer’s attitude helped the young men’s team return to the NCAA Championship for the first time in two years.
He made an instant impact with the women’s team as he instilled the value of consistency with the runners.
Since that season, Helmer has been able to bring the Hoosiers to the forefront of the cross country and track world, making them a constant presence in the NCAA as the men placed 7th overall last year, the best finish in Helmer’s tenure at IU.
Senior Andy Bayer, the defending NCAA Champion in the 1500-meter race, said he loves running under Helmer’s leadership.
“He obviously knows what he’s doing,” Bayer said. “It’s pretty easy to be in the program here because you don’t really second guess anything he does.”
As for this upcoming season, Helmer has high hopes for both teams.
With Bayer and senior Zack Mayhew returning as the only members of the core group that went to nationals, spots are open for underclassmen to make a push onto the team.
“We’ve got eight to 10 candidates for those three spots and that group has worked harder than any group I’ve ever had,” Helmer said. “The encouraging thing is they’re not just trying to go back and be 7th at the national meet again, they’re trying to go back and find a way to win it.”
While the women have not returned to a national championship yet, Helmer still believes in them.
“We’ve got a couple girls now who have trained for three or four years and it’s time for them to collectively believe in themselves and give themselves a chance,” Helmer said.