Denise Hefferin can’t remember the last time she lost her voice.
She channels that guttural “LET’S GO!” a few times a week, just without “SAINTS!” attached to the end. The familiar girls clad in orange and black are no longer within earshot.
Hefferin, a former runner who helped the St. Charles East girls cross country and track programs flourish since the 2006-07 school year, chose this transition when she left her alma mater as a teacher and coach between semesters.
When she found herself at the end of her goal sheet – not her rope, as the rumor mill might have suggested – Hefferin stepped away in what she called an “amicable” split. Those kinds of breakups can hurt just the same.
“Because I know I still have that emotional attachment,” Hefferin said. “I’m always going to.”
Since January, Hefferin has divided her time between Dick Pond-St. Charles, FitMama in Elburn and as a volunteer coordinator of the Fox Valley Kids Marathon. She calls marketing and club coaching the new phase of her life, and says she feels as happy as she did at the beginning and end of her prep coaching career.
Fulfillment was the missing ingredient as she wound down her run at East. She resolved to boost cross country participation, develop life-long runners and lead the Saints to state cross country trophies. Hefferin checked off each objective with her trademark feistiness.
“Not to say, oh, I couldn’t have just kept doing that, but I sort of started feeling like, ‘Well, what’s next? What’s next for me?’ ” Hefferin said. “I didn’t want to go into administration. That was never part of my plan. I was teaching and I was coaching and I just felt like, in this lull a little bit.
“I knew that there was obviously something else that I could be doing, and that would be more invigorating for me every day. … Somebody else is passionate about [coaching] and wants to do it every day, and I want to give them that opportunity.”
Hefferin first informed East administration of her decision to resign her track position at the end of the 2012 season. She made the same trip for cross country in October before finishing the season. She admitted to curious timing when she informed athletes later that month.
In both instances, East principal Charlie Kyle advised Hefferin to give it time, a gesture Hefferin appreciated. She didn’t need to ponder any further, though. As she considered the foreign thought of simply serving as part of the school’s business faculty – not the coach with the recognizable chords from the sidelines, track infield or stands – Hefferin stepped away from East.
“Again, if I’m not going to be my very best at it, I’m out,” she said. “I don’t want to do anything that I think someone else could do better.”
Hefferin remains in touch with former athletes, making it “cut and dried” she’s not calling as their coach.
Those duties now belong to Tim Wolf in track and Mike Backer in cross country, and she’s eager to watch them maintain the Saints’ tradition.
Hefferin attended a handful of indoor meets during the winter and hopes to be on hand for the upcoming Upstate Eight Conference or sectional outdoor meets. She “bawled my eyes out” upon getting in her car after a February indoor dual against Schaumburg. She explains her rationale when people approach her, happily deterring those who “expected a scandal.”
Her current roles keep Hefferin active with the Fox Valley running community, either as an equipment salesperson, consultant or running club coach.
Fox Valley Marathon co-organizer Dave Sheble is especially excited to have Hefferin on board because “she has quite a track record” as a distance runner. Hefferin competed in cross country and track at Wake Forest after graduating from St. Charles High in 2000.
She finds her new career path – which she hopes can escalate into marketing for a family-owned running store – brings her back to much of her coaching experience. She emailed Dick Pond manager Glen Kamps in December, not expecting an opportunity. He responded with one the next day.
“It was really exciting and a really quick turnover for me, but that was good. I wanted that. I didn’t want for there to be a lull of unemployment,” Hefferin said.
“It wasn’t that I needed a break or I was tired or anything. I just wanted to do something different.”
• Kevin Druley is a sports writer for the Kane County Chronicle. He can be reached at 630-845-5347 or firstname.lastname@example.org.