Rode

Elliott converts time at RDP into full time job

Kari Elliott put together an impressive resume over the last six years as cross-country running and indoor track head coach at RDP.

She was a two-time Alberta Colleges Athletic Conference cross-country coach of the year and the 2021-22 indoor track coach of the year.

She consistently had her athletes and teams in the medals at the ACAC championships.

That imposing list of accomplishments helped her when looking to find a full-time coaching position.

“I started working toward my master’s degree (degree in education in coaching) during Covid with an eye toward the next level and last year I started looking seriously,” she explained. “I applied to a number of schools, had five or six interviews and there were a couple of good options.”

In the end, it wasn’t an option at the top of her list that came through.

Agnes Scott College, a private women’s institution in Decatur, Ga., offered her a full-time job coaching their cross-country team.

“As I went through the job interview and the more I interacted with the AD it proved to be a good thing,” she said.

Kari indicated the more she talked and the more people she met at the college, which is located in the greater Atlanta area, the more she liked what she saw.

“I’m certainly excited, although it’s a big transition,” she said.

“At times I’m excited and other times totally panicked but mostly excited.”

She’s taking over a program, which is in NCAA Division III, that needs a lot of work.

“There’s a wide range of programs in Division III from the elite to the lower level,” she indicated. “Over the past six to eight years the program hasn’t been strong and the last coach resigned and didn’t do any recruiting, so there’s a lot of work ahead.”

Kari does have some athletes returning, although it was a small team to begin with.

“One of the things I was told was once I get here is to get on a plane and start recruiting. I can do that,” she said with a laugh.

The fact she can build the team as she desires “is exciting and something to look forward to.

“It’s exciting to build a program … get a fresh start.”

Kari knows a thing or two about building a program.

Not that she had to start from scratch with the RDC cross-country team as she took over from Brian Stackhouse, who had one of the top programs in the country. But she did all the work on the indoor program.

Kari was born and raised in Calgary and was a dual sport athlete — cross-country and tennis — at Belhaven University in Jackson, Mississippi, where she was an All-Conference runner in the NAIA II. Over her running career, the 42 year-old, has won marathons in Kelowna, Mississippi, Red Deer and Edmonton and qualified for the 1/2 Ironman in 2014 in Malaysia, while living in Indonesia.

She and her family moved to Indonesia in 2009 to serve in Education and Sport Development with the Alliance Church. The family moved to Red Deer in 2015 with Kari’s husband, Ben, acting as Pastor of the Deer Park Church.

Kari wasn’t working and joined Stackhouse at RDC for the 2015-16 season, then took over in 2016-17.

Jordanna Cota, one of the RDC Queens top cross-country stars, won the ACAC women’s title in 2017-28 after finishing second the previous season. The RDC women’s team won the ACAC crown in 2016-17 and ‘17-18 while the men won in 2019-20 after finishing second the previous two seasons.

While she’s looking forward to new challenges she does have some regret leaving RDP.

“Honestly I’m beyond grateful to RDP for the opportunity to grow as a coach over the past six years,” she said. “I would not be in the position to apply for this job, or any job for that matter, without Brian and the college giving me the opportunity.”

She did indicate when she first joined the RDC program it was a “hobby.”

“A couple years in I realized I wanted to make a career out of it, so that’s why I worked on my masters,” she said.

Kari looked at staying in Canada, but there simply wasn’t the opportunities available.

“There are so many more in the States,” she said.

And she knows a thing or two about the area as the Belhaven was in the same conference as Agnes Scott.

“Being familiar with the area and being familiar with the culture should help in recruiting,” she added.

Kari finishes at RDP at the end of June and immediately takes over her new job. She and her daughter, Flora, who is in Grade 10, will travel to Decatur while her husband and son, Blaise, who graduates from Hunting Hills this year remains at home.

“Blaise is going to attend Queens University in the fall and Ben will stay back until he’s settled in, then join us,” Kari explained.

Ben will go back to school and work as a Grad Assistant at the University of Georgia

RDP will now look for Kari’s replacement.

“Whoever gets my team is so lucky,” she said. “I’m leaving a fantastic group. I love them all and we have an exceptional new group coming in.”

Danny Rode is a retired Advocate reporter and member of the Alberta Sports Hall of Fame who can be reached at danrode@shaw.ca