Don Timm

Author Don Timm has written a book about the late Roy Griak, Minnesota's cross country coaching legend. (Sun Photo by John Sherman)

Most athletes have a special coach who helped them along the way to achieving their dreams.

However, not many of those athletes write a book about that special coach.

Don Timm, a Big Ten cross country runner-up to teammate Garry Bjorklund in his days at the University of Minnesota, took the time and initiative to write a 328-page book about his former Gopher coach, the late Roy Griak.

The book, entitled “The Yards Beyond the Finish Line” is a biography, highlighting Griak’s life - from his formative years in Duluth, through his military career and on to tremendous coaching success, first at St. Louis Park High School, and then at the U of M.

“I met coach [Griak] in the fall of 1967,” said Timm, an outstanding high school distance runner for Burnsville High School. “We went to his office the first day of school and asked if I could try out for the team as a walk-on. He stopped what he was doing and got me shoes and a uniform. He thought everyone should have the opportunity to compete.”

At the time, of course, Griak didn’t know that Timm would be a Big Ten runner-up or that he would come within a couple strides of making the U.S. Olympic team. All Griak knew was that Timm had a passion for running.

A few years ago, Timm retired after coaching the Coon Rapids High cross country team for 41 seasons.

“My retirement coincided with the last years of coach’s life, and I spent quite a bit of time with him,” Timm said. “One day, I told him, ‘Somebody needs to write this down and do a book about you.’ At first, he was reluctant, but once we started making notes, he embraced the project.”

Timm didn’t just use Griak as a source for the book. He sent letters to 315 people who had been associated with the coach over the years. One hundred and forty sent tributes and stories.

“There was something unique about him,” Timm said. “Many of the people who wrote back told stories of how coach befriended them.”

Griak was modest, almost to a fault, and Timm didn’t know until he read one of the tributes that Griak had one incredible school year at St. Louis Park High.

“In 1961-62, coach won three state championships - two as head coach in cross country and track and one as Lloyd Holm’s assistant with the basketball team,” Timm noted.

Another distinction at St. Louis Park was Griak coaching five consecutive state mile champions in track. “And they got faster each year,” Timm said.

Griak’s greater success came when he took over cross country and track at the University of Minnesota in the summer of 1963. His St. Louis Park track team had just won the state championship, and he was ready to advance to the next level. As a former Gopher runner, Griak was honored to take over for his former coach Jim Kelly, who had coached Gopher cross country and track from 1936 through the spring of 1963.

“There was nobody mote loyal to Gopher athletics than coach Griak,” Timm said. “If an athlete was wearing Maroon & Gold, coach pulled for them to succeed.”

Former Wayzata coaching legend Bill Miles, ran on coach Griak’s teams at the U of M, confirmed Timm’s opinion of coach Griak.

“Anyone who knew coach Griak realized how gracious he was,” Miles said. “He understood that winning would take care of itself if you did all the other things right. There are tons of stories about the life lessons he taught, and many of them are in Don’s book.”

“I don’t know whether this is good literature or bad,” Timm said with a smile. “But my goal was to have coach’s life documented.”

Reviews from the public have been positive, along with sales of the book, which is on sale for $30 (or more if buyers wish), with all proceeds going to the Griak/Kilty Endowment Fund at the U of M.

To order, contact author Don Timm - don.timm@yahoo.com.

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