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Lauren Banks Amos '94: What's Next, Coach

Potomac track coach Lauren Banks Amos’94 gets the best out of her runners with tough love, delicious brownies and deep relationships

During her senior year at Potomac, Lauren Banks Amos ’94, a star runner, came to track practice one day convinced she was too sick to work out. She told her coach, John Drew, a beloved teacher and the founding father of the School’s cross-country and track teams.

“I don’t care,” Drew said bluntly. “You’re a senior, and I need you to lead today.”

Nearly 20 years later, Potomac runners get much the same message. Lauren, an education researcher, moonlights as an assistant coach with the School’s track teams and borrows a few pages from Drew’s handbook. “If a runner’s late to practice, I tell them, ‘I don’t want to hear your excuses,’ ” she says.

Not surprisingly, Panther sprinters are getting a taste of the success that Lauren enjoyed. Last spring, four of her girls—Olivia Kobayashi ’15, Kelsey Brandon ’14, Gabby Smith ’15 and Olivia Givens ’14—qualified for nationals, where they competed in the 4x100-meter and 4x200-meter relays.

Lauren came to Potomac in seventh grade as a competitive swimmer. But by the time she graduated she was a heralded runner, a Duke recruit who ran the anchor leg on a 400-meter relay team that won the state championship and set a Virginia record for independent schools.

It was Drew who turned Lauren on to track. A science teacher in the Intermediate School from 1988 to 1994, he had run track and cross country while at Amherst and started Potomac’s running program after persuading the School to put a synthetic surface on what was then an asphalt oval. Lauren ran on the first IS team and through high school, and Drew became a close mentor.

“She was almost regal on the track,” Drew remembers. “She took the sport very seriously and carried herself as if she was one of the best. I’m sure it was intimidating to opponents.”

When Lauren was a sophomore, Drew took some of his runners to Philadelphia to watch the Penn Relays, which draws top high school talent nationally. He told them they could qualify the next year—if they committed to serious training. The next day, the kids came to him and said, ‘We want to do it.’ ”

Potomac qualified two relay teams for Penn the following year. Then, in Lauren’s senior year, she and her teammates had their record-setting run and triumph in the state championship. “The performance of that 4x100 team is the favorite moment of all my years of coaching and teaching,” says Drew, who went on to coach at Smith College and Penn State. “It was their choice to challenge themselves, not mine.”

Though Lauren arrived at Duke in 1994 on what seemed like a glide path to big things, she stumbled. The team trained with a ferocity that left Lauren and others hobbled by stress fractures. The coach was distant and neglectful of anyone was who injured. Disgusted, Lauren quit the team after her freshman year. She returned as a senior under a new coach and thrived, setting the third-best time in Duke history in the 200-meter race indoors. Still, she was left to wonder: How good could I have been?

Three years out of Duke, in 2001, Lauren returned to the sport, taking a job as an assistant track coach at a Chicago high school while working on her PhD in learning science at Northwestern. She wrote excitedly to Drew, who sent a book on coaching—her first.

In 2003, Lauren returned to the Washington area and soon after signed on to help coach Potomac’s track team. She had a deep bond with the School—her brother, Mike Banks ’99, and sister Natalie Banks ’03, followed her to Potomac—and time on the track gave her a break from the stress of her career.

She’s now with the American Institutes of Research managing projects related to disadvantaged students in higher education and K-12 schools. She often comes to Potomac straight from the office, with no time to change into workout gear.

Like Drew, Lauren plans her runners’ workouts with a scientist’s precision and stokes their confidence by making sure workouts never push them beyond what they can handle. “I never set them up to fail,” she says. “I tell them, ‘My job is to help you be the best you can be. It may not look pretty the first time out, or even the second or third time, but eventually, you will be successful.’ ”

She also tries to forge the kind of connection that she had with Drew. The kids occasionally come to her house for dinner—her brownies are a team favorite—and at meets they hang out with her and talk about school and relationships. “As a coach, I get them five days a week, two hours a day, plus weekends,” she says. “And that’s for as many as four years. You really get to know them. You learn together and grow together.”

John Steele ’12 didn’t particularly like Lauren or her tough workouts when he started track his freshman year. But he quickly realized she was molding him into a good runner. As a junior, he won the conference championship in the 400-meter sprint; senior year, he broke the Potomac indoor record for the 500-meter.

Over time, the relationship between coach and runner deepened. “She became my friend,” says John, now a sophomore sprinter at Tulane. “You could talk to her about any problem, even if you weren’t a star athlete. She makes time for everyone.”

“I never set them up to fail. I tell them, ‘My job is to help you be the best you can be. It may not look pretty the first time out, or even the second or third time, but eventually, you will be successful.’ ”

Lauren Banks Amos '94