Nov. 12, 2013
By Jerome Boettcher | Commodore Nation
The days for Steve Anderson to suit up in a cross country uniform are long gone.
That hasn't stopped him from logging the miles at Vanderbilt meets. When his daughter, senior Liz Anderson, treks up and down hilly courses, 53-year-old Steve isn't far off.
"If you want a workout watching the race, just follow my dad," Liz said laughing. "He might as well run, to be honest. He's everywhere. It is really nice to hear his voice. I've heard it since seventh grade."
That's when Steve introduced Liz to cross country.
But, according to Steve, the father-daughter running connection began when Liz was just a tot.
When Liz was only two years old, she walked with her dad to a grocery store less than half-amile away from their home. On the way back, Liz told her dad she was too tired to walk home, especially on a hot Louisville day. So Steve suggested they run back.
And little Liz obliged.
"She went off on a little trot and didn't slow down the whole way," recalls Steve, who graduated from Vanderbilt in 1982. "She made it the whole way without any problems and didn't complain. She finished with a smile on her face. I guess that is when it started. I didn't expect her to go very far, and she ran the whole way."
Their running bond picked up steam a decade later.
In 2004, Steve's younger brother, Kyle, a 1989 graduate of Vanderbilt, died of complications from diabetes and Addison's disease, a disorder caused when adrenal glands produce insufficient amounts of certain hormones. Around the same time, Steve received a cholesterol number that scared him.
"I thought I would take better care of myself," he said. "About eight or nine years ago I started running, and I ultimately wanted to cross some marathons off my bucket list. I figured I better get doing it."
With Steve training for marathons and Liz gearing up for cross country, the pair started a weekly ritual. Every Sunday, they would run together around Louisville, usually getting in eight miles to serve as a long run for Liz.
At first, Steve pulled back the reins on his pace. Things changed as the runs mounted.
"I was struggling to keep up," he said. "I was actually getting faster the whole time but not nearly as quickly as she was getting faster."
"By the end, with the competitive nature in both of us, the last mile we'd drop 30 seconds and race to the finish," Liz said. "He's made it more than just a sport for me. It is kind of a lifestyle."
Steve's investment goes beyond just running with his daughter. He also studies up on her opponents. He creates spreadsheets that include times of opponents, develops a race plan and lists optimal times and goals for Liz.
"There were some races where he has already done the work and I'm just moving my legs," she said. "Now he has taught me how to do it and I've developed an interest on my own... He has had an interest for the sport and that interest wiped off on me. He has definitely been the guide. That's been something we've been able to bond over more than anything."
Liz isn't the only college athlete in the family. Her twin brother, Knox, swims at Boston University.
A proud Steve has admired what both of his oldest children have accomplished. Knox has been a team captain the last two years for the Terriers. Liz, who also runs indoor and outdoor track, has overcome several injuries and earned a scholarship after coming to Vanderbilt as a walk-on. Two years ago, she earned All-Southeastern Conference honors and helped lead the Commodores to their first SEC cross country championship and a sixth-place finish at the NCAA Championship.
"I'm proud of the commitment and what they've gotten," he said. "I think it has really enriched both of their college lives. They're learning a lot of lessons that a regular student wouldn't. The bonds they've got with their coaches and teammates are some of the strongest ones they'll have throughout their life."
While his kids have shown their athletic prowess in college, Steve has run four marathons -- all since 2009. His most recent came in April in Boston despite battling plantar fasciitis in his foot. Fortunately, he had already finished the race and was in the shower at his son's apartment at the time of the bombings.
In addition to Boston, he has run the Chicago and New York marathons in under three hours. He posted a personal-best time of 2:53.23 in Chicago in 2011.
"Somewhere in the 2:50s for a 50-year-old man is very good. I'd like to think I helped him," Liz said with a smile.
Liz and Knox both graduate in May, meaning weekends will open back up for Steve and his wife, Carol Ann. Both have enjoyed the proximity of watching their daughter run and even invite the whole cross country team over for a pasta party the night before the Greater Louisville Classic every year.
"It is going to be sad when everything ends in the spring," Steve said. "I think we'll drive their siblings crazy."
Liz, a double major in psychology and communications, still has one year of eligibility in indoor and outdoor track. She is debating returning for a fifth year at Vanderbilt or heading elsewhere for graduate school. After interning in athletic communications this summer, she has also expressed interest in writing jobs in college athletics.
While one chapter will end and another will begin, a bond formed 20 years ago with a jaunt down the block will carry on.
"It is a shared passion," Steve said. "There are not a lot of natural things for fathers and daughters to do together, but it is a great reference point and we've both learned a lot from it. I think it has helped both of us become better persons to the other."
"He is probably my biggest fan," Liz said. "And I'm probably his, too."