Devin Wulff’s positive Redmond High running experience follows him wherever he goes.
The Mustang graduate and current University of Portland athlete will most likely forever be part of the local running community thanks to longtime coach Denis Villeneuve.
“When I tell people I ran for Redmond, they say, ‘That’s the school with that amazing coach,’” said Wulff, who won the recent Seattle Half Marathon and describes Villeneuve as an amazing, caring, thoughtful and focused coach whose teachings of self-discipline and motivation can apply to all facets of runners’ lives. “It was so inspiring and motivating to have coach Villeneuve tell you that he believed in you.”
After 35 years coaching at RHS — 28 as the head coach and seven as an assistant — Villeneuve stepped down from the cross country team following the fall season, one which saw the boys and girls teams win 4A KingCo titles and qualify for state. He will remain the track team’s distance coach for one more season this spring.
Villeneuve, 62, is working toward retirement from teaching social studies two years after this one and feels content with where he’s at along his life path. He chose this year to hang up his coaching shoes because he wanted to see a large group of seniors through their RHS careers. Spending more time with his wife without coaching on the docket is also part of the plan.
Since he’s been coaching for so long, running is ingrained in him, he said.
“I know the hardest time will be next fall when I would normally do my (coaching) things. The kids are the best. I love ‘em: their energy, they keep you young and they’re fun. So I’ll miss the kids the most,” he said.
Villeneuve began his running journey as a senior at Willamette High in Oregon in 1973 and has never stopped. Just two months ago, his 60s Club Northwest squad won the 2018 National Club Cross Country Championships out of 17 teams in Spokane.
With a banner of his favorite runner Steve Prefontaine hovering above his desk at RHS, Villeneuve proudly displays his medal and number bib from nationals, where he placed 21st individually out of 127 runners.
“I’ve always told people that coaching helps my running,” said the Eugene native, adding that he learns from trial and error what does and doesn’t work on the course. “I never make a kid do a workout I haven’t already done before.”
Villeneuve knows his stuff and has run hundreds of races and logged nearly 70,000 miles over the last 45 years. Currently, he runs five days a week for a total of 30-35 miles along unpaved surfaces in Redmond and Kirkland and tackles one track workout per week.
“I just kept my running up through all the years, and I like racing. I’m a little bit competitive, so it’s fun to have that outlet to compete,” Villeneuve said.
Villeneuve dipped into the cross country coaching realm as a volunteer at his former high school — where he was also a wrestler — while he was a sophomore at the University of Oregon. It was a two-pronged victory since he also received college credit for helping out the squad.
He ran intramural cross country and track at Oregon and then transferred to the Oregon College of Education (now Western Oregon University) where he continued to run on both teams. Later, after getting married, he received his teaching credentials from Portland State University and the Villeneuves moved to Washington in 1982.
Soon, Villeneuve located his teaching and coaching gigs and began making an impact on students and runners in Redmond.
The cross country program has grown from 40 runners when he started to more than 100 these days.
“I want you to come out and come every day and do your best and work hard and you’ll improve, and you’ll learn a lot in that process,” said Villeneuve, noting that he and fellow coach Pete Whitmore focus on determination, perseverance, goal setting and a healthy mind-body connection.
“I have a lot of kids stay in touch with me and say they still use the principles that they learned in cross country no matter what they’re doing,” he said. One former student-athlete told Villeneuve he wouldn’t have made it through law school without those principles on his side.
Villeneuve said that runners can thrive on the course and instantly become part of a large circle of friends at RHS. Everyone supports each other and they keep in touch after graduation.
It’s as if Villeneuve is running alongside Wulff and other RHS harriers whenever they jump outside for a workout. They are connected and never know who’s running around the corner, soon to bump into one another.
“Just the other day, I went for a run around Education Hill. I ran into three other RHS cross country alumni out on a run as well, and saw another two when I was driving back home,” Wulff said. “That is the type of community that Vill has created.”
* During Villeneuve’s RHS career, he had one state champ, Mack Young in 2008; 11 combined boys and girls KingCo team titles; six combined top-four state team finishes (including boys seconds in 1991 and 2013); and 32 combined state team appearances.