Mike Rivera made the 13-hour trip from Jacksonville to Columbus for longtime Columbus North cross-country coach Rick Weinheimer’s retirement celebration.
Then late Sunday afternoon, following the event, Rivera and his family turned around and headed back to Jacksonville so that his daughter could begin summer classes this morning.
It was a small sacrifice for Rivera, a 1990 North graduate and former Bull Dog assistant coach who now has his own successful program at Jacksonville Bolles High School.
“Coach has been a big influence in my life,” Rivera said. “I use a lot of what he taught me down at Jacksonville. I’m sure that if my runners were here today, they would hear things that he says, and would say, ‘Wait, I’ve heard that before.'”
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Rivera helped organize Sunday’s celebration at Ceraland to honor Weinheimer, who coached for 39 years. Columbus mayor Jim Lienhoop declared Sunday “Richard A. Weinheimer Day” in a proclamation.
More than 150 people — most of them former runners and their families — came for the event. One of those runners, Christian Wagner, was the 2003 boys individual state champion and went on to run at Wisconsin. He now is an engineer at Cummins and runs ultra-marathons.
“(Weinheimer has) been such an influence,” Wagner said. “He’s had such a positive impact on everybody that’s here. A lot of people wouldn’t be where they are in life without hearing what he has to say. He’s always a positive person, and I’ve heard him talk a lot about trying to leave a great legacy, and I think anybody can say definitively that he’s done amazing things.”
Weinheimer led the Bull Dogs to five boys state team titles, winning back to back in 2002-03 and three in a row from 2009-11. He also led North to the girls state team title in 2009.
The top girls runner in school history, Mackenzie Caldwell, was the state runner-up in 2013 and now runs at Colorado.
“It’s just really cool to see several generations, and you can see that they’ve all had a great experience,” Caldwell said. “He’s taught me something incredible, and he’s been a huge part of my life. I am so thankful, and I think everyone here is.”
That includes Gabe Ocasio, a 2011 North graduate and senior runner at Marian University.
“He starts off with the kids in running, but then we all go on to something else in life,” Ocasio said. “We’re able to take his philosophy and a bunch of key quotes that he always talks about and just apply those to regular life in a positive way. I think that’s the best part about coach Weinheimer. He practices what he preaches, and others follow. He’s a great leader.”
Weinheimer has been a recipient of the Jack Cramer Ideals of Athletic Competition Award and was inducted into the Indiana Track and Cross Country Hall of Fame in 2004. He has been Conference Coach of the Year 48 times, District 4 Coach of the Year 32 times, Indiana Cross Country Coach of the Year 10 times and a nominee for national Cross Country Coach of the Year four times. He was the Indiana track and field coach for a high school USA vs. China meet in 1987 and was a torchbearer for 1996 Atlanta Olympics torch relay.
Academically, Weinheimer has been North’s Department Chair of English since 2004. He has won the Claes Noble Educator of Distinction from the National Society of High School Scholars, been a Rotary International Paul Harris fellow and an Indiana Academic All-Star teacher. He published “Move Your Chair” in 2016 and is planning to write another book on leadership and motivation and do more motivational speaking in his retirement.
“I’m just incredibly proud of the types of kids that Columbus North has produced, and they’ve grown into being such valuable adults in their own communities,” Weinheimer said. “It’s just overwhelming to see them and be happy for them. To get to watch them on this journey has been awesome.”