Photos by Kelly Sue Photography
Dana Fossmo, better known as Coach Fossmo, came to Texas from Minnesota in 1996 with his wife Kim and their three young sons. Dana and Kim grew up in Minnesota, where their families still reside. He is currently a PE coach at A. R. Turner Elementary in Willis, and also serves as the Willis High School Cross Country, Track, and Swim coach. Postcards sat down with Coach Fossmo to learn more about this unique man who connects with all ages through his life’s work.
Through my high school years, I played several sports, including hockey, basketball, and baseball. I did not excel at them, but loved playing them anyway. One day a coach, Jim Deane, observed my mile run and knew immediately that running was my strength. He encouraged me to get into track and cross country, and a love for the sport was born! Fortunately for me, several of my good friends joined me, which added that extra layer of appeal for getting into the sport. After graduation, I attended a local private college that had an excellent running program and was there for one year before attending and graduating from the University of Minnesota. Coach Deane influenced many young men, and it was a tremendous honor to eventually be able to coach alongside him for fifteen years. He is the reason I chose coaching as a career. Unfortunately, he passed away this past summer, but he will be remembered forever as a great role model for young men.
I would also like to mention a more recent influence on my life, someone who has become a very good friend. It is my assistant coach, Gary Jonika. He teaches at Meador Elementary in Willis and helps me with cross country and track at the Willis High School. Gary is from Michigan, so we became good friends immediately. He has been a great support and help to me.
While in Minnesota, in addition to coaching, I was also serving as a youth pastor at our church. During a time of change in our church, my wife Kim and I began to sense that God was opening doors, opportunities which eventually led me to a youth pastor position at The Worship Center in Conroe, Texas. We made the move down here and loved Texas immediately! Of course, moving from a cooler climate, the heat took some adjustment, but our boys were thrilled they could wear t-shirts and shorts in the winter! I took a job teaching in Cut-N-Shoot for two years as I continued to serve as youth pastor and was trying to decide which career path I should take, teaching or ministry. A neighbor called me saying they were looking for a cross country coach for the high school. As added incentive, he mentioned I would be coaching a young lady who was a state champion in track. That did it! I interviewed for the job, and have never regretted that choice. My hope is that I have been used by God to reflect His love on those I have taught and coached.
Our family loves the area. We have been immersed in the community through our neighborhood, church, and schools. During their high school years, our three sons (Leif, Erik, and Bjorn) were very musical. Leif and Erik were in a neighborhood band named “Dover Drive,” which was quite popular in the area. Our sons are grown now, two of them married, and we are proud grandparents of one grandson. They continue to enjoy music and play at various levels. Kim stayed home with the kids while they were young, which was a huge blessing for our children. She is a wonderful wife and mother! She now works at Texas Homeland Title Company in Conroe. We have been married for 37 years and enjoy walking and traveling. She has been a major encouragement and support to me throughout our life together.
While training for my first triathlon in 2005, I was out cycling and got hit broadside by a car. Fortunately, I was wearing a helmet. I slammed into the windshield headfirst, then was thrown a distance from the car. I suffered a partially broken neck and a bad contusion on one of my legs. Thankfully, the break in my neck was not completely through, so I was able to wear a neck brace for six months, and it has healed quite well. My leg injury was so severe I almost lost the leg. An emergency surgery saved it, and the only evidence of that injury today is a rather large scar. When kids see the scar, I love to tell them that while scuba diving in the Great Barrier Reef, I had to fight off a shark! They love that story! It sounds more exciting than getting hit by a car! I have healed well from both injuries and can run and ride my bike again. And I am, even more so now, a staunch believer in wearing a bicycle helmet! I cannot stress this enough to my students. I am alive today for that very reason and God’s grace.
I love teaching! I am a “people person” and love being around the kids. In fact, one of my favorite duties each day is “car rider duty.” When the kids arrive at school, they are happy (most of them!) to be there, and their parents are happy to drop them off! Everyone is happy, so it is a great start to the day! It is such a joy to be able to create relationships with students, their parents, and my peers—relationships which continue on through the years after the students have graduated and moved on.
Teaching PE at A.R. Turner Elementary has truly been a blessing. Kids love PE, so they love their coach! My desire is that the students understand the need for physical fitness and find an activity or sport they love. It is thrilling, too, to know many of the students will carry their love for athletics into high school where I may have the privilege of coaching them in cross country, track, and swimming. In addition to fitness, athletics enable the teaching of great moral lessons and discipline. Willis is a wonderful community where people believe in morals and provide limits and proper discipline for their children, but there are those kids who might slip through the cracks and not gain these valuable lessons. Good athletic programs can provide these lessons. We, as coaches, strive to live lives that model good morals and good decision making, and hopefully impart these lessons to our students.
I love seeing kids who want to be good at something, and I take great care in helping to foster their dreams. Collaborating with families and other coaches helps to accomplish these dreams. One such example is a student named Cali Roper. I was her PE coach in elementary school and saw she was an excellent runner. When she entered Willis High School, she played volleyball and basketball, and at first, showed little interest in continuing her running. Her parents and I met together and determined we should encourage her to get back into the sport. It was the right thing to do. She won two state track titles and one state cross country title and got a full scholarship to Rice University through running. Cali has continued running well at Rice and was named Cross Country Athlete of the Year two years in a row! She is an amazing young lady who, through her strong faith and God-given abilities, has continued to make Willis proud. She has since spoken at our school staff orientation meeting to encourage us. She has aspirations of qualifying for the Olympic team someday.
Another athlete I had the honor of coaching in Minnesota is Heather McWhirter, who has qualified for the U.S. Olympic marathon trials in February. She now resides with her family in California. My life has been so blessed to be able to build relationships with the athletes I have coached. I hope they have gotten as much from me as I have from them. I have been able to keep in contact with many of my former runners from Minnesota and Texas over the years. This is one thing I admired in my high school coach, and what a privilege to be accomplishing this goal in my life. I have had such a great experience getting to know so many wonderful teachers, coaches, parents, and students in the Willis school district. I am blessed to be a part of the great things going on in Willis.
Beginning in April and through the end of the school year, I coach the Rattlesnakes summer league swim team from 4:30-6:30 pm at the Conroe Rec Center. We usually have about 150 swimmers on the team ages 5-18 years old. I have been blessed to coach the Rattlesnakes for the past 18 years and have gotten to know so many wonderful families through the Rattlesnakes.
As far as coaching, my future goals include seeing our cross country team win the state championship someday. It is definitely a dream all coaches have. Also, I want to influence as many young people as I can to live for God, stay fit and healthy, and be the best they can be. And my advice goes right along with that. It is to trust God and never give up! Continue to believe your dreams and goals are possible.
Thank you, Coach Fossmo, for sharing your time with us. Thanks even more for all the time you commit and share with the children. Your love for kids and teaching comes across loud and clear, and your passion for God-given life is contagious.