Danny Williamson weathers the loss of his dad
to inspire his track teams at the conference championships


One day before the track team coached by Danny Williamson ’84 MAEd ’86 was to compete at the Southern Conference indoor meet in late February in Clemson, S.C., his father Roy died at the age of 74. The elder Williamson, diagnosed with stage 4 bone cancer, was on life support, but he’d made it clear he did not want his son to miss the meet. Still, in the hours after his father’s death, WCU’s longtime track coach wrestled with whether to go.

“My dad was on life support, and we had to make the decision that it was time to take him off because organs were starting to fail. My mom was trying to hold out just because she knew we had the meet, and she knew the machine would keep him alive until I got back,” Danny Williamson said. “But my dad had already told me, along with his grandchildren, not to miss any of their events, or me not to miss that meet, because of his condition. He said, ‘You know I would want you to be there, and I would expect you to be there.’

“Then I was watching the Olympics and the young lady from Canada (bronze-medalist Joannie Rochette) who was doing figure-skating. Her mother had just passed away of a heart attack. I saw an interview with her, and they asked her why she decided to do it. She said, ‘Because my mother wanted me to do it.’

“That made me think: ‘My dad wanted me to do that. So I’m going to go do that for him.’”

His arrival in Clemson inspired the Catamounts.

“We knew what was going on from the beginning because he tells us mostly everything that goes on with him,” said sprinter Jane’t Carothers. “He put his whole heart and soul into us practicing and winning. The fact he still came to conference and still had to get ready for his father’s funeral, he deserved it. So we put everything we had into making him happy and giving him something to be proud of.”

Led by Carothers’ two first-place finishes (200 and 400 meters), the Catamounts scored 174.5 points for a convincing first-place finish ahead of second-place Appalachian (122). The men exceeded expectations and came within two points of eventual-champion Appalachian (209-207). Williamson was named Women’s Coach of the Year and Men’s Co-Coach of the Year.

“It is a good feeling to know that I went, that my dad wanted me to be there, and then that we were able to get those kinds of results on top of it,” said Williamson, whose teams have won a combined 18 championships in his 25 years.

Roy Williamson’s funeral was one day after the indoor meet ended. Afterward, Danny Williamson credited his father with teaching him the formula for success. “He always worked so hard,” Williamson said. “He would be away all week long, then he’d come home on the weekends and work hard at home, too. He just taught me that’s the way you’re successful – by hard work. There are no shortcuts.”

Reprinted in edited format with permission of the Asheville Citizen-Times.