Meet Amanda Eccleston: From professional runner to influential coach and community advocate

Life often presents as a series of non-linear events and choices, each predicated, yet not entirely dependent on the events and choices that precede it. This is the winding, unpredictable path that most set out upon. There are instances, however, when an individual’s life becomes remarkably predictable, yet no less potent: when passion and purpose abound at such levels to fix one’s life on a singular venture for an extended period. This is often the athlete’s path. 

Amanda Eccleston was a collegiate athlete in cross country and track and field for Hillsdale College and the University of Michigan, before eventually signing with Brooks to run professionally. Her post-collegiate athletic career spanned eight years, after which she was hired as an assistant coach of the cross country and track and field programs at Central Michigan University.

Heading into her fourth year in the position, Eccleston has now made an impact on the lives of dozens of student-athletes, as well as on the Mt. Pleasant community. This is a favor which Eccleston feels has been returned to her by the community.

“I think the [Mt. Pleasant] community is a place that people tend to come to and stay for a long time and don’t want to leave,” shares Eccleston. “I’ve lived in communities that are more transient—you’re there to accomplish what you want, and then you leave … I do see more of a sense of ownership and pride from people living here.” 

As she embraces the close-knit community, Eccleston also receives insight into the state of its future, as she works with her athletes.

“It’s really cool to see [the athletes] learn how to manage the world while they’re here,” Eccleston says. “They’re able to learn and grow up. Even hearing from some of our graduates with real jobs is cool to see. I think we are turning out confident, optimistic kids who will feel like they can be successful in a lot of different areas.”

Eccleston also has an impact on the Mt. Pleasant community through her efforts in recruiting athletes to CMU. As part of some recruiting classes, Eccleston is able to bring in athletes from outside the United States. International athletes bring diverse qualities and perspectives, which has had a positive effect on the program, as well as the Mt. Pleasant community.

“You recruit kids, and sometimes they have really big goals, and sometimes they don’t really know what they want yet, but during their time here we’re able to formalize those goals and talk about them,” she says. “Then to see them not just achieve those goals, but to see the confidence they get along the way and what they learn about themselves, I think that’s really exciting.”

It takes work to see the benefits of diversity, and Eccleston has played a large role in creating a culture of acceptance and harmony within the cross country and track and field programs. 

“The kids are so open-minded and welcoming,” she shares on the culture she helps foster. “When they’re told someone is their teammate, they’re ready to embrace them, regardless of personality, preferences, likes and dislikes—I think they do a great job of accepting people for who they are.”

Eccleston saw a fair amount of diversity even before taking her coaching position, as she traveled to major cities around the world during her time as a professional athlete.

However, despite many of her athletic endeavors taking place in large cities, she sees Mt. Pleasant as a prime venue for her current role.

“For every athlete, there is going to be the type of environment that works for that particular person. Our goal is to find people who can thrive in this environment,” she says. “It’s about finding people who buy into what we want to be and what we believe in, and I don’t see any issue with the rural side of [Mt. Pleasant in that aspect].”

Eccleston has bought into the environment herself, which is reflected in her personal life.

“[It’s been great] having a young child here, being involved in a lot of activities for him and being able to walk to the park in ten minutes,” Eccleston shares. “In general, I like being able to go to small businesses that I recognize. I have all my favorite places around town now and you go to those places, and you know people—I enjoy it being somewhere we’re familiar with.” 

The community that Mt. Pleasant is, and promises to be, has been integrated in the hearts of thousands, and Eccleston is no exception. As a part of a community-wide feedback loop consisting of improvement and endearment, Eccleston’s lifelong passion for athletics has given her a purpose she can be proud of.
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Read more articles by Owen Howard.

Owen Howard is an Isabella County native with a deep appreciation for all it has to offer, in both people and places. He currently works as a biologist in the environmental department of the Saginaw Chippewa Indian Tribe. He is an alumni of Central Michigan University, having received both a bachelor's and a master's degree. In his free time, Owen could be described as 'chronically outdoors.' Owen has a passion for telling stories and for listening to other people tell theirs. He loves getting the chance to allow people to share their passions and stories with a larger audience.