Powless’ athletic excellence; it runs in the family

Former Olympic athlete reflects on 30 years of multi-sport coaching

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Tour de France participant Neilson Powless alongside his mother, Jeanette Powless who is the women’s track and field coach at American River College (Photo courtesy of Jeanette Powless)

Brandon Zamora, Opinion Editor

Jeanette Powless is a professor in the athletic department, and the women’s track and field coach at American River College. Before she became a coach at ARC, however, Powless was an Olympic track-runner and one of the top athletes during her time as she competed in the 1992 Summer Olympics in Barcelona.

The former Olympic track-runner has accomplished a lot in her lifetime, and now she hopes to pass down what she knows to the athletes in the women’s track and field team, even during the pandemic. The athletic roots in her family run deep: her son, Neilson Powless, participated in the 2020 Tour De France.

Powless has taught and coached at ARC for 20 years, but has been coaching in general for 30 years total. According to Powless, while she does coach track and field currently, it’s not the only sport she coaches now.

“I’m a multi-sport coach, as I’ve coached swimming, biking and track running, just to name a few,” Powless said.

Powless is a three-time Olympic qualifier in long-distance running for the country of Guam in 1988 and 1996, and in the 1992 Summer Olympics, when she competed in the marathon. Powless says Guam is also where she met her husband, Jack Powless, who is also an athlete.

“After I graduated high school, I went to do track and field at ARC and I still hold records for the college to this day,” Powless said. “I met my husband in Guam and in 1987 we were both the top athletes for running and triathlons.”

Competing in sports seems to be a family tradition for the Powless family as her son is one of the youngest cyclists selected to compete in this year’s Tour De France. Powless says she couldn’t be more proud of her son for being able to accomplish such a feat at a young age.

“It’s been a real blessing to see all his hard work paying off and it’s a big deal because he’s so young and he didn’t think he would be selected from his team of 30 riders,” Powless said. “For him to be selected is a really big deal for our family.”

Powless, alongside her husband, would help their children as they were growing up by coaching the teams they participated in. According to Powless, she and her husband have been big supporters of their children whenever they were taking part in any sport during their childhood.

“We’ve given our children a lot of support, as my husband and I coached all of their teams over the years,” Powless said. “It’s always been our coaching philosophy to give them the opportunity to choose what sports they wanted to do, but most of all to enjoy and have fun with the sports they wanted to participate in.”

Coaching during the pandemic has been a challenging task that Powless says she has been trying to overcome with her track and field team that she coaches. While she does everything she can to keep the team together and still have communication with each other this semester, Powless says it’s still been very difficult just watching her team sit and wait, but understands that the reason for not competing right now is due to the current state of the world.

“The biggest challenge is not knowing and having dates change when we least expect it,” Powless said. “Not knowing and planning forward has been more challenging for the student athletes because their season was postponed and they are basically losing their season, their chance to compete — it’s unfortunate having to watch this unfold, but I do see both sides to this.”

Powless’ peers at ARC admire her work ethic. According to Joline Matsunami, professor at ARC and head coach for the women’s basketball team, Powless is dedicated, making sure that her athletes do their best no matter what.

“Like every coach in our department, Jeannette has an incredible work ethic and dedication to teaching and coaching, and what makes her stand apart is her lifelong commitment to fitness and her ability to motivate her student athletes to championship and scholarship levels,”
Matsunami said. “Jeannette lives what she preaches — her leadership has not just produced championships, but has brought this community generations of alumni who are fine people.”

According to Matsunami, Powless isn’t just one of the hardest workers she’s ever met, but also has been a good co-worker and friend to work with over the years.

“My experience in working with Jeannette started out with her just being a colleague who I admired as a professional, but who now has become a valued friend,” Matsunami said. “I am amazed by the diversity of classes she teaches — she works with people who may have limitations or are athletically gifted, but the message is always the same, ‘be your best.’”