Prairie track and cross-country coach battles cancer but still keeps an eye on his athletes

Published: Apr. 29, 2021 at 8:51 AM CDT
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CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa (KCRG) - Prairie cross-country and track coach Bill Schwarz had a long battle after he was diagnosed with tonsil cancer over a year ago.

“It was a big shock, I mean, I felt like a few weeks before I went in that man something it’s really up here,” Schwarz said. “I had lost weight. A new life started that day. I had chemo and radiation, and those went on through most of the summer. I had I think 35 radiation sessions and seven injections.”

At first, Schwarz was more worried about getting back to coaching his cross-country team in the fall.

“You know I thought when I was diagnosed, all right eight weeks of treatments, and I was calculating and looking at the calendar, and I thought, alright I will be done with this and ready for cross-country,” he said. “Little did I know.”

Schwarz loves his runners, and it was a difficult time for him, but he received a lot of support.

“The kids were just really supportive, the cross-country team at that time,” he said. “There was a lot of prayers and thoughts that went along way to help keep me going.”

It was hard for Schwarz to stay away, so he always let the team know he was around with his cowbell.

“You know as soon as I could, Molly got me in the car. And so we’re driving slowly along the country gravel roads and [had the] cowbell out the window,” he said. “They can kind of hear you. They’re at first a little bit shocked and then just to see their faces.”

Schwarz, who has led his team to state titles, even showed up at the state cross-country meet and gave one of his star runners Andrew Bickford a pep talk through the fence.

“It was quite a shocker to see him there, shaking his cowbell, cheering us along,” Bickford said. “It made me run faster for sure.”

Schwarz said just being around the kids is inspiring.

“Nobody deserves cancer obviously, but coach especially,” Bickford said. “He pours his heart and soul into coaching our program, and he’s had such an impact on so many kids.”

Coach Schwarz in his 28th season with the program is back now full-time coaching the girls and boys track and field teams, and he hopes he has cancer in his review mirror.

“I was flat on my back weeks and weeks,” Schwarz said. “I still am pretty weak from my that and weight loss and everything. So, I’m tired at the end of the day, but I’ve gone through a couple of three-month check-ups, and it’s clear. They are mad genius’s down there at the U of I, and I think they zapped it.”

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