VALPARAISO | When Mike Avery took over the Valparaiso University men's soccer program 18 months ago, he preached conditioning in everything he did.
When fall practice started, instead of letting players drive to Eastgate Field from campus, he had them run in unison, building team camaraderie and enhancing their conditioning.
As Avery prepares for his second season at the Crusaders' helm, it is a different kind of running that he is using to enhance his program.
Starting in early June and going through Nov. 2, Avery has planned to run 1,000 miles to raise money and awareness of the Crusader men's soccer team.
"I feel that it is a great way to get our supporters involved in the program and to show my dedication as well," Avery said.
Avery, who has been blogging about his journey, has added miles whenever he can. Whether he is running to work in the morning, or sneaking in a couple miles on the track at lunch, Avery is doing everything in his power to reach 1,000 miles.
"It's been hard," Avery said. "I've been an athlete my whole life, but now I'm much more of a former athlete. Physically it's been a wake-up call."
Despite suffering a calf injury during the initial month of June, Avery moved into July with an impressive 178.2 miles, or 6.14 miles per day.
He has not run all of the miles however. As word spread, supporters of the program came forward with donations of money and miles.
Valparaiso resident Mark Johnson gifted 20 miles after hearing of the program. Other alumni have also donated miles.
"This just reinforces the whole reason why we hired Mike Avery in the first place," Valparaiso director of athletics Mark LaBarbera said. "He is an enthusiastic guy who shows just how passionate he is about his program and that is the kind of person you want in charge of a program."
A side benefit to Avery's plan, which is really to help add new equipment and perhaps lights to the stadium, is the impact it is having on his players.
"I thought he was a little crazy to be honest," said Paul Leitelt, a Munster grad. "The fact that he is willing to put himself out there, that makes me want to work harder. If he is going that far, then why can't I do it?"
Junior transfer Danny Jeftich (Valparaiso) believes that this is just another example of how far Avery will go for his players.
"To do 1,000 miles is honestly a little overwhelming," Jeftich said. "It's nice to have a coach that is dedicated to making the soccer program better."