As a young athlete playing football, track and field, Nick Cunningham’s coaches were not only influential on the field – they were role models. Now, after three Winter Olympics and several national championships, Cunningham is back on the field, coaching the next generation of athletes.
“From a young age I started to notice how much my coaches influenced me,” he said. “This is what I want to be for someone else.”
As a track and field coach at the Monterey Peninsula College in Monterey, California, Cunningham has many influences. Cunningham has been a bobbler for most of his professional athletic career, where he competed in three Winter Olympics and coached and competed with the United States Bobsleigh & Skeleton Federation (USA Bobsleigh). However, the inevitable part of Cunningham’s coaching career was his time at the University of Ohio, where he earned a master’s degree in recreation and sports science, focusing on coaching education.
“I always knew I needed that postgraduate degree to get to the next level,” he said. “I need to find the best program that suits me. It was the University of Ohio.”
Since the program became available online – it was a novelty before COVID-19 in 2014 – Cunningham was able to study his masters while touring Europe with the USA Bobslide team. Although it was online, he was still able to study and interact closely with counselors in an interactive classroom environment.
The curriculum arrangement allowed him to work in his spare time during the tour. He said the flexibility of the curriculum was crucial to his success and he would not have been able to attend grade school if it had been more traditionally more rigorous.
“When you prepare for a race eight hours ahead in Germany, it will not fly,” he said.
Between the 2014 and 2018 Winter Olympics, Cunningham strategically joined OHIO, giving him ample time to pursue a postgraduate degree in 2016.
Cunningham said he experienced his best and worst coaching during his time on the USA Bobsled team. “Through that process, you have some coaches who are incredible and some coaches who can’t get the best out of athletes,” he said.
In 2008, the U.S. Cunningham, who joins the Bobsled team, was found to be competing in the Vancouver Winter Olympics in just 18 months. At his first Winter Olympics in 2010, he was a breakman and eventually piloted at the 2014 and 2018 Olympics.
After graduating from Ohio University with the intention of becoming a coach, he began coaching the USA Bobslead team after the 2018 Olympics. During his tenure as coach, he helped the team secure two world championship medals in women’s mono and two women’s bobsled.
After briefly considering returning to the 2022 Olympics, Cunningham decided to retire in 2021 in search of a new coaching opportunity.
Now, he coaches his old track and field team in his hometown of Montreal, coaching the so-called “Holy Grail” of positions as a track and field coach.
“Being able to recruit at meetings where I once competed was a very interesting experience,” Cunningham said.