Wanted to update all of you on some roster changes as 2021 comes to a close and we look ahead to 2022. This past year was a tough one for us in many ways. After three straight years from 2018 through 2020 where seemingly everything we touched turned to gold—with PBs, and team records, and national titles, and World Marathon Major Top Tens, and sub 2:27:00s and sub 2:10:00s…all of it punctuated by Aliphine’s Olympic Trials victory—2021 felt like the exact opposite at times. Injuries, illness, family tragedies, and some disappointing results—all in the midst of a pandemic—made for a stressful period in our team’s history. That said, as we enter 2022, we do so riding a wave of positive momentum. We had an awesome weekend in New York City last month with Dani and Lauren running well at the USATF 5k Championships, and then Kellyn and Steph finishing 6th and 10th at the TCS NYC Marathon. We were a solid second at the Michigan Pro Ekiden two weeks later. And we finished out the year with a slew of great races highlighted by rookie Katie Wasserman’s fourth place finish at the USATF Club Cross Country Championships, Lauren Paquette’s 1:09:46 debut half marathon, and Rory Linkletter and Nick Hauger going 2-3 at the California International Marathon in 2:12:52 and 2:12:59.
For us, it sure did feel good to get back on the right track before the new year begins. And mostly, that’s all we’re concerned with…2022 and beyond. However, I did want to address a few changes as this Olympic cycle comes to a close. We had 16 athletes on our roster as December rolled around, December being the final month of the year and the time when brands, teams, and athletes make decisions about their future. One of those athletes retired, one will not be moving forward with us, and two have decided to leave the team and try something new for themselves. As a lifelong sports fan, that sounds totally normal to me and doesn’t seem like a big deal, but I realize that you guys, the fans, get attached to our athletes so I want to write a few words about those departing to let you know that we support these guys as they move on to the next phase of their lives, and their careers.
I believe you’ve seen this news already but one of our original team members, Scott Smith, announced his retirement last week. If not, check out our press release HERE and definitely check out our list of Scott’s Top 10 races with HOKA NAZ Elite HERE. Scott is an amazing guy and we’ve named an annual postseason award after him—The Scott Smith Teammate Award. Scott will forever be a part of the NAZ Elite culture and lore. My (selfish) personal hope is that he finds a job in the running industry because our sport needs guys like him to make it better—just like he made our team better for the last eight years.
Another one of my favorites, Sid Vaughn, will not be moving forward with us for 2022. I am a big believer in Sid Vaughn’s talent and in his innate racing ability. But despite our best efforts as a program, we just couldn’t keep him healthy. He showed major flashes of brilliance in practice (as his teammates could attest) and when we got him to the line in one piece he showed he could run really well. I think back to the Marathon Project a year ago when he closed his last 10k at 5:00 pace en route to a PB of 2:14:28. Those things tell me he can get to that next level. But all parties involved, myself included, understood that it was time for a change, time to try something new. Sid- you’ve got this. The NAZ Superfans will be cheering you on.
Speaking of trying something new, Scott Fauble and Rory Linkletter each decided to leave the team at the end of this year to pursue other options. I don’t know for certain, but I suspect to the outside observer these decisions might be a bit surprising. I spoke with each athlete individually over the last couple of weeks and as they say in sports, “What’s said inside the building stays inside the building.” So sorry if anyone wanted anything gossipy. I can tell you this though, change can be good. Did I want these guys to leave? No. Of course not. But I can’t be a hypocrite either. I left a successful retail business at the peak of its powers when I was only 32 years old, to find a new challenge. I didn’t know what that challenge would be at the time, but it ended up being co-founding NAZ Elite with my wife Jen. And I couldn’t be happier with that decision all these years later. I wish Faubs and Rory that same sort of success.
I’ll end by saying this; we have some super cool things in store for you guys in 2022. Much of my time over the last six months or so has been spent preparing for an expansion of our team that will allow us to, first and foremost, compete at the very highest international level…and in turn to inspire runners of all ages and abilities all over the world. As such, you the fans, are at the center of this expansion. Engaging with you in creative and innovative ways, using your feedback to help guide our initiatives, and revolutionizing the team model in the sport of running are the lofty “off the field” goals we’ve set for ourselves in this next phase of HOKA NAZ Elite, and we couldn’t be setting off on this journey with better folks (all of you) by our side.
Stay tuned in early January as we announce our 2022 athlete and staff roster, our winter schedule, and begin the 2024 Olympic cycle. Paris here we come!!
– Coach Ben