Passing the baton: Glenwood Springs track coach retires after 30-year legacy

Longtime Glenwood Springs tack and field Head Coach Blake Risner will retire following the end of the season.
Taylor Cramer/Post Independent

After a storied 30-year career at Glenwood Springs High School, track and field coach Blake Risner is preparing to retire following the end of the season. Under Risner’s leadership, the Glenwood Springs Demons clinched 11 4A Western Slope League Championships, marking a significant era in the school’s athletic history.

Risner, who grew up in Vista, California, discovered his passion for track and field at the age of 10, which carried him through high school and into college athletics. After attending athletic powerhouse Vista High School, he attended MiraCosta College before transferring to Adam State College in Alamosa, Colorado, where he was able to claim an indoor national championship with the team during the 1990 season.

“It really played a big role in me becoming a coach,” Risner said, reflecting on his time at Adam State, known for its premier track and field and cross-country programs. “Going there just further grew my love for the sport and made me realize that I wanted to do something competitive within the sport after I was done in the collegiate ranks.”

This experience set the stage for his later coaching roles, including his start as a jumps coach at Alamosa High School under coveted Colorado High School Coaches Association Hall of Famer Larry Zaragoza.

Risner joined the Demons’ coaching staff in 1993, embarking on a three-decade tenure that saw his teams become a dominant force in state and league competitions. Following the departures of Don Miller and Mickey Cook, Risner took full reins of both the girls and boys teams in 1997. Risner has also acted as the physical education teacher at Glenwood Springs Middle School.

“I was super passionate about it and knew it was something that I wanted to do,” Risner said. “The P.E. teacher position is what brought me up here, but I knew I wanted to be a part of the track and field program.”

Risner’s first regional victory in 2000 sparked a series of successful seasons, bolstering the Demons’ reputation as a competitive force.

Despite challenges in the highly competitive 4A classification which has prevented the Demons from taking home a state championship, Risner’s coaching propelled about 75 athletes into collegiate track and field careers. 

“We did not win a state championship, but lots of individual state champions came from our program,” Risner added, underscoring the individual successes that highlighted his coaching era. “The best feeling has been seeing these athletes grow throughout the years and staying in touch with them as they have continued to move forward with their lives.”

Carly Setterberg, a former class of 2015 runner for the Demons, praised Risner’s impact.

“He always expected the most from us,” Setterberg said. “He is the type of coach that pushes you to the point where you exceed the expectations that you have for yourself. I think anyone who has ever been coached by him can say that he turns you into an individual with a high work ethic.”

As Risner looks ahead to retirement, he plans to pursue his passion for golf, leveraging his groundskeeping experience — labor he has done for the Roaring Fork School District for the past 26 years — to potentially work on a golf course. 

“There was a point where I thought I would coach and teach for 45 years, but I think it just feels right at the moment,” Risner said. “Being fully eligible for retirement, I am ready to hit the course as much as I can.”

Risner will spend one more year as the physical education teacher at Glenwood Springs Middle School as part of a transitional year before fully stepping away from the school district.

Reflecting on his career, Risner said he feels fulfilled by his journey at Glenwood Springs. He added that his deep connection with the sport and his athletes made his time as a coach profoundly meaningful.

“This program has been everything to me,” Risner said. “Both teaching and coaching, to be able to make a career out of what you love to do and what you are passionate about has been absolutely incredible. It’s given me my identity.”

As he prepares to pass the baton, Risner hopes his successor will continue the tradition of excellence and perhaps steer the team toward the elusive state championship. For now, the community, his former athletes and countless colleagues will remember him simply as “Coach,” a testament to his lasting influence and identity in Glenwood Springs and to the sport he loves.

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