As long as there's been Liberty High School, there's been Gary Weston to oversee the school's cross country and distance running programs.
Sometime Sunday afternoon, near the scheduled conclusion of the weather-delayed state track and field championships at Jeffco Stadium in Lakewood, the 61-year-old Weston will punch the button on his stopwatch as coach for the last time.
Now, it's time for a new journey for Weston after his 30-year run at Liberty, which opened its doors in 1987. Among the highlights on his watch included Sarah Schwald's individual cross country championship as a freshman in 1987, two boys' state team cross country crowns (2002-03) and titles turned in by Matt Kemper, Alex Clayton and Kirsten Anthony.
"When you find a good school and get a program going, you just want to stick with it," said Weston, who only Wednesday informed Liberty assistant principal and athletic director Michael Sibley of his retirement. "I had been telling myself to stay another year. That never ends. The hard part is leaving when you have kids counting on you, but it's time to do something else after 40 years of coaching two sports every year."
Weston is planning a move to Walsenburg or Trinidad, where he and his wife of 19 years, Vanthan, own land. Once there, he can finally spend more time on himself, and that means plenty of running and cycling to fulfill a longtime goal.
"My goal is to qualify for and compete in the World Age Group Duathlon Championships," Weston said. "Being in a whole new location, there are new places to run and cycle. I want to pursue that part of my career. This past year, I missed qualifying by one place, and that only with three months of training."
Coincidentally, it was Weston qualifying for a much different race that led him to leave Wisconsin, where he had started a small-school cross country juggernaut, to begin a new - and ultimately much longer - chapter in Colorado Springs.
"If I ever made the top 100 at the Boston Marathon, I'd move to Colorado and train year-round at altitude instead of just in the summer," said Weston, who would train in Boulder in between school years at tiny Wilmot Union High School in southeastern Wisconsin. "In 1985, I got 72nd place. I said 'OK, time to do the move.'"
Weston landed first at Air Academy and worked alongside Steve Rischling and the late Glenn Peterson, then jumped on the opportunity to start another program from scratch, this time at Liberty two years later.
"He was very likable from the start," said Rischling, who himself retired from coaching at this time last year. "In 30 years, I don't think I ever heard him raise his voice one time to any of his runners. He was always very positive and got the best out of his athletes."
Since then, a number of schools have started new programs, but Weston wouldn't coach anywhere else.
"Even when there was the opportunity, I was committed to this program," Weston said. "As long as I liked coaching, I'd do it at Liberty."
Weston, who also taught math, geometry and statistics at Liberty until his classroom retirement in 2007, lasted so long that he began to coach and mentor a second generation of student-athletes at the northeastern Colorado Springs school.
That extended to his boss in Sibley, who once was among Weston's geometry students at Air Academy.
"We've had generations of siblings run under him, in both track and cross country," Sibley said. "It's a neat thing for Liberty to have that kind of history in both the context of a coach and an educator. It was neat when I got hired at Liberty (in 2011), to come back around and work with him again. Liberty and Academy School District 20 cannot thank Gary enough for his time, commitment, dedication and leadership to teaching and coaching our student-athletes."