Feature Stories Alumni: Former Coach Robert Dowd forged forever friendships among Corsair runners

Alumni runners reunite on campus
Whether it be on or off UMassD grounds, these Corsair runners still reunite every chance they get and show us the true meaning of friendship.
Feature Stories Alumni: Former Coach Robert Dowd forged forever friendships among Corsair runners
Former Coach Robert Dowd forged forever friendships among Corsair runners

After three decades, the boundary between student-athlete and alum is blurred for these Corsairs with hearts that continue to bleed blue and gold.

Toilet paper hanging off tree limbs in the yard. Spaghetti noodles stuck to the kitchen ceiling. A Christmas tree on fire in the living room. It’s safe to say that what happened in the Red House off Route 6 in Dartmouth stayed in the Red House. The typical antics of UMass Dartmouth’s track and field/cross country teams spanned several years in the 1980s, bound by aching soles, shin splints, and Corsair camaraderie.

No longer an infamous staple at UMass Dartmouth, the Red House saw several generations of the track and field/cross country teams pass through its door, each under the leadership of esteemed Coach Robert Dowd. Passed down to student-athletes as their housing, it was their favorite hangout spot to unwind after a long day of classes and nurse sore leg muscles after Saturday races.

“I can still remember that first practice way back when,” Charlton College of Business alum Keith Coughlin ’82 recalled. During his All-American student-athlete career, he was part of the infamous Super Seven with Brian Lockard ’82 and Keith Paton ’83, runners who left an impressive legacy to beat at UMassD. “I was with a whole bunch of people who were fast runners, and I didn’t know any of their names. It was scary at first, but here we are, 38 years later.”

Thirty-eight years of loving friendship shared among these Corsairs, but what was it that made their bond everlasting? Former women’s cross country runner Ellen Cox Emmons ’85 credits their annual gatherings and consistent close contact with one another to Sharon Santamaria Nikosey ’83 and Coughlin, labeling them as the glue that keeps them stuck together.

While Nikosey and Coughlin go the extra mile to keep everyone in contact, Nathan Tracy ’82 offered a different answer that struck a chord, “Some of these people are the finest I have ever met, and there is only one common thread: running for Coach Dowd.”

A Team Becomes Family

Joining the track and field/cross country teams isn’t just about racing against the clock. Being a student-athlete weaves a tapestry of skills, friendships, and experiences that shape a bright future, something these 80s Corsairs are all-too-familiar with. Once young, inexperienced scholars, they set out on a path toward self-discovery and found more than just themselves; they stumbled upon a network of forever friends.

“On the first day of practice, I showed up in an unfamiliar place at 18 years-old,” said Tom Hogan ’83, an economics graduate from the College of Arts & Sciences. “By 3 p.m., I already had a group of friends for life and a coach looking out for me. They made sure I didn’t get into too much trouble.”

While these Corsairs were always lacing up their sneakers and running for hours, they still had their fair share of teamwork off the track that fostered a deeper connection to one another, one of trust and mutual respect. They reminisced about the wild weekend parties at Cheryl Mrozienski’s (’84) lake house, where the laughter was boisterous and thoughts of hurdles and sprints were few and far between.

Collage of photos of 1980s track teams
Even after graduating from UMass Dartmouth, these former student-athletes stockpiled memories and created a beautiful collage of the happiest days of their lives.

“You spend a lot of time with each other on a team like this. You work hard together. You compete together. You win together. Eventually, you build a real bond that feels like family and lasts forever,” said Lockard, who met and fell in love with his teammate, Julie Dube-Lockard, in the early 1980s. The more time these Corsairs spent together, the more they became witnesses to one another’s triumphs and setbacks, celebrating team and personal victories together.

“I think being on the team with everyone just made it so much easier going through college. We were all so close and supported each other,” echoed Cathleen Carnes McDevitt ’84, the first female athlete to repeat as All-American two years in a row in the same sport in 1983. “You hear us joking around and laughing now, and we’ve all become an extension of family. We’ve been to each other’s weddings, seen each other have children and grandchildren. It’s still ongoing.”

“This group is merely a fraction of the friendships influenced by Coach Dowd,” added Peter Lopriore ’89, a former member of the 1984 men’s cross country team. “He coached with discipline, but also had fun with us. It was how he made us all a family.”

Since graduating from UMass Dartmouth (then Southeastern Massachusetts University) in the 1980s, the teams moved onto the next chapters in their lives, but never lost touch with one another. They began organizing annual camping trips with their families, a tradition that stopped when their children went to college. Still, these Corsairs always set aside time to rest, relax, and reminisce about running for the unforgettable Coach Dowd.

Dowd: A Beacon of Unwavering Support

Coach Dowd entered these Corsairs’ lives at a transitional time, becoming a mentor to them as they stood on the cusp of adulthood. While they had their fair share of fun and jokes with him, he was always their parental figure without ever trying to be one. He was the anchor that gave them the stability to grow into the people they were destined to be.

“While I was a student, I had a horse in Cape Cod that was pregnant and about to go into labor,” said Paula Gendron Freischlag ’84, a College of Visual and Performing Arts graduate. “I told Coach Dowd about how important it was to me, and he got me out of class so I could go to the barn and watch the birth. He just always took care of us in that way. He was more than a coach. He was like a father to all of us. It made you want to run for him, and run well.”

Dowd in action
Coach Robert Dowd doing what he does best: being a steadfast leader.

“He was a strong leader, and back then, coaches were tough as nails,” added Lockard. “If you get punished on a different sports team, you ran. But that was what we did every day with Coach Dowd. It instilled a drive or determination in us; if we could do what others viewed as a punishment, then we could do anything.”

When they transitioned from students to alumni, it was Dowd that had their emails and phone numbers in his back pocket, always keeping them informed about the happenings at UMassD. It was him that informed them of the passing of Bill Gathright, who helped coach and affectionately gave each of them a nickname. It was Dowd that pushed them to stay connected to one another, to never forget the friendships they built over years of pouring sweat, a few tears, and loads of dedication.

“I would like to think that Coach Dowd liked the women’s team more than the men’s team,” Nikosey joked. “He used to take us out in the van and buy day-old loaves of bread. After we ran, he would let us feed the ducks, and I don’t think he did that with the men’s team.”

On October 6, that same 1983 women’s track and field team who fed ducks with Dowd will be inducted into the Athletics Hall of Fame during Blue & Gold Weekend, a grand celebration of UMassD pride. As this team takes its rightful place, it reflects their exceptional athletic achievements and magnifies the impact of Dowd’s profound mentorship. It is his belief in their potential that pushed them to greatness and created a culture of support and love among these Corsairs that extends far beyond any finish line.