Iconic University High School coach Jim Tracy dies after battle with ALS 

click to enlarge Jim Tracy
  • courtesy photo
  • University cross country and track and field coach coach Jim Tracy was diagnosed with Lou Gehrig’s disease in 2010. Tracy died at age 64 on Sunday.
Students, coaches and teachers have come and gone at University High School, a private high school located in Pacific Heights.

But since the fall of 1994, Jim Tracy has been a fixture at University — specifically on trails and the track.

However, Tracy has battled amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (better known as ALS or Lou Gehrig’s disease) since June 2010.

Late Sunday night, Tracy lost his battle with ALS and died at 64 years old, according to University athletic director Jim Ketcham.

Ketcham said he believes Tracy is in a better place now, not having to suffer from a disease that erodes the human body, and limits what you can do daily.

“We believe he had a peaceful [death], and to a lot of us, this is better than being on a machine and then finally deciding to take yourself off of it, which is how a lot of folks on ALS die,” Ketcham said.

Under Tracy, the University girls’ cross country team won 12 league titles, 12 North Coast Section championships and 10 state cross country championships — the most in California state history.

The boys’ cross country team won 17 league titles, 11 North Coast Section championships and made 13 appearances in the state meet, in which the Red Devils finished in second place twice and third place five times.

In track and field, the boys have won one North Coast Section Class A championship and have qualified numerous individuals for the state meet.

“We’ve been very fortunate because we’ve had a chance to celebrate him while he was alive, and I feel absolutely great that the school celebrated and supported [Jim] so that his quality of life could be much better than it would be without us,” Ketcham said.

Tracy was inducted into San Francisco Prep Hall of Fame in 2013, and even though he had to use a wheelchair to get around in his final years, he never lost an ounce of passion he had for running.

In 2007, Tracy often felt winded on routine jogs and that eventually led him to stop running, as he instead chose to take long walks.

“The doctor said, ‘You’re going to get worse and if you live long enough, you’ll get so bad you won’t even recognize yourself,’” Tracy said in an interview with The San Francisco Examiner in 2013.

While attending Archbishop Riordan High School, he ran to a fifth-place finish in the NorCal section championships as a sophomore. He won a Northern California community college championship at CCSF in 1969, before moving on to run at Cal.

He was the 1993 California Coaches’ Association Cross Country Coach of the Year and he, along with the girls’ varsity cross country team, received the Western Region winner of the National Federation of High School’s.

“To me it’s so much more satisfying to be able to help someone and tell them to their face how appreciative you are of them, rather than to say it when they’re lying in a coffin,” Ketcham said. “We got a chance to do that here at University. We were able to get 3-4 years out of him that we didn’t think we’d get.”

Tracy’s story was the focus of an “Outside the Lines” piece on ESPN in 2011 and the documentary “Running for Jim,” which is still showing.

“Running for Jim” comes to Orinda for a screening May 7 at the Orinda Theater. For information on the documentary, visit runningforjim.com.

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Bonta Hill

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