From 2000-10, Harry Marra’s primary job was traveling from elementary school to elementary school on the Central Coast to teach at-risk students about the importance of staying healthy and become better athletes through his after-school fitness program based in Atascadero.Today, his primary job is to coach one of the greatest athletes ever.
Marra moved from the Bay Area to Atascadero, where he founded the All-Comers Meet that attracted guests from across the country and served as a private coach for Olympic decathlete Paul Terek, a San Luis Obispo resident. The athletes knew what the coach could offer, thanks to his experience as an athlete and his experience training some of the best athletes the world has ever seen.
Marra’s latest success story is Ashton Eaton, who recently broke the world record in the men’s decathlon and is headed to the London Olympics as perhaps one of the most popular American athletes.
He will compete Aug. 8-9 in arguably the most grueling Olympic event. He’s attempting to become the 12th American to capture gold in the decathlon. For the entire time, Marra will be Eaton’s personal coach.
Eaton is also the reason why Marra left San Luis Obispo County to take a job offer at Oregon as an assistant track and field coach.
“Maybe I wouldn’t have left, but I got a call from (Oregon associate athletic director) Vin Lananna, saying they needed a coach for Ashton Eaton,” Marra said. “They asked me to take the job, so I did.”
Marra began coaching Eaton when he was an Oregon senior in 2010. That year, Eaton won his third consecutive NCAA decathlon title with a personal-best 8,457 points.
After graduation, Eaton worked with the Oregon Track Club Elite, where Marra is now the combined events coach.
Their relationship reached its apex at last month’s Olympic Trials in Eugene, Ore., where Eaton finished with a total score of 9,039 to break Dan O’Brien’s 20-year-old American record and Roman Sebrle’s 11-year-old world record by 148 and 13 points, respectively.
In fact, Marra was the one who brought up the idea of breaking the world record as Eaton was heading into the finale of the 10-event decathlon: the 1,500-meter run. According to Sports Illustrated, Marra leaned to Eaton and said, “You can get the record.”
“The American record?” Eaton replied.
“No,” Marra said. “The world record.”
Eaton proceeded to run a personal-best 4 minutes, 14.48 seconds to finish first and become the world-record holder.
“This is my 51st year as an athlete and coach,” Marra said, “so it was exciting to see that. It was exciting to be a part of that.”
Eaton isn’t Marra’s lone success story. He is also the personal coach for Brianne Theisen, Eaton’s fiancée, who qualified for the Olympics in the women’s heptathlon for Canada.
Marra coached the U.S. national decathlon squad from 1990-2000, helped seven different decathletes score 8,000 points and trained the likes of O’Brien and Dave Johnson. After that, he moved to Atascadero and called it home for the next decade.
During that span, he coached several athletes in the area. That list includes Terek, who is now the co-host of Living the Run, a health and fitness radio show on ESPN 1280 that’s based in San Luis Obispo.
Terek, an Olympian in 2004, said Marra coached him from 2005-08, even though he wasn’t able to pay for training sessions until he began to win events.
“There’s not enough good words I can say about him and not enough time to repay him for the all the doors he opened for me,” he said of Marra. “It’s great to see that people see what the man has done for this sport in his lifetime. It’s good that he’s finally reaping the reward for that.”