Former Baylor teacher, running coach dies after long battle with cancer

Van Townsend. Baylor School photo

The Chattanooga community is mourning the loss of a longtime mentor and coach.Van Townsend, 56, passed away Monday after a long battle with cancer.

Townsend, 56, taught and coached at Baylor. From 1996 to 2009, his team won four state championships, and four runners of his team went on to be individual state champions.

Townsend's impact on Chattanooga's running community was near-legendary.

"He was able to take kind of an individual sport like running and make it a team sport here at Baylor," said Asst. Headmaster Shaw Wilson, "And I think a community sport outside of the school."

His face is a familiar one for a lot of people around town, especially lovers of running and the outdoors.


Townsend spent most of his time in Chattanooga helping others reach their potential.

"You got to see that competitive fire and he really wanted to see his boys do their best and to hopefully win," Wilson said.


Channel 3 interviewed Townsend in 2009 after he was injured in a hit and run bicycle accident.


His friends say during a surgery to fix those injuries, a doctor told him he had multiple myeloma, a type of cancer that affects plasma cells in the bone marrow.

"You wouldn't ever even know he had cancer," said Michael Green at Fast Break Athletics, "He wouldn't talk about it. Not in here."


Even when his sickness kept him from running, he didn't let it take away his passion.


Townsend created a group training team and has been coaching anyone and everyone who wanted to reach their goal.

"I talked to him on the phone a couple days ago," said Fast Break Athletics co-owner Alan Outlaw, "And he was giving us workouts and suggestions, like the next time he's going to be at the track workout."


Fast Break Athletics was like a second home for Townsend. Inside there are pictures of his championships and old running souvenirs on display.

"Very important person in here. We all learned a lot from him," Green said.


Most of his lesson's involved a tough workout and his impact will last a lifetime.

"If you ask them, what's so special about Van, you know he's lighthearted and he's fun and he makes you want to work," Outlaw said.

"He just cared about everyone," said Green, "Whether you were the slowest person at the race or the fastest person."


Among all of his students, athletes, and friends, Townsend's legacy continues with his three children.

"In addition to being a great teacher, a great coach, he was a great dad," Wilson said, "And he did it his way and he did it in a way where they've all turned out to be wonderful young adults."

Townsend's oldest son shared a message on Facebook saying in honor of his father he will be donating $100 to the Make-A-Wish foundation to every Chattanooga area runner who breaks 60 seconds in the 400 meter run in January.


And he also asks that local runners make a donation themselves.

A memorial service will be held at 1:30 p.m. at the Baylor School Chapel on Saturday.

Before the service, Fast Break Athletics is arranging a morning group run.