Throw ProBy Elizabeth Foy Larsen
At many universities, the only place you'll see a 6-feet-8-inch wingspan is in a textbook. But at St. Catherine University, you need travel no farther than Butler Center, where assistant track and field coach Bryan Tolcser is planning the day's workout.
Not only can Tolcser wrap his arms around the largest trees on campus, but he towers over most of the women he trains.
As the team's "throws coach," Tolcser is in charge of the events where heavy objects sail through the air: shot put, discus, hammer and javelin. His is a misunderstood specialty. "People think track-and-field athletes are throwers because they're big and can't run," he says, chuckling. "But at the college level, the sport is really about being an athlete. Overall strength and coordination are more important than brute strength."
Tolcser enjoys witnessing the life lessons his student-athletes get from training and competing. "Track and field is technically a team sport, so you have the support of a team pushing you to do your best," he says. "But it's also an individual sport; your results are the direct result of your efforts. It’s great preparation for life and work."
That preparation has worked wonders in Tolcser's own life. A talented thrower himself, the upstate New York native is hoping to qualify for the 2012 U.S. Olympic trials in the hammer throw at the end of June. That would be a tremendous feat for a full-time athlete — but it's even more impressive since Tolcser can't afford to devote all his time to his sport.
All in a day's work
A typical day starts well before 7 a.m., when Tolcser arrives at his job as a natural resource scientist for a civil engineering company in Vadnais Heights. A graduate of St. Lawrence University who also holds a master's degree in water resources science from the University of Minnesota, Tolcser helps ensure that new construction projects either manage existing wetlands and other natural resources or compensate elsewhere for their loss.
He heads to St. Kate's by early afternoon to train in the University's recently built hammer/discus area. Tolcser works out there and in the weight room for up to three hours, six days a week. He coaches himself, primarily, but also seeks feedback via email, phone and videos from former coaches and fellow athletes.
When his training is finished, Tolcser turns to coaching his team of Wildcat harriers. Then he works into the evening in his emerging role as a photographer for the University's athletics department.
"I never took a real photography class," Tolcser says. "Growing up, my father always had a camera and was taking photographs. So I started doing nature shots, a lot of landscapes." When a friend with a press pass asked him to tag along on an assignment to shoot the Minnesota Wild hockey team, Tolcser got hooked on sports photography, too. "I'd played a lot of the sports I was shooting," he explains. "So I instinctively knew when the plays were going to happen and could do more than just react to what was going on."
Today, Tolcser's photographs add a dynamic collage of color to the main staircase in Butler Center. Precision shots highlight the technical perfection of a well-executed backhand or volleyball spike, but there also are portraits depicting the social and emotional experiences of St. Catherine athletes.
"I look for different things the more I take pictures," he says. "Oftentimes the action shots aren't as good as the huddles and other moments that emphasize St. Kate's commitment to the team."
Tolcser wears his multifaceted talents as lightly as his loose-fitting workout jerseys. "You’d never guess he's one of the best throwers in the nation," says Eric Stacey, the University's athletic director. "He is such a nice guy. I've never heard him brag. I think his easygoing personality helps his athletes connect to him. I feel very lucky to have Bryan as our throws coach."