CHICO — For Kyle Medina, Chico was always home. It took him four hours after his first visit to Chico in high school to know that it was the place he would spend the next four years of his life as a student-athlete, and along that journey he learned he could see himself in Butte County longer than that.

After three semesters as an assistant coach at San Bernardino Valley College and one year at Azusa Pacific as an assistant coach, Medina has returned home to Chico State and has been named the assistant coach for the cross country and distance runners for the Wildcats under head coach Gary Towne. The hiring became official Sept. 1.

Kyle Medina

Medina graduated from Chico State in 2018 with his bachelor’s degree in kinesiology after running for the Wildcats from 2014-18. He was a three-time All-California Collegiate Athletic Association honoree, and in 2017 won the conference’s cross country championship en route to being named the CCAA Runner of the Year. Medina was a three-time All-West Region selection and had All-American performances at the NCAA Cross Country Championships in 2015, 2016 and 2017.

In track and field Medina was a six-time All-CCAA athlete, won the conference’s 1,500-meter championship three times and was named the CCAA Men’s Track & Field Athlete of the Year twice. Medina earned six All-America efforts at the NCAA Track & Field Championships, finishing as the national runner-up in the 1,500-meter (2016, 2017) and the 3,000-meter steeplechase (2018).

After graduating Chico State Medina then ran professionally with Tinman Elite in Colorado, helping the team win the 2018 Club Cross Country Championships.

Towne said he has followed Medina along his journey since graduation and said he is an athlete that was a lot of fun to work with and one he respects a lot.

“As an athlete here he was one of our most decorated distance athletes we’ve had. Several time All-American and school record holder in the 1,500 and steeplechase,” Towne said. “He was definitely a student of the sport, and what he did wasn’t just from talent. He really studied the sport closely. An athlete like that, he built up a lot of knowledge and experience and they kind of have a bit of a head start on becoming a coach if that’s the direction they want to go.”

Towne first saw coaching potential in Medina in his final two years with the Wildcats, when he started taking on a leadership and team captain role.  As a kinesiology major Medina helped with a strength and conditioning program for the team, and Towne began to see potential as a future coach if he became interested.

In May, Medina had a conversation with Towne while the two were at a track and field meet in Southern California. Medina was assisting former Chico State assistant coach Sean Smith, Towne knew his assistant from last season, Madison Moore, was leaving and he would have an opening, and he had hopes that Medina would be interested in retuning.

Towne knew it was potentially a big move for Medina and didn’t want him to make a rash decision, and he didn’t want his former runner to return to Chico because he felt like he owed his former coach something.

“I wanted him to make the decision whether it was the best decision for him at that point in his life,” Towne said.

When asked, Medina said he had a great time working with Smith and learned a lot, and the two worked well together. He said he would have been happy to stay at Azusa Pacific, where he and Smith had rebuilt a program together and it was on the rise, but the opportunity to return to Chico and learn under Towne was one he could not say no to.

“I had the opportunity to return to Chico and just kind of knowing these opportunities in the coaching world don’t come every year, and I didn’t think I was going to get asked again,” Medina said. “You kind of have to jump on those things if you feel really passionate about it. I do, so here we are.”

As for what Medina has learned through the first month in coaching, he said it is not about his journey anymore. It is recognizing that the athletes he is coaching are in the same shoes he was and that his role is now, “not to steer the ship at all, maybe just give recommendations on how to guide it based on my own experiences.”

He added it’s about “taking that back seat and watching their journeys kind of unfold in front of me, and hopefully the guidance I give is good and their journeys are successful.”

Towne said he has done his best to immerse Medina in all aspects of coaching, particularly on the recruiting and behind the scenes part of things. He copies Medina on all emails. Medina has worked closely with the team’s strength and conditioning coach to implement a program, and he has helped with setting up hotels on the road and the logistics for recruiting visits to Chico. Towne said he feels that recruiting is the hardest part for assistant coaches to latch onto, but Medina’s experience at Azusa Pacific has helped.

Medina said the behind the scenes logistics is something he didn’t truly appreciate as an athlete but has learned to appreciate now.

Medina is glad to be back and helping student-athletes become their best. He hopes this is a stepping stone for being a head coach one day.

“With anything you have to start at square one and I would love to have an opportunity to (be a head coach) somewhere that I’m really passionate about being and to have an opportunity to continue to be competitive while also helping people be more than just runners,” Medina said.