By Robert McKinney, Assistant Athletics Director, Communications
SALEM, 0re. -- Soren Sorensen is in his 21st year as an assistant track and field coach at Willamette University. He works with the men's and women's throwers each season. In addition, he's been married to his wife Molly for 31 years. He has seven children and four grandchildren.
He is committed to his family and to his job with the Bearcats.
"My family is the most important thing to me," Sorensen commented. "Raising my kids was the most important job I have ever had. Even with all the failure I had as a parent, I wanted my kids and my grandkids to fully understand how much I loved them and that I would do anything for them. To be honest, COVID hasn't changed that much. Wearing a mask doesn't change how I feel about them."
For Sorensen is marriage is also a partnership in which he and Molly have worked together in planning their lives since before their wedding day.
"My wife and I talked extensively before we were married about the difficulties of marriage. We knew there would be tough times or the vows wouldn't say 'for better or worse' and we knew that our love for each other would overcome anything," Sorensen said. "After 31 years, it has. We both realize that we are not perfect and we need to be there for each other when the other one needs us."
More than 20 years ago, Sorensen added the Willamette track and field teams as another commitment. His family would always be first, but the Bearcats became a close second.
"Kelly Sullivan (former head track and field coach at WU) called me when the throws coach he had resigned," Sorensen said. "Clinton Gertenrich (throwing coach prior to Sorensen) told Kelly to call me, and after talking to Kelly, I accepted the position. It is one of the best decisions I have made."
Sorensen was an NAIA All-American in the hammer throw and the discus throw while attending Western Oregon University. He graduated from WOU in 1987 with a degree in Secondary Education-Physical Education. He also competed in powerlifting in college. Sorensen won a Collegiate National Powerlifting Championship in 1986 and won a U.S. Powerlifting title in 1990.
He is a part-time coach and Willamette and is employed as the Physical Education Specialist at Salem Heights Elementary School.
"I believe success in anything has a price and it is dictated by what you want to be successful in ... You either have to do what it takes, or not be successful," Sorensen said. So, when he didn't have a throwing coach as a senior in college, Sorensen did what he had to do.
"I had to plan everything for myself," Sorensen recalled. "Instead of complaining about it, I just did it. I wanted to be an All-American so badly that nothing was going to stand in my way. If I had to coach myself, then I was going to coach myself.
"Powerlifting was different. I was fortunate to have a two-time world powerlifting champion in Salem, and he owned a gym," Sorensen recalled. "His name was Doyle Kenady and he was the first human to deadlift 900 pounds in a sanctioned meet. I went to him and told him I wanted to be a world champion. I also told him I would do anything he told me to do. I won the National Championship in 1990 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, but I was not able to win the world title I was hoping for."
It wasn't long after he placed fourth at the national championships in 1991 that Sorensen's commitment to his family led him to stop competing as a powerlifter.
"I retired in 1991," Sorensen said. "I retired because my wife and I had adopted my three nephews and had our first child. It was more important to me to raise a great family and be a great husband than to be a world champion powerlifter."
Sorensen continues to be involved with his children and grandchildren. And he's also an excellent coach for the Bearcat throwers. He has always stressed doing what needs to be done in order to be successful. Along the way, he's found out that many student-athletes share his dedication to their sport.
"The commitment level of the throwers at the college level is extremely high," Sorensen noted. "Being a Division III school and not giving athletic scholarships allows the athletes to compete for the love of the sport. I only coach for the love of the sport, so Division III in general and Willamette in specific is a perfect match for me."
It has been a great match for Willamette's throwers, too. They have received coaching, encouragement, and support.
"Having Soren as my throwing coach has been a highlight of both my athletic career and my time at Willamette," current Bearcat thrower Avery Mickelsen (So., Ephrata, WA/Ephrata HS) said. "From the day I met him on a recruiting visit to now in my junior year, Coach Soren has always had my best interests at heart and is one of the most supportive people I have in my life. Coach Soren pushes us to be our best both as people and as athletes. Having Soren as a coach means there's always a lot of smiles and laughter at our practices. Coach Soren makes even the toughest workouts and practices enjoyable. Having Soren as a coach also means that he lets me bring snacks to practice as long as he gets some too.
"Coach Soren's greatest strength ... is his dedication and care for each of his athletes," Mickelsen said. "Being a Willamette thrower means being a part of a family and something bigger than yourself. We're not always the largest group, but I wouldn't doubt that we're one of the closest. Coach Soren is also a killer lifting coach. With his background and experience in weight lifting and training, my teammates and I have had a unique opportunity to train under someone exceptionally qualified. Coach Soren works to improve our athletic abilities, but also the mental aspect of throwing. He knows when to push and when to support. Coach Soren has helped me to improve my throwing abilities a lot ... but more than that, I owe him a great deal for the amount he's helped me understand the mentality it takes to be a collegiate athlete."
"Soren's strength as a coach was his ability to learn from his athletes just as much as we learned from him," Hope Duenas ('20) said. "He knew patience very well. Finally, he knew how to help me succeed on my own terms. He doesn't coach to achieve his own accolades. He chooses to coach because he loves to watch his athletes achieve their own."
Sorensen has coached many All-Americans and national qualifiers in all of the throwing events during his extensive career with the Bearcats. Sixty percent of Willamette's top 10 lists in the throwing events are student-athletes he's coached.
Under Sorensen, Nate Matlock ('05) earned two All-America awards in the hammer and set school records in the shot put and the hammer. Sorensen helped Sophia Dentzel ('07) and Grant Piros ('09) to All-America status in the javelin and coached Melinda Fahey ('08) to a school record in the hammer. In 2018 and 2019, Duenas won NWC women's discus titles and competed at the NCAA Championships. She placed 20th in the discus in 2018 and was 11th in 2019. Also in 2019, Saige Swan ('20) won an NWC Championship in the men's shot put.
"It was a privilege to have Soren as a throwing coach," Duenas said. "Like any great coach, he made an impact on me as an athlete but most importantly as an individual outside of athletics. He never failed to remind me of how awesome a person I was when I was feeling otherwise. I always knew that no matter what happened inside the throwing ring he would still be proud of me when I stepped out of it."