When Ken Grace officially retired from Chabot College more than a year ago, by no means was anyone expecting the energetic, legendary coach and teacher to slow things down.
True to form, the longtime track and field coach keeps his ties with Chabot through his regular update posts on the Chabot Track and Field Alumni page on Facebook. He’s volunteering as an assistant coach at Dublin High, and he remains close with current Gladiators track and cross-country coach Kyle Robinson, who runs the programs he once competed in as an athlete and later as an assistant to his mentor.
These are all great ways for Grace to stay connected to the sports he’s spent a lifetime involved with and to Chabot, where his coaching and teaching careers spanned over a quarter of a century. He can enjoy the competition, training, dispensing advice and developing and renewing relationships without having to deal with the not-so-fun forms and paperwork. He enjoys providing updates on the impact his former athletes are making in the world today.
“We have a few doctors and teachers who are now principals, and one guy who started his own business working with special needs kids,” Grace said. “It all started with track and field and went way beyond that.”
The digital media world has created a great avenue to keep this huge, extended Gladiators family close.
“God only gave me one kid biologically, but gave me hundreds through track and field,” Grace said. “It’s so important to keep the connection ... I wouldn’t be where I am today if it weren’t for Chabot College.”
Grace presented his final USATF Level 1 track and field clinic to area coaches in January 2020, anticipating a logical winnowing down in his retirement. Then the unexpected happened with the COVID-19 pandemic. Always eager to share words of advice and wisdom as a coach and instructor in health, kinesiology and physical education, Grace has a simple message that he imparts to Dublin High athletes but is relevant to all in these trying times as we emerge from the pandemic.
“The biggest thing is, enjoy the moment,” Grace said. “That really strikes it home for me … let’s enjoy the moment.”
While renowned for his long tenure at Chabot, Grace is no stranger to Dublin, having coached there from 2006 to 2007, when his nephew, Jeremy, competed there.
“It’s nice, because I can be the fill-in guy,” Grace said. “Chris Williams has a lot of good assistants, so I help him where I’m needed and float most of the time. Lately, I’ve been hanging with the pole vault group.”
Several of the current group of Dublin track athletes have opted to compete in a late May unofficial East Bay Athletic League championship meet, even though it is the day after graduation.
“A bunch of seniors are going to do that the day after graduation, and that’s so impressive,” Grace said.
Robinson also competed at Chabot for Grace before moving on to Chico State. At that time, Robinson lost his father, and the bond grew with his former coach after that tough loss.
“Ken has been such an active part of my life, and we have built a strong relationship,” Robinson said. “Our relationship goes way beyond sports, and he is like a second father to me.”
Nowadays, Robinson enjoys the friendship and having someone who is “always a great resource” a phone call away.
“He is such a perfect example of what coaching at the JC level is about, or coaching at any level,” Robinson said. “I don’t think there’s anyone better at being there and supporting you than Ken.”
Though Grace enjoys the competitive aspect, his drive goes beyond that.
“He cares about all that stuff, but he cares about people more than anything else,” Robinson said.
Grace brought along Robinson as an assistant and protege, encouraging him to get his master’s degree. He prepared Robinson to eventually take over the programs in 2013, with Grace moving to an assistant role and gradually stepping away as an assistant, then retiring from full-time teaching in December 2019.
“It was a good handoff — just like a relay — a good handoff,” Grace said.