There are a few kids every year that come out for the track team and have no idea who their coach is and the things he accomplished when he laced up his running shoes for the Tanners.
“Yeah, there are kids that come out for the track team that have no idea who I am or that I even ran for Peabody,” Fernando Braz said. “That’s fine, it’s not about me anymore it’s about these kids and what they can do during their time at Peabody High.”
Braz was one of the best runners to come out of Peabody, graduating in 1980, before a solid career at Boston College, running for the Eagles. Braz graduated from BC in 1985 with a degree in special education. He now coaches indoor and outdoor track for the Tanners, and is the in-school suspension teacher at the high school.
“I’m very, very proud of everything I did running for Peabody, it was a great situation for me, as an athlete and as a student,” Braz said. “I hope that the kids coming through the system now can set records of their own and have as much fun as I did when I ran track for Peabody.”
Braz ran multiple events for Peabody; any events the coaches needed him to run, he ran, and his stellar performances got him a scholarship to run at Chestnut Hill.
“I really enjoyed running the two-mile and running cross-country,” Braz said. “I enjoy distance running the most.”
Braz’ first coaching gig was a five-year stint at Lawrence High School, however; he came back to PVMHS in 1998 to teach and coach track.
“It was very exciting to get the opportunity to work and to coach at Peabody High School,” Braz said. “It was challenging because of the legacy of the track program at Peabody, really a little nerve-wracking, but very exciting to get the job at Peabody nonetheless.”
“There is such an incredible legacy of great running and runners from Peabody,” Braz said. “George (Smyrnios) did an incredible job with the program and Phil (Sheridan) did great things with the program, those were some pretty big shoes to try and fill, so yes, I was a bit intimidated when I got the job.”
“Running is the same now as it was when I ran, it’s wholesome, it brings balance into the student-athletes’ life. As coaches, we try to stress values and the importance of hard work, it’s the same way in 2012 as it was in 1980,” Braz said.
“Kids that pay attention to coaches seem to pay attention to teachers in their classes, sports help instill good core values on the participants,” Braz said. “Working hard at your sport helps you learn how to be part of a team, work hard on your own, helps kids with discipline and that can help them do well in the classroom.”
Braz said it’s hard for him to look on from the sidelines as a coach, not being able to get out there and join his runners in the race.
“You’ve got to give the kids all the tools to perform at a high level, get them ready to run, and do everything you can to encourage them to do their best,” Braz said. “Oh, it’s tougher to watch them run than it was for me to get ready to run when I was racing.”
“It’s intense and it’s nerve-wracking being on the sidelines, because you’ve got no control over what’s happening,” Braz said. “As coaches you just hope you’ve prepared each runner to be ready to perform at a high level, but it is tough watching.”
Braz said it’s been great to stay connected to track through coaching, and being able to do it at Peabody is tremendous. The coach still runs, a lot, but nowhere near as much as he did when he was training for high school and college track meets.
“My biggest thrill running at Peabody was the opportunity to run with my younger brother for one year,” Braz said. “The awards and the accolades were great, they sink in after you’re done running, but being able to be on the same team with Helder when he was a freshman was the best.”
Helder Braz went on to UMass-Dartmouth after graduating from Peabody High.
Braz has run all over the United States, competing in marathons and road races, he's traveled to Ireland and Japan to run, and the list of boys and girls he’s tutored that have had track success is quite long, miles long.
“George (Smyrnios) was the first person to really encourage me to run, and he told me if I stayed with it and worked hard, great things will happen to me,” Braz said. “George was absolutely right and I hope I can inspire kids the way that George and Phil, and many of my other coaches in Peabody inspired me.”
Braz has coached multiple high school All-Americans, he’s been named Track Coach of the Year, and Cross-Country Coach of the Year by area publications, and has helped dozens of runners qualify for the Boston Marathon. He also has his own private coaching service, Going the Distance, which runs year-round and is often utilized by athletes in area running clubs.
Now in his fifties, the Tanner track coach is not slowing down one bit, nor does he plan to.
“There’s no down time, I run 15-20 hours a week, I’m focused on coaching 25-35 hours a week,” Braz said. “I started focusing on the 2012 track season the minute that the 2011 track season ended.”