WATERVILLE — Deb Aitken said her husband has been thinking about her retirement as women’s cross country and track and field coach at Colby College for longer than she has. Once the idea took root in Aitken’s mind, though, she knew it was time.

When this cross country season is over, Aitken’s long, succesful career will come to an end, too. After 31 years coaching at Colby, more than 40 years total, Aitken will retire at the end of the cross country season.

“I was leery about it only because, when you’ve been doing something 30 years, and that’s just here, it’s 43 years of coaching, I couldn’t envision myself sitting around and twittling my thumbs,” Aitken said. “I will say the job has become harder and harder every year. It’s just all encompasing. You go 30 years without a day off from September 1 until June 1. It begins, eventually, to take its toll on you.”

Aitken missed the indoor and outdoor track and field seasons last year, taking a sabbatical. That time away, during which she pursued her passion for studying nutrition, helped Aitken realize she was ready to retire.

“As much as I absolutely love my teams, I just think it’s time. I have four grandchildren I want to see more of. I’m fortunate I have my health,” Aitken said. “The last 30 years have been absolutely wonderful. I look back, and there’s nothing else that I ever would have wanted to do.”

In cross country, Aitken took the Mules to the national championship race eight times, most recently in 2008. Colby finished as high as fifth nationally twice, in 2004 and 2005. Fifteen Colby cross coutnry runners have earned All-America status under Aitken’s tutelage. Alanna McDonough, a senior captain on this year’s team, could be the 16th. McDonough placed 57th at last year’s NCAA meet, and earned All-America honors in the steeplechase last spring.

“She’s overall one of the wonderful and caring people I’ve ever known,” McDonough said of Aitken. “A lot of us consider her like a mother to us.”

McDonough said Aitken stresses taking care of every aspect of life to her athletes, not just training to compete. Aitken stresses the importance of the little things, the details, McDonough said.

“She tells us to make our beds every morning,” McDonough said. “You make your bed every morning, you’ve accomplished something. Then you go on and accomplish the next thing.”

While this fall’s cross country team will be Aitken’s last, it has the potential to be one of her best. The top seven runners from last season are all back, along with a strong group of first-year athletes and newcomers.

“I’m as excited about this team as any team I’ve ever had,” Aitken said. “It’s preseason, things change, but I potentially have greater depth than I’ve ever had… (McDonough) wants to be an All-American in cross country and has a very good chance to pull that off.”

It starts with McDonough and Krista Brown, who also raced in the NCAA meet last year. Sophomore Taylor Kennedy placed 28th in the New England Small College Athletic Conference championship last year, and 39th in the New England Division III championship. Cait Lawlor joins the Mules as a transfer from Providence College.

“We’re all super excited about this year,” McDonough said. “We took what was a really good season last year, and we think we’re able to build on that.”

The impending retirement of their coach has given the Mules an extra jolt of inspiration.

“It’s not just for us anymore. It’s about her. She deserves to go out on a high note,” McDonough said.

No matter how this cross country season goes, Aitken will look back on her career fondly.

“I had great opportunities to work with great athletes, but more, great people,” Aitken said. “That’s been rewarding, to see athletes realize what they are capbale of when they train.”

Travis Lazarczyk — 861-9242

[email protected]

Twitter: @TLazarczykMTM

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