Posted March 30, 2016
Inspiration often comes in a number of ways, but for many athletes at UW-River Falls in the last 16 years, Carmen Pata has been the face of it.
Pata, a graduate of UW-River Falls with majors in biology and chemistry, in 2000 was named assistant strength and conditioning coach and was promoted to his current position as head of athletic performance in 2005. Pata has built the program from the ground up and said he has no intention of leaving UW-River Falls.
“One of the reasons I’m still here is because I had the chance to basically build a program from the start and I want to see the university do well, especially our athletic teams,” Pata said.
Pata is humble about his profession, but said the influence he has on athletes goes even past him at times.
“You know when you talk about influencing people,” he said, “it’s the number of wedding invites I get every year, the announcements of births, it’s sort of strange because someone that you never thought you connected with is all of a sudden inviting you to their wedding.”
One of the athletes whom Pata said he’s influenced is former UW-River Falls men’s basketball standout Oliver “Ollie” White.
“Ollie White on the men’s basketball team, he came from a program where he was successful because he was talented,” Pata said. “He claims that he didn’t have anyone who pushed him, until he got here. He realized that he wasn’t going to talk his way out of things. He had very high goals of playing professional basketball, which he achieved.”
White, a UWRF basketball standout from 2009-2012, spoke highly of his former coach and said he would never ask any athlete to do anything unless he had done it himself.
“Coach Pata not only talked the talk but walked the walk,” White said. “To this day he is still a prominent role model figure in my life. Coach Pata was one of the most influential coaches I have ever had. His consistent dedication to my teammates and I made my collegiate experience better than I could have imagined. He pushed me in a unique way, different each year, building to the accumulation of my senior season.”
Pata also is a member of the board of directors with the National Strength Coaches Association (NSCA) and has written scholarly journal articles for the organization. Pata said he loves giving back to the coaching community.
“It’s just a privilege to influence people beyond our campus,” he said. “A lot of it is mentored programs, where young coaches come on board, bring them through a coaching structure and get them moving in their professional career. Working with local schools, just trying to pay back sports for everything it’s given me in my life.”
Pata has been nominated twice for College Strength Coach of the Year in both 2012 and 2015. The nomination is a peer review where other strength coaches have to nominate a worthy strength coach and give supporting background. Pata expressed his thanks for the anonymous nominations.
Outside of coaching, Pata completed a tryout with the Chicago Bears football team in 2000. He then began participating in Strongman contests as well as getting into Olympic lifting competitions.
“Most recently a couple of my friends talked me into doing some Olympic lifting competitions,” he said. “In my time I was national champion, Pan American champion, I took third at worlds two years ago now. At age 36, I was able to try out for the U.S. Olympic weightlifting team. I hit my minimum and qualifying totals and did my attempts and got beat and came home, but I got a great story out of it.”
Influences go beyond any one coach, but Pata said there are a few he considers most influential, including John O’Grady, the former head football coach at UWRF who now is at UW-Whitewater; Kevin Bullis, who was Pata’s defensive line coach during his time as a football player; and Tom Journell, who was the defensive coordinator and gave Pata his first coaching job.
“He (Journell) is the guy who gave me my first job so I’m very happy he didn’t fire me when I didn’t know anything,” Pata said. “He let me make some mistakes and figure things out.”