University mourns sudden loss of head cross country coach

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BALDWIN CITY, Kan. -- A man who wore many hats as a father, husband, and coach has died at the young age of 35, and now, a small town's university community is in mourning.

Baker University cross country coach Zach Kindler died unexpectedly Monday after a medical emergency.

A prayer service was held on the Baldwin City campus Wednesday.

Co-workers who attended the prayer service say Zach Kindler seemed perfectly fine during Monday's athletic staff meetings. They say finding out he died later that night came as a complete shock.

"The worst news I have ever received," said Lauren Jaqua, who graduated from Baker University in May.

Jaqua attended the prayer service for Kindler, her former coach.

"Three seasons, every year with coach Kindler," Jaqua said.

She found out the terrible news Tuesday morning after receiving a phone call from one of her teammates.

"I just couldn't believe that, you know, someone who had been there for me personally and for so many of my teammates that he's literally not there," Jaqua added. "I was looking forward to inviting him to my wedding some day and to come back and run in an alumni race and seeing him."

"I thought this can't be, this is a nightmare," said 22-year-old Megan Rosa, who was also coached by Kindler.

She recalled her first marathon she ever ran and how he was waiting for her at the finish line.

"He like caught me and was carrying me to the recovery table and was saying how excited he was and how proud of me he was," Rosa said.

Co-workers and friends gathered at Osborne Chapel on campus Wednesday, mourning the loss of the longtime men's and women's cross country coach.

"It's a total shock," said Philip Hannon, the head baseball coach for Baker, who worked with Kindler for seven years. "Zach raised the love of all the coaching staff here, for the simple reason, he came in and in three years he had success and built a strong program. Being an athlete himself, he was always challenging others to be better."

Hannon says Kindler made an impact on everyone he came in contact with.

"He was a loving man," added Hannon. "He loved God, he loved his family, he loved the student athletes here."

Jaqua says she, and many others, feels very fortunate to have been able to call him coach.

"He was an amazing coach. He knew exactly how we were feeling physically on any given day at practice," Jaqua said. "He was always there encouraging us, and on race days and after competitions, even if we had a great day or a bad day, supported us 100 percent; a real father figure to most of us on the team."

The exact cause of death for Kindler is still unknown. A memorial will be held for him on Friday, and his funeral will be Saturday.