• Steyer effects change through athletics, adventure and environmental work
By Christina Whiting
Homer High School running coach Bill Steyer’s passion for athletics is rivaled only by his passion for adventure and volunteer work in Nepal.
At the age of 24, Steyer traveled to Nepal as a Peace Corps volunteer.
“The villagers had no access to clean water or latrines,” he said. “I oversaw the construction of gravity-flow drinking water systems.”
During his free time, Steyer hiked to Everest Base Camp and trekked through Northern India, Kashmir and Ladakh, an area in the Tibetan plateau.
“I was hiking 5,000 feet up and down 11,000-foot mountains with a pack on my back,” he said.
In Nepal, Steyer met Judy, a fellow Peace Corps volunteer. After completing their Peace Corps work, the couple returned to Seattle to get married, and moved several times over the coming years as Judy went through medical training. They lived in Seattle, Michigan, Bethel and Fairbanks before settling in Homer in 2006, with son Ben and daughter Saanti.
In Seattle, Steyer worked as the State Hazardous Waste Coordinator for Alaska. He trained for, and competed, in his first triathlon in 1985 by swimming and doing speed-track workouts with the help of coach and running mentor Tom Cotner.
In Michigan, Steyer worked as a stay-at-home dad and was introduced to long-distance dog mushing. He raced his dog team in Bethel’s Bogus Creek 150 and finished seventh. He finished seventh and eighth in the Tustumena 200. Steyer competed in the Yukon Quest four times, placing 20th, 14th, sixth and fifth.
“The Yukon Quest is the blue-collar version of the Iditarod,” Steyer explained. “It’s a harder race because there are 25 checkpoints in the Iditarod, but only eight in the Quest. This means you have fewer rest stops and you’re camping out in the wilderness more.”
In 2005, Steyer ran the Iditarod, finishing in the middle of the pack. A year later, he raced the Tustumena 100 and won, and in 2007 he raced in the Tustumena 200 and came in second, behind Lance Mackey.
“If I had to come in second, Mackey’s a great guy to lose to,” he said.
For four summers, Steyer managed Alaska Icefield Expeditions, a high-end dog-tour camp located on the Mendenhall Glacier in Juneau. Tourists from cruise ships were flown in by helicopter to experience dog mushing first hand.
A year after the Steyers moved to Homer, Bill became the assistant coach for the high school track team, and then moved up to head coach. In 2008, he took on the position of head coach of the cross country team as well. Today, he wears both hats.
“Mushing ultimately fueled my desire to coach athletics,” he shared. “A successful dog team isn’t just about physical stamina, it’s about motivation, diet and devotion. I wanted to apply this same philosophy to kids, to motivate them to want to run and to succeed.”
Under his coaching, Homer’s running program has become more competitive, with the girl’s cross country team taking second at the Alaska State Championships for the past two years. The boy’s team finished third both years. The girl’s track and field team also took second last year at state.
“Coaching is more than just about the sport,” Steyer said. “Running is an activity that requires discipline, determination, effort and hard work. I want to show kids that if they can be successful on the track, they can be successful off the track.”
In 2009, Steyer trained as a residential rater and Commercial Energy Auditor and formed his business, The Energy Saver, LLC. The work has taken him to Bristol Bay, southeast Alaska, Kodiak and Prince of Wales.
Steyer applies his philosophy of commitment and dedication to both his work and personal life. Last winter, he and Judy returned to the same Nepali village where they met. For two months, Steyer assisted with local efforts in water and energy conservation. His environmental work and love of Nepal has influenced his desire to work there.
In January 2014, Steyer will return to Nepal to promote improved cooking stoves.
“This is a huge health issue,” he said. “The smoke from the open-wood cooking stoves is not ventilated outside the homes and women and children are suffering from respiratory diseases.”
Steyer will also help youth establish recycling programs for waste management, with a goal to implement an annual curriculum.
Now that their children have moved away from home, the Steyers plan to divide their time between Homer and Nepal.
“Homer is a great community, as is our Nepalese community,” Steyer said. “We love trekking, but we really love the people, and we want to help them.”
With his passion for athletics, adventure and environmental work, Bill Steyer is effecting positive change in two communities that are worlds apart for most of us — but right at “home” for him.
Comments are closed