When distance runner Tim Dolan hit the track at Franklin Field as a Quaker for the first time, he carried with him the experience and tenacity he had developed over his distinguished high school running career.
Dolan was an All-American runner who led his team to a third-place finish at the New Jersey Meet of Champions, and graduated high school as the captain of his cross country team before finally arriving at Penn.
The Ewing, N.J. native was already familiar with Franklin Field before he ever learned that Penn would become his next home.
“He's come to the Penn Relays ever since he was a kid,” said Steve Dolan, Tim’s father and director of Penn track and field and cross country. “Every year, it was almost like a holiday weekend for us. He would come to Penn Relays on Friday and watch the races, and cheer for the teams that I was working with.”
Tim’s final high school season holds one of his most special memories of the Relays — not as a supporter in the stands but as runner on the tracks below. In his final season at Hopewell Valley High School in 2018, he competed in the distance medley relay. Tim ran the 800-meter leg and handed off the baton to his younger brother, Sean Dolan, whose winning finish helped seal off a new Penn Relays record that remains unbroken.
Tim arrived at Penn well-acquainted with the hard work required to accomplish his goals, and he would finally be running under the coaching of his own father.
Before Penn, Steve coached for eight years at Princeton, mentoring players to 21 All-American awards and overseeing 32 Ivy League individual champions. Steve coached Donn Cabral to an eighth-place finish in steeplechase at the 2012 London Olympics before bringing his experience to a new era in running for the Red and Blue.
Tim arrived in his father’s seventh season of coaching at Penn, making his freshman experience of moving away from home for college quite unusual.
“I was definitely further away from home than I had ever been. But at the same time, I had in the back of my head that I would still be seeing at least one of my parents nearly every day of the week," Tim said. "I think I saw them about two or three days after I got to campus at our first practice."
Sending his child off to college in a different way from most other parents, Steve welcomed the unique opportunity of being able to witness his son develop not only in his sport but also within the Penn community.
“I feel fortunate," Steve said. "I do enjoy seeing him, so I get to see him regularly when it comes down to practice."
With his father’s guidance, Tim totaled eight top-10 finishes on the indoor track and four top-10 placements outdoors in his first year on the team. Tim's influences on his own father were significant as well, even before he arrived at Penn as a student and athlete on his team.
“I hope I'm a better coach, because I've seen it through not just a coach's eyes, but a parent’s eyes, and I think that was Tim’s influence on how I coach,” Steve said.
For Steve, being involved with his son's athletic journey wasn't anything new to him.
“He was always at my games as a kid,” Tim said. “I think it was sixth grade — he coached my travel basketball team, and that was my first time ever having him as my coach.”
Despite his father's involvement in track and field, Tim never felt pressured into pursuing running. He enjoyed playing a handful of different sports since childhood, including baseball, basketball, and soccer.
Tim’s choice to switch from soccer to distance running in high school was wholly his own. He followed his passion into the sport, and his choice proved fruitful as he grew into one of the top runners in the state.
“I was never really pressured into it. In fact, my parents were actually a little surprised that I made the switch so abruptly,” Tim said.
Steve recognized that exposure to a variety of sports and having fun was more important than pressuring his sons into following in his footsteps.
“I think sports are a lot of fun for kids,” Steve said. “My wife was also a college track and field and cross country runner, and the two of us didn't want to sort of push them towards track and field and cross country. We wanted to expose them to all different activities, and they evolved towards it on their own.”
Competing under the close guidance of his father, Tim has had the opportunity to closely observe and understand Steve's methods in coaching. He describes Steve's attention as a father as very similar to how he treats the athletes on the team.
“I would actually say one of the more impressive things that he does is he gives everyone the same form of attention,” Tim said. “He notices everything the same about everyone. He's known me for the last 21 years, but he notices things about everyone else too.”
Steve echoes Tim’s thoughts as well.
“Tim loves being a part of the team and training with the team and is a very good teammate. And at practice, he's just one of the guys," Steve said. "I don't push him differently at practice than everybody else."
Although his sons’ athletic careers so far have been reflective of his own, Steve does not expect them both to follow him into a career of coaching. Instead, he looks forward to seeing what other paths they will explore.
“I hope that they'll keep their eyes open to all the possibilities and all the things they could do in their life,” Steve said. “And if you'd asked me in college, what would I be doing, you know, now, 30 years later, I never would have guessed that I’d be coaching college track and field. So I hope they also find their passion and find their way in whatever they pursue after college.”
He feels particularly proud of how Tim has come to embrace the communities he’s found at Penn.
“I know that he's in a great place," Steve said. "The people he surrounds himself on the team are high character and highly motivated, and really just a special group of young people. And it's kind of neat for me to see my own son in that environment, and all the people that he surrounds himself with.”
In the moments of his active schedule when academics and athletics permit, Tim especially enjoys the company of friends and being outdoors.
“I enjoy spending time with friends and I enjoy watching sports,” Tim said. “I also like to do things, whether it be at home, like going out to get something to eat with friends, or maybe going on a hike here or there; just spending time outside.”
Tim is currently studying Philosophy, Politics and Economics with a concentration in Choice and Behavior in the College, and, as his father hopes, is staying open-minded about his future after graduation.
Steve has mentored Olympians and NCAA champions, and has led Penn track and field and cross country to its current era of nationwide achievement and beyond. But Tim’s career at Penn so far proves that Steve’s most honorable achievements lie much closer to home—his family.
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