By Patrick Mader
A native of Chatfield in the Bluff Country of southeastern Minnesota, Adam Frye was introduced to running as a youth of five or six years of age when he ran a mile race at Plainview Corn on the Cob Days with his father Chris, a former high school runner who later co-founded and coached a running club. Adam later joined the running club and joined the Chatfield High School cross country team along with his older sister Amy when it became a varsity sport as he entered 9th grade.
In track and field, Adam was an 800-meter runner, ran the hurdles, and competed in the high jump – where he had his greatest success and narrowly missed qualifying for the state meet as a senior in 2003. He recalls the achievements of versatile track and field teammate Vince Donahoe placing in four events at the 2000 Minnesota High School League Track and Field meet and that Jayna Tangen – often battling for a top spot with future World Championship runner Gabriele “Gabe” Anderson of Perham -–placed in the top 12 runners at the state cross country three times between 2000 and 2003.
Enrolling at Luther College in Decorah, Iowa, Adam was named the cross country team’s Most Improved Runner in 2005 and captain in 2006 when the Norse won the Iowa Intercollegiate Athletic Conference title and placed 6th in the NCAA Division III championships. Due to his experience as a high school hurdler, Adam became a steeplechaser and ran other middle-distance events. “On a good day, steeplechasing can be a lot of fun and really challenging,” he says of the sport. “On a tough day, the barriers can seem pretty tall.”
Graduating in 2007, Adam says, “Running at Luther was an awesome experience and inspired me to be a college coach.” And that is exactly what he has done in his professional career, first at Hamline University in St. Paul as an assistant coach from 2007-09 while earning a master’s degree at the University of Minnesota (U of MN) in kinesiology, then returning to Luther as an assistant coach from 2009-12, before rejoining Hamline as co-head coach from 2012-15. Making the move to the Pacific Northwest where his sister lived, Adam coached at Sammamish High School in Bellevue, Wash., for a year before accepting the head coach position for cross country and track and field at Pacific Lutheran University in Tacoma, Wash., where he has remained since 2016.
After years of road racing, the move to Washington had Adam explore another form of racing. “The great scenery and meeting some trail runners lent itself to a natural transition to trail running,” he says of a sport growing in popularity. Adam also increased his mileage significantly and competed in a 50k race and a 50-mile race in 2018 and a 100k race in 2021 before entering the 2023 Cascade Crest 100-mile race this year.
Adam placed an impressive 4th with a time of 21 hours, 56 minutes, and 15 seconds (21:56:15) in the exhausting 100-mile race on a single-track trail which starts in Easton, Wash. The elevation changes from 2,000 feet above sea level to 5,400 feet at its highest point with a total elevation change of 22,000 feet! “I feel surprisingly good,” Adam says 10 days after the ultra-distance race. “It speaks to the preparation I put in. It’s difficult being awake that long and to stay focused. Toward the end, the terrain had a couple of big climbs, and the descents were rocky and sandy. I was fortunate to stay upright.”
Married to All-American University of Minnesota runner Ladia Albertson-Junkans of Stillwater, Adam and Ladia are the proud parents of Gabe (named after Ladia’s teammate and close friend Gabriele (Anderson) Grunewald who tragically died from a rare form of cancer in 2019 at the age of 32) and are expecting a baby in October. His parents have also made the move to Washington, so the full family is now reunited.
*Patrick Mader is the author of two books on Minnesota Olympians and currently writes profiles of Minnesota athletes on a variety of sports from a wide range of eras at www.mnathletes.com*