Brittany Bowyer: Legendary strength coach Carla Garrett embracing her role in full-time return to Salpointe Catholic

Carla Garrett sits down with Brittany Bowyer. (Andy Morales/AllSportsTucson)

The Salpointe Catholic Lancers have taken the next step to improve its already thriving athletic program by hiring Carla Garrett as the school’s full-time strength and conditioning coach. 

“You know the MasterCard commercial; Priceless. What Garrett brings to the table is priceless. It’s the experience, the tenacity. The kids don’t want to let her down,” Salpointe Head Football Coach Eric Rogers said.

Although her title is new, her presence around Lancer athletics is not, as she’s been part of the Lancer football family since 2006. In her time with the school, she’s worked with numerous high-level athletes to help elevate their skills to the next level. 

“I feel like I’m a fairly well-rounded strength coach, and it bodes well because everybody gets a little bit of me. Football is different because it’s a little bit more high-intensity and more aggressive and it fits my personality, but I’ve had experience training everybody,” Garrett said. 

While she’s primarily only worked with sports like football and softball, there’s a general sense of excitement among the rest of the athletes who are now getting their opportunity to learn from one of the best. One of those athletes is senior volleyball player Jalynn Ransom. Her family has been close with Garrett for years, as she also helped Jalynn’s older brother Lathan, who is currently playing football at Ohio State.

“I’m extremely excited, and it already shows a lot with our team right now just practicing, so I’m excited to continue working with her and I know she’s gonna do a lot for us this season,” Ransom said. 

Coach Heather Moore-Martin, who has led the volleyball program on a remarkable path since taking over in 2013, has seen what Garrett is capable of doing with the athletes she works with in years past. The volleyball team only recently started working with Garrett to help improve their stamina, strength and flexibility on the court, and it’s something Moore-Martin already can see improving quickly. 

“As individuals, we spent some time with Carla during club volleyball and I can tell you what, they’re just so much stronger. Physically stronger. They can do things overhead that they used to struggle with, and they can just do it with ease now,” Moore-Martin said. 

Referred to by some as Salpointe’s, “secret weapon,” Garrett’s extensive knowledge and experience is unmatched by most. Her accomplishments and accolades span across a broad area, spanning from her time as a high school athlete all the way to the Olympics and into the coaching realm. 

A former NCAA athlete, Garrett’s connection to the Old Pueblo began as an athlete for the University of Arizona. A shot put and discus thrower, she won three NCAA titles, becoming the first woman from the University of Arizona to win an individual title, and was a ten-time All-American. She also qualified for the 1988, 1992 and 1996 Olympic Trials, and in 1992, she advanced on to the Barcelona Games. 

Aside from her throwing career, Garrett also thrived as a weightlifter, but the sport was not on the Olympic circuit at the time. Garrett held the title as the US Heavyweight Champion from 1991-94, and took home silver in the heavyweight division at both the 1991 and 1993 World Championships.

Garrett eventually transitioned into a coaching role, where she’s helped numerous professional athletes throughout the years in various ways. She not only served as a personal trainer for many Olympic and professional athletes, she’s also worked with Pima Community College and the University of New Mexico. Some of her various honors include being a member of the University of Arizona Sports Hall of Fame (1996), the New Mexico Track and Field Coaches Association Hall of Fame (2010), and the United States Weightlifting Hall of Fame (2012).

“I think that’s the biggest thing, my life experience as an athlete. I tell them all the time, ‘I’ve been your age. You haven’t been mine,’

Arizona Wildcats WBB Coach Adia Barns speaks out about Coach Garrett’s contributions to her career as an athlete at the UofA

Her role of helping athletes become their best selves goes beyond the weight room. Something Garrett prides herself on is learning how to connect with each individual and motivate them to be their best. She does that by working hard to build an open line of communication with them, but it really begins with her letting them know that she’s been where they are before; 

“I think the greatest thing I can tell them is that I understand. I understand what the grind is like, I understand when you haven’t had enough sleep, or you got in a fight with your significant other, or you have a test you’re not ready for. Everything they’re going through, all the trials and tribulations, I’ve gone through, so there’s nothing they can tell me that I don’t know,” Garrett said. 

She’s one of the first to admit that she’s not easy to deal with if you’re not used to her discipline, but she also knows that’s what will help them in the long run. 

“They understand that this is the way I like things, this is how it’s gonna get done, and if you can deal with me now at this age, as you progress in life it’s going to be so much easier to deal with bad coaches, or a bad boss, or a bad co-employee. So, I just want to prepare them for the toughest part of life, not the easiest part of life,” Garrett said. 

Every once in a while, the occasional “cool kids” take a stroll into Garrett’s weight room and challenge her and her knowledge, but they say that’s few and far between. The kids know while she may ride them hard in training, she’s doing it from a place of love and because she cares. 

“I think pretty much everyone knows coach Garrett on campus, but there are a couple who come into the room and have terrible form, or put too much weight on, and as soon as coach Garrett spots that, you’re done. You’re done for sure, because she cares. As far as I know, coach Garrett isn’t gonna give up on us anytime soon,” Senior football player Davian Miranda Carrasco said.

“It’s one of those things where I ride your ass, and I ride it very, very hard. But, I’m also going to be the first one to hug you when things go well,” Garrett said. 

Garrett also understands life comes with it’s own set of struggles, unique for each individual and their situation. Whenever she can tell something is not right with her athletes, she also makes an effort to sit down with them and understand what’s going on in their life and how she can help. 

“I think the one thing I’m able to do is communicate with kids. Do I yell? Absolutely I yell, but there’s times where I’m like, ‘Listen, come into my office, we’ve gotta figure out what’s going on.’ I’ve had kids who say ‘Coach, I haven’t had a meal all day.’ So I’m like, oh, alright, ‘You, here’s 20 bucks, go get this kid something to eat.’ So I think they just understand you can tell me anything,” Garrett said.  

While Garrett has a tough exterior and can be intimidating to those who step out of line, those who spend time with her will be the first to tell you she has a heart of gold and will be a solid person in your life. Part of her mission has been to create an environment for kids where they all feel cared for and seen, while also learning some crucial life-skills they’ll need to thrive. 

“I think that’s what makes the relationships so very special, is that I’m not only like a mom, and a coach, an older sister and a friend; All those things wrapped up into one, but at the end of the day, we’re here to work, and they know that,” Garrett said. 

It’s something that the athletes have embraced throughout the years as they spend more time working with her. They know they can count on her to treat them fairly, and if they ever need someone to listen or to help guide them with sound advice, she’s there for them. 

“One thing I love about coach Garrett is that she’s really big on making sure that we’re doing the right thing. I think that’s very big, because if she’s making sure we’re doing the right thing, that means she cares for us. A lot of us already know when she raises her voice, and gets on us, it’s only to make us better. It’s only because she truly cares,” Carrasco said. 

“I think the one thing that every kid takes from me is that I give a damn. I think they really understand that I care about them number one, as people. I want them to be very successful as human beings. So in that, I’m a huge disciplinarian, and I don’t mess around with these dudes,” Garrett said. 

A staple on the Salpointe football sidelines, Garrett couldn’t be any more thrilled for the season to kick-off. Preparations have been underway since January, and she says that the hard work has already been put-in when they were out running laps on the track during the hottest days of summer or lifting back in the spring. 

All the things that are hard that we’ve gone through, I try to tell them, “Nothing is going to be harder than what I’m putting you through. The game is going to be a piece of cake. In the games, there’s breaks, right? And you have halftime! There’s no halftime when you’re conditioning with me,’” Garrett said. 

And while she’s looking forward to evaluating the level of progress the players have made, this year’s return is going to be a little more special for Garrett, who is notorious for her love for the atmosphere and the game. After COVID dampened the football environment across America last year, her anticipation for the real atmosphere to return is budding. 

“I look forward to them just playing in front of their friends, you know? To see some fans. Last year was just, I don’t know. It was really kind of a bummer because part of ‘Friday Night Lights’ is hearing the band, and the fans and opposing fans yelling obscenities at you. All those things are involved in Friday night football, it was just very calm and it was very serene in many, many ways,” Garrett said.

Garrett is excited for a return to this sort of atmosphere in the stadium this year

Coach Rogers, who has worked with Garrett in the past for years, understands the value she brings to the team. Rodgers has seen how dedicated she is towards the kids, and is looking forward to seeing how she contributes to the other Salpointe teams who are just beginning their journey with her. 

“She loves football as much as any human being I’ve ever been around. She loves this sport, and she just loves the Friday nights, she loves the fans, the lights, the action. You name it, she’s so passionate about this, and passionate about the kids and getting the most out of them. You can’t take that for granted. It’s very rare,” Rodgers said.  

Though it might be rare, Garrett says there’s nothing else she’d rather do than coach. For her, it’s deeply entrenched in her personality, and it’s what drives her each and every day. 

“I just think that it’s my personality to be a strength coach. I don’t know what else I would do… I think I was literally meant to do this type of thing. To influence kids, to help them, to care about them, because not everybody’s parents care. Not everybody’s families care, but I think if they know at least one person cares about them, then they’ll work very hard for me, and they have,” Garrett said.

Brittany Bowyer is a freelance journalist who started her career as an intern for a small sports website back in 2015. Since then, she’s obtained her master’s degree in Sports Journalism from the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism at ASU and is in her fourth year of covering various levels of sports across a broad range of platforms in Arizona. You can follow her on twitter @bbowyer07

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